Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Why Glenn Youngkin Won

Support for the family and opposition to racialism is a winning platform. Republicans, take note.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Glenn Youngkin hand-delivered disaster to the Democratic Party on Tuesday night. His campaign was a masterclass of discipline and messaging, illuminating a path forward for Republicans in the Biden Era. 

Youngkin, at least on the campaign trail, was able to unite disparate voters in a way no other Republican has for quite some time. After a late dinner in Old Town Alexandria, I ran into a brigade of moms passing out pink “I voted for Youngkin” wristbands on King Street. Once, pulling over to a farmers market west of the Shenandoah, I bought fresh apples from a lady in a “Farmers for Youngkin” hat. Youngkin signs adorned yards, medians, businesses, and cars everywhere I went in Virginia over the past few months. Next to Beto O’ Rourke’s campaign for Texas Senate in 2018, it was the rawest grassroots energy I have ever seen. 

Youngkin’s election will be over-analyzed until rendered meaningless like some bizarre racialist poem a Virginia high school assigns to its students. The Republican establishment, never ones to let good deeds go unpunished, have already attempted to worm their way into credit. I’m sure Frank Luntz will have an incomprehensible assortment of data sent to the RNC by the end of the week. Before history is rewritten, however, I’d like to highlight a few encouraging factors for the conservatives who made Youngkin’s victory possible. 

Youngkin campaigned heavily on the rights of parents to have a say in their children’s education, a potent message in the aftermath of the drama in Loudoun County, Terry McAuliffe’s gaffes, and the rise of critical race theory. Education was a mobilizer and a winner. 

Democrats have concluded that education was a code for white supremacy. They’re a party that finds white supremacy in food products, children’s toys, and sporting events. Hysteria will blind them to the obvious lessons. Education, however, was indeed a code. In an era where Black Lives Matter has declared the nuclear family to be a white supremacist relic, Youngkin’s campaign addressed families as citizen stakeholders.

The principle at stake in the election was not Virginia’s K-12 curriculum but family as an institution itself. Terry McAuliffe doesn’t believe in family; he believes in the state. Placing education decisions in the hands of public-sector unions rather than parents is only an outgrowth of that fundamental belief. Typical Youngkin stumps mentioned CRT once or twice but addressed families and parents dozens of times. CRT was a potent message, but only when linked to the left’s broader war on the family unit. 

Due to the work of the aforementioned genius Frank Luntz and other consultants over the years, Republicans have long believed that capitulation on critical social issues is the only path to victory in blueing regions of the country. Youngkin’s campaign built on the seemingly counterintuitive gains of the Trump years and proved these narratives wrong. Youngkin stood firm on traditional social issues. He opposed same-sex marriage, supported the pro-life movement, and fought against gender ideology run amuck in Loudoun County.

He didn’t make same-sex marriage or abortion the focus of his campaign, but he also didn’t betray his conservative base in a desperate gambit for liberal votes. As a result, he was rewarded with sky-high turnout among evangelicals and overwhelming margins of support. Exit polls indicate that 88 percent of white evangelicals supported Youngkin, securing his tight victory. Rather than follow the disappointing model of other Republicans and depress this critical voting mass via compromise with progressive social narratives, Youngkin stood firm and turned them out to vote. In addition to family-first messaging, these same factors likely contributed to his consolidation of the rapidly realigning and socially conservative Hispanic vote as well. 

Finally, voters in Virginia soundly rejected the cultural implications of the progressive racialization of politics. It turns out that Americans support police and will not tolerate a party that actively degrades safety and quality of life. Youngkin leaned into the issue, boldly declaring his support for law enforcement and promising to sack the Virginia Parole Board on his first day in office. Amid a historic crime wave, the message struck a chord with voters. The election of Virginia’s first black woman to a statewide office, Lt. Governor-Elect Winsome Sears, further broke the absurd Black Lives Matter racial narrative.

More troubling for the Democrats, however, should be the polling on monument removal. 53 percent of voters in Virginia expressed opposition to the removal of Confederate statues on public grounds. Only 41 percent indicated support for removal. Just ahead of the election, Robert E. Lee’s towering figure was removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond without the consent of a majority of Virginia voters. Lee is controversial even among Republicans in Virginia, many of whom are not from or connected to the South.

But if a majority of voters opposed the removal of the ever controversial Robert E. Lee’s statue, how many supported the widespread attacks on the Founding Fathers of the United States? Christ Church in Alexandria, George Washington’s church, removed his plaque from church grounds and replaced it with Black Lives Matter symbolism. The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, battled endlessly with students who wanted his statue removed from campus. Contrast this with Youngkin’s appeals to the “spirit of Madison, Monroe, Jefferson, Washington, and Paine,” and it’s clear that the cultural revolution is unpopular, even in blue Virginia. Republicans should respond by supporting markers of our cultural inheritance and stop waffling in the face of iconoclasm. 

Youngkin’s campaign was broader than the issues I addressed, and it will take longer to forge his model into a national strategy. Committed conservatives, however, should delight in these immediate takeaways that prove the viability of our message in an increasingly hostile age. There is much work to be done, but Virginia demonstrated the left is beatable on the issues and terms most threatening to American life. Three cheers for the Commonwealth.