By Shaun Kenney
FOX News: McAuliffe +4 after a terrible, no-good week.
One of the best observations about modern politics is the term political religions to define the two major parties.
For myself, my camp is firmly within the Republican Party. Not because my values are going to shift dependent upon whatever a poll tells us is best suited for coalition victories, but rather because my own values at present are best expressed here than in any other political framework.
On life, regulations, taxes and the 1A and 2A I am in good company. In other items not so much — especially when it comes to education, labor and wages. But that’s because the vast majority of people haven’t faithfully read Milton Friedman, F.A Hayek or Whittaker Chambers — yet.
Of course, I’ve never been one for the pom-poms. Nor am I constantly staring at my boots kicking the dirt as most cynics do. I wouldn’t hire a doctor or a mechanic who either overly optimistic or overly pessimistic — but you certainly want the one who shoots you straight and doesn’t peddle in nonsense.
For myself, clear-sighted realism is a good thing — it sure beats hyperbole every time.
Which is of course a bit of a prep job for the not-so-good news — that former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe is still leading the Virginia gubernatorial race against Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin with the same 4-5 point margin he has maintained since August.
Momentum for Youngkin may be building, but as St. Mad Dog Mattis of Quantico and Patron Saint of Chaos reminds us from on high, the opposition still gets a vote.
Let’s get into the numbers and what might be happening here:
Just to recap: even after Afghanistan and Biden’s mid-40s approval ratings, even after defunding the police and CRT, we find the Virginia landscape right about where folks thought it would be. Democrats with a base of 53% and Republicans with a base of 47%.
Granted, the after effects of McAuliffe’s disastrous second debate performance are yet to register. One suspects while the choir might love the sermon, the folks who are going to be motivated by that gaffe about parents are already in the game for Team Youngkin. Probably won’t move the needle too much.
At present, McAuliffe is leaning into the ropes during the October championship rounds and is perfectly content to let the demographics of the Commonwealth do his work for him.
In short, Republicans — particularly pro-lifers and defenders of the 2A — are still looking for a positive reason, and this fight still has to be brought to the Democrats.
Now consultants who are paid gobs of money to recline in chairs are going to tell you something pretty close to this:
Look, let’s not get ahead of our skis. Play it calm and talk logistics. The numbers say X, the focus groups tell us X+. If we do Y or P then it is going to have X- effects. Ambiguity allows more LVs to impose their own values on the candidate, while specificity opens up opportunities for attack. Voters perform X to achieve Y. So focus on the numbers, make turnout predictable and low, and keep the registered voters at home.
Rational choice theory meets segmented marketing, gentlemen…
Here’s a secret.
People don’t vote X out of a sense of duty.
They don’t vote X to achieve Y.
They vote X to claim the status of X-producers.
The reason why a veteran salutes the flag when no one is watching isn’t because he is getting something out of it. Veterans express their identities as veterans by doing so — and that is the secret of why people vote.
Voting is borrowing the identity of the candidate as an expression of their own values — simple as expressive choice theory.
Voting Out Of Duty vs. Voting As An Expressive Act
Here is an example. Anyone can claim to be a Washington Redskins fan. But you aren’t really a fan unless you watch the games, put a sticker on your water bottle, or brag about last week’s win. Or buy the jersey of your favorite player — from 30 years ago. Or attend the games faithfully.
Bottom line is that our participation in any of this doesn’t alter the actual outcome of the game — yet without it we really can’t say we are true Redskins fans.
Here is the kicker. We still yell at the television screen anyway knowing it has no outcome on the game whatsoever. Why do people still participate knowing that it has zero impact on whether the Redskins win that day?
That’s because being a Redskins fan — like voting — is an expression of one’s sincerity and identity.
One votes Republican to express your Republican-ness. Candidates form the movement that helps them find victory, the precise opposite from most campaigns that find the candidate and poll to cram a square peg into a round hole.
Find the issues that help registered voters become likely voters and you win elections. Muddle yourself into focus groups and poll numbers with an existing pool and you get stuck in rational choice theory.
Therefore, in order to avoid a base election result such as the Northam-Gillespie ‘17 outcome, we seem to have opted for a Warner-Gillespie ‘14 environment. Which if you think the demography of Virginia has improved for Republicans over the last seven years — attaboy.
But when you start sloughing off serious fractions of the conservative framework — or worse, beat them back into line like Russian grandmothers in the Moscow subway — in order to seduce moderates into the fold?
That doesn’t strike the average observer as a tightrope. If voting is an expression of identity, then maybe we ought to rise to the bait just a bit?
Here Is What To Look For The Next 30 Days
Of course, the opposition has their problems too.
Democrats are worrying themselves into a tizzy over extremely low absentee ballot numbers — about half of what they were in 2017.
Which is to say that Democrats — despite polling well ahead of Youngkin with registered voters are leading chin first into a likely voter problem.
Just because a Democrat got registered when McAuliffe opened the jails or Democrats got wee-wee’d up over Trump in 2017 doesn’t mean these same voters particularly care about Richmond in the same way they hate Trump. Or want to push CRT on our kids. Or push parents out of the classroom.
Yet as you can see above, the thing that made Democrats want to express their Democrat-ness — Trump — is gone. No one is bleeding for McAuliffe.
Which brings me to my good friend Roger Vernon Scruton — a distant relative no less and a damn fine political philosopher we should all read:
“Leftwing people find it very hard to get on with rightwing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with leftwing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken.”
— Roger Scruton, “The Uses of Pessimism” (2010)
Don’t be terribly surprised that McAuliffe doubled-down on keeping parents out of education. Most leftists would agree.
The reason is rather simple — Krauthammer’s Axiom:
Republicans think Democrats are wrong, Democrats think Republicans are evil.
In short, while such sentiments might enrage conservatives, Democrats actually believe this about most conservatives in the public square. Just a quick glance at the sort of advertising McAuliffe is running against Youngkin demonstrates the proof. Same dirty campaign tactics Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) employed against Republican businessman Keith Fimian in 2010.
McAuliffe Has His Problems, Too…
I don’t think that McAuliffe is going to be able to get Democrats off the couch to express their McAuliffe-ness against Youngkin by a mile. Has anyone met the Democrat excited to have Terry McAuliffe carrying Democratic battle standards on any of the pet issues they claim to care about other than post-birth abortions and forced unionism?
Flip side? Maybe McAuliffe doesn’t have to do much given the numbers. Again, T-Mac can lean against the ropes all October with the demographics of Virginia in his favor and with plenty of room for error. Republicans can either go deeper with conservatives or they can muddle to the middle — but they can’t do both.
The question is whether Republicans and Republican leaning voters are going to get off the couch to express their Youngkin-ness.
Right now, the race is 51-47-2 with McAuliffe hanging on to a 4-5 point lead. Which means we are going to have to see a 1-2pt a week shift each week in order to get Youngkin on the right side of the MoE.
But the secret to success — and the numbers are improving, folks — is all in this one question right here.
Can voters find a means of seeing their own values expressed through the candidacy of this candidate and this campaign? 1
That’s narrative building.
At present, the narrative is that eight years of Northam and McAuliffe are long enough and that Youngkin will better preside over the morass than the loyal opposition — which is ambiguous and perhaps necessarily so. But frustrating for those of us who are in politics for a reason and worried that the same swivel-chair enthusiasts who ditched pro-lifers and 2A defenders as strategy will do so as policy should they ride into Richmond.
The slow handbasket vs. the fast handbasket. Which is why it would sure be nice to hear what we are doing for these constituencies rather than what we are preventing all the time.
Either way, I’m still voting for Glenn Youngkin if only to prevent another four years of this:
I am just not enthusiastic about this campaign by any stretch, nor are many conservatives who also see the shift towards a populist-moderate numbers game without any discernable ideological core. We used to be pro-life, pro-2A, limited government, law-and-order conservatives. Now we are just law-and-order Tories?
Like many, I’m still seriously inclined towards Glenn Youngkin mostly out of fear things will become far worse under McAuliffe.
Yet one really does have to wonder whether the play to the middle — not the center mind you, but the middle — is serving the Republican coalition in Virginia in the way it ought. Sure be nice to be able to for for a Republican every once in awhile. It would also be nice to see a candidate not chronically mishandled and misused by barnacle-like campaign staff for someone else’s national POTUS aspirations — another topic for another day.
My apologies if the realism sounds like pessimism. Youngkin is a good man. But if one grasps that voting is an act of expression rather than mere duty? McAuliffe isn’t afraid of being defining what it means to be a supporter.
Neither were George Allen, Jim Gilmore or Bob McDonnell.
Four weeks to victory, my friends.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.
1 This is all marvelously outlined in a classic book by Dr. Alexander Schuessler entitled A Logic of Expressive Choice (2000). It is effectively how Democrats have run their campaigns since 2008 as movements branded to the candidate (Obama) and has grown in popularity among marketers in the wake of corporate brands becoming social movements (Nike). Apart from Trump, Republicans have had a hard time replicating the method — for various architectural reasons.