Virginia, Florida and the road ahead for 2022

Nov. 4, 2021 by David Silverberg

When it comes to elections, winners tend to generalize while losers tend to specify.

That’s what’s happening as a result of the Virginia election where Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 51 to 48 percent.

But does what happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia necessarily translate into a precursor for the State of Florida?

Republicans, nationally and locally, are generalizing the vote as a referendum on President Joe Biden and portraying it as a harbinger of the 2022 election.

“…I do think this wave is building. I think it was strong last night. But I think it’s going to keep building all the way into 2022,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in an interview on the program Fox & Friends yesterday.

“I think people are rebelling against what the Democratic Party stands for nowadays,” he said. “The never-ending mandates and restrictions because of COVID, using our school systems for leftist indoctrination rather than high-quality education, and then the Biden regime’s failures from Afghanistan to the southern border, gas prices, inflation, supply chain.”

Local Republican Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who initially tweeted a mocking message to the Democratic National Committee that he subsequently deleted, later settled on a blander pronouncement: “Virginians sent a clear message to Democrats: Parents belong in the classroom, stop teaching division, enough with the radical spending, & no more mandates!”

There’s no sugarcoating this defeat for Democrats nationally: It was a big, unexpected blow and it hurt.

As the Republicans generalized its implications, so Democrats tried to focus on the specific reasons McAuliffe lost.

During a candidate debate in which Youngkin questioned McAuliffe’s veto of legislation banning “sexually explicit” content in school curriculum (Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved) “out of McAuliffe’s mouth tumbled these words: ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they can teach.’

“And that’s what done it,” writes Michael Tomasky in The New Republic. “A day later, those words became an attack ad, and McAuliffe was forced to play defense from that moment on.”

DeSantis on a roll

As DeSantis pointed out, the Youngkin victory is a good omen for him.

DeSantis is undeniably in a strong position as he conducts his primary race for gubernatorial re-election and his—at this point—secondary race for president in 2024.

So strong is DeSantis’ position, given his $60 million war chest and subservient legislature that the news platform Politico Florida headlined an October 31 article: “Florida Democrats anxious as DeSantis seems unbeatable.”  

That Democrats are anxious is indisputable; that DeSantis is “unbeatable” is overstating the case.

In fact, Democrats do have some resources and determination, as the article pointed out.

“The election’s not happening tomorrow, there is still time for the tide to turn,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) told Gary Fineout, the article’s author. “But obviously it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck situation right now.”

Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, took issue with the article’s premise. “We’re in Florida. We lost the last governor’s race by 30,000 votes against the same character,” he said. “In politics, a year is an eternity. There’s nothing that leads me to believe DeSantis is unbeatable.” He also noted that it’s “unbelievable we’re having a conversation a year out” about a DeSantis victory.

Against DeSantis’ advantages are his liabilities: strenuous, determined efforts to block all forms of COVID protections; attacks on local school boards that have tried to protect schoolchildren, and the resulting COVID death toll in Florida—currently at 59,670, according to The New York Times, despite all the governor’s attempts to conceal or obscure state statistics.

Also, it’s being widely noted that a key to Youngkin’s success was his keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length, something noted in another Lincoln Project video, “Ungrateful.”

Another observer who emphasized Youngkin’s distance from Trump was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), who tweeted: “Congratulations to @GlennYoungkin for a great victory last night. Winning back suburban moms and independent voters, he demonstrated Republican values and competence, not conspiracy theories and lies, win elections.”

Ironically, DeSantis’ slavish Trumpism may prove a disadvantage next year. His difficulty may come from—of all people—his idol and mentor, Donald Trump. Trump is a jealous god and DeSantis’ popularity among the Republican faithful is already bringing down the divine wrath. He seems to feel a need to cut him down in his youth before he can really mount a challenge to Trump’s own nomination bid.

The anti-Trump Lincoln Project noted this in one of its cutting videos, called “Sad!

Other than Trump’s jealousy of DeSantis, there’s little to no daylight between the maestro and the apprentice. Floridians would be getting a committed Trumper if they re-elect DeSantis in 2022, although that would certainly give some Floridians joy.

Weirdly, DeSantis may face a primary challenge on the right from Roger Stone, the convicted and then Trump-pardoned political trickster and activist who told Dave Elias of NBC2 in Fort Myers that he might run in order to conduct an audit of the 2020 election in Florida. He could be a surrogate for Trump himself in the 2022 Florida race.

But the final arbiter of the 2022 election may not be human at all: COVID is still active and deadly even though the numbers are declining, thanks to widespread vaccinations. DeSantis is on record and running as an anti-mandate, anti-precaution candidate.

If, however, DeSantis and the anti-vaxxers block vaccination mandates for schoolchildren and there is an outbreak that kills large numbers of them, Florida parents might—just might—put the blame at the feet of DeSantis and anti-vaxx Republicans. It is a horrible outcome but one being invited by the anti-vaxxers’ gamble.

Finding a strategy

Still, expecting victory based on an opponent’s stumbles is not a strategy.

The problem for Democrats in Florida and nationally is that they are a political party competing with a cult.

A cult, when it’s strong, has some decided advantages: it has a single leader, its followers obey unthinkingly, and it has a clear, simple message based on a few unmistakable tenets.

This is the state of the Republican Party today. Even with Trump somewhat sidelined, the Republican Party is still a cult of personality, worshipping Trump and his clear, simple message of, in his words, “hatred, prejudice and rage.”

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida, where the man resides and the governor is his closest acolyte.

In comparison to this Democrats, as is more characteristic of a political party, are diverse, contentious and sometimes chaotic. While they entertain a wide spectrum of ideas there’s no one personality imposing intellectual uniformity. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage at the voting booth.

Actually, the Democratic Party does have some clear tenets: inclusion for all, concern for humanity, determination to forge a better future and commitment to democracy. But while the Democratic Party stays within the law and argues policies, Trumpist Republicans pursue power at all costs. There is no hypocrisy too great, no mental gymnastic too convoluted, no legal barrier too high to impede this raw pursuit of power. And if elections don’t go their way they’re willing to overturn them through violence and then condone it, as the January 6th insurrection demonstrated.

Trumpist Republicans also have the advantage in that theirs is an emotional movement, riding on hatred, prejudice and rage but also fear and outrage, much of it generated by pandemic restrictions but finding expression against their long-time targets of Biden, Democrats and governing institutions like school boards.

This is neither new nor surprising. After every disaster there is a search for human scapegoats, sometimes very strange ones. For example, after the Johnstown Flood of 1889, survivors scapegoated Hungarian immigrants; after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 city residents’ wrath fell on a tiny Japanese community; after the great 1927 Mississippi flood there was a horrendous wave of lynchings and murders of Black people in the affected southern states. It is as though people, having suffered at the hands of nature, must find human victims.

We are now coming through the disaster of the pandemic, which, though receding, is still with us. After four years of Donald Trump’s routinely lying, scapegoating and deflecting blame as a standard operating procedure, his cult is now primed to channel all its pandemic frustrations against Biden and the government working so hard to defeat the disease. The resulting program is clear: hatred of Biden and opposition to all restrictions, rules or Democratic ideas.

As of right now, the political landscape is decidedly headed in the Republican direction, boosted by the victory in Virginia and the close call in New Jersey.

For Democrats who stay within the bounds of law and the Constitution the solution will always be the same: more and better organizing, more energetic campaigning, greater voter registration, sharper messaging, more programs and policies that benefit people and an appeal to reason and good sense.

There is also this to remember: a victory is sweet but a defeat sharpens the mind and energizes the effort.

As Thomas Paine put it in the darkest days of the American Revolution after a string of Continental defeats: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

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