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Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Leesburg, Va., Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.
Cliff Owen, Associated Press

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Surprising Republican victories in Virginia show how the GOP can win with or without Trump

Republicans sent a message on Tuesday night in Virginia. When it comes to culture wars, they are winning

Republicans sent a message on Tuesday night in Virginia. When it comes to culture wars, they are winning. That is, when they don’t get in their own way.

Make no mistake, though: There is a battle over culture war issues happening in our country. And it’s the reason Virginia just turned red, a mere year after President Joe Biden won the state by 10 points. Press attention is rightfully on the governor’s race with Republican Glenn Youngkin projected to win, but it’s important to note that Republicans are also poised to win all three statewide races while making gains in the Virginia House of Delegates. There were also surprising story lines and Republican momentum in other Democratic strong holds across the country.

Alarm bells should be going off at DNC headquarters right now. This does not bode well for Democrats in 2022.

In Virginia, the culture war played out a few ways: The Democrat gubernatorial candidate had proclaimed that parents (who spent a year and a half moonlighting as tutors to supplement subpar education delivered via Zoom) should “not be telling schools what to teach.” Virginia boasted some of the longest national school closures in the country, and the woman primarily responsible, teacher union head Randi Weingarten, was a featured closing speaker at a rally for Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

And many parents were also told that school bathrooms are open to students of either gender, so long as they claim to be transgender. And if a young woman is sexually assaulted in a school bathroom in Loudoun County, as reported by the Daily Wire, the father of the victim can be branded a “domestic terrorist” when he goes to school board meetings to complain. Meanwhile, the alleged perpetrator is shuttled into a new school, where he is reported to have assaulted yet another student.

Loudoun County, Virginia, was ground zero for culture wars on education, transgender issues and critical race theory. President Donald Trump was the kind of Republican who punched back hard, but the problem was his style quickly lost favor with Americans, leading in large part to his loss last year. We tired of a president always on the offense with schoolyard taunts; Americans wanted toughness on important issues, but we also wanted leadership and wisdom.

It’s admittedly hard to hit a sweet spot. Republicans know the cards are stacked against us. Democrats have most of the media, academia, Hollywood and corporate America behind them. This cultural machine will inevitably paint conservatives as racists and bigots, and that’s what their narrative was in Virginia. This, of course, backfired when it was discovered that in fact Democratic staffers who went dressed up as white supremacists and attended a Youngkin rally.

Instead of pulling the nice guy move, issuing a milquetoast statement disavowing the group, Youngkin punched back, “I think they work for Terry McAuliffe, and I’m sure he sent them,” he said, according to NBC 29. “They’ll do anything to win, and he’s doing anything to win, and so he’s paying people to show up and act silly at our rallies.”

And he was basically right. The Lincoln Project, which was first founded under the banner of removing Donald Trump from office, claimed credit. And the night before election night, photos suggested more of the same:

And yet, Youngkin didn’t back down, but he did so with discipline.

Former President Donald Trump issued a series of press releases (which is what he’s forced to do since being removed from Twitter) celebrating Youngkin’s victory. In one he said,

“It is looking like Terry McAuliffe’s campaign against a certain person named ‘Trump’ has very much helped Glenn Youngkin. All McAuliffe did was talk Trump, Trump, Trump and he lost! What does that tell you, Fake News? I guess people running for office as Democrats won’t be doing that too much longer. I didn’t even have to go rally for Youngkin, because McAuliffe did it for me. Thank you to the MAGA voters for turning out big!”

But Youngkin’s victory is not MAGA; if Youngkin performed as well as Trump did, he’d have lost. Youngkin turned Virginia red by turning out more voters in red areas and turning blue areas purple.

He did it by fighting the culture wars effectively. And he has written the road map for more Republicans to do the same with or without Trump.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for the Deseret News and editor at Ricochet.com.

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