Here’s what passes for a sober, responsible GOP elder statesman in the age of Trump.
I’ll say this much in his defense, though: Given Terry McAuliffe’s history of screeching about election fraud, we may see a “stop the steal” reaction tonight regardless of which side ends up losing.
Notice that there’s conveniently no way around the conclusion that Youngkin was cheated given the expectations Gingrich is setting here. If Youngkin does well but falls just short, well, that’s obviously cheating. Democrats flipped a few votes in a tight race to tilt it their way. If Youngkin underperforms and McAuliffe wins semi-comfortably, as would normally happen in a Biden +10 state, well, that’s also obviously cheating. There’s no way the polls showing Youngkin leading narrowly could have been so far off.
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) November 2, 2021
Here’s what happened the last time Virginia held a gubernatorial election. The final polling average saw Democrat Ralph Northam winning a close one but the actual margin on Election Day was … not close:
It’s Republicans who tend to overperform their polling nowadays, not Democrats, but Northam was more than five points better than RCP’s expectations in 2017. In hindsight that was an omen of Democrats being galvanized by antipathy to the new guy in the White House, a trend that ended up flipping the House a year later. For that reason, we wouldn’t expect McAuliffe to wildly overperform today the way Northam did. This time the GOP is the out-party with something to prove.
But could McAuliffe win narrowly in a state that’s solidly blue in presidential elections? Sure. And for what it’s worth, if he does, I think Hannity’s right that McAuliffe barely winning will spook Democrats in Washington almost as much as Youngkin winning narrowly would. (Especially if there’s a meaningful shift towards the GOP in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race tonight as well.) If Virginia is suddenly eight or nine points more Republican than it was last November, that’s the makings of a wipeout in 2022 even if Youngkin doesn’t win.
But if Youngkin wins comfortably? Hoo boy. In that case Gingrich is right that it might cause a political earthquake, with the reconciliation bill stopped in its tracks. Democrats should be nervous that an easy victory for the Republican seems far more plausible than an easy victory for the Democrat. The opposite is normally true in Virginia.
It’s interesting to consider what might happen if Youngkin falls short by a point or two. Without a doubt, Trump will scream tomorrow that the election was stolen because that’s what infants do when they don’t get their way. But will Youngkin follow his lead? Given his strong performance in this campaign and his ability to self-fund, he’d be a top GOP recruit to challenge Tim Kaine for Senate in 2024. But to make a go of that, he’ll need to remain in MAGA’s good graces. If Trump cries fraud and Youngkin says “nah,” is he DOA in a future primary because he refuses to “fight”?
Also, how will Republican voters react to Youngkin losing narrowly after various polls and election forecasters predicted victory tonight? Absorb this new data from NBC:
Fifty percent of Republicans say they doubt their vote will be counted fairly, a greater share than those who trust that it will. Paradoxically, though, their Trump-fueled skepticism about the last election isn’t discouraging them from voting in future ones — for now:
“Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24.”@TheEconomist/@YouGovAmerica poll:
Registered Republican voters who distrust 2020 results are more likely to say they’re very likely to vote in 2022 than registered Republicans overall—and Democrats.https://t.co/BiwRqfGmR7 pic.twitter.com/0jpSzjaOcv
— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) November 1, 2021
Republicans who distrust the 2020 results are more likely to vote next fall than the average Republican is, a bananas result but one we’ve seen in polling before. We’ve seen it in Virginia polling too, as survey after survey shows GOPers far more enthused about turning out for Youngkin than Democrats are to turn out for McAuliffe. How a “stop the steal” true believer rationalizes being excited to vote in an election system he distrusts isn’t clear to me, but maybe the logic runs something like “2020 may have been rigged but this one might not be.” Or “Georgia may have been rigged but there’s no reason to think Virginia is.”
The point is this: With Republicans primed to believe that defeat necessarily means cheating has occurred, would Youngkin losing tonight “confirm” for some that U.S. elections are rigged and therefore there’s no point in voting? Will GOP enthusiasm to vote in the midterms begin to fall off? The more Trump’s narrative that Republicans can’t lose a fair election is reinforced, the more each new Republican loss risks convincing more righties that elections are chronically unfair and not worth participating in.
Finally, what will Democrats do if it’s McAuliffe who loses narrowly? The smart political play is to demand that he concede graciously, not wanting to give Trump any more political cover to cry foul in 2024 if he loses. He already has some thanks to Stacey Abrams’s caterwauling after the 2018 election in Georgia; the party would be foolish to give him another precedent to cite for “stop the steal 2.0.” But maybe McAuliffe, a serial whiner about election integrity when Democrats lose, won’t be deterred. Maybe he’ll insist on proceeding with election lawsuits to challenge the results, which would explain why he recently hired Marc Elias. (Dems will say they’re simply following Trump’s precedent if they file suit, not setting one of their own.) Let’s hope whoever wins tonight does so by enough of a margin that we don’t have to endure another propaganda nightmare that further shakes the electorate’s faith in democracy.