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MICHAEL BARONE: It's a different country, Joe

President Joe Biden returned the morning of Nov. 3 to a nation that no longer supports him or his party.

Virginia, which he carried 55 percent to 44 percent in 2020, has elected Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor, Republicans for lieutenant governor and attorney general, and recaptured a majority in the state’s House of Delegates.

Some Democrats did win. Gov. Phil Murphy won re-election in New Jersey. Eric Adams was easily elected mayor of New York City, and Democrats captured a state House district (population 8,333) in Maine.

The Democrats’ progressive wing fared especially poorly. Voters in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died in May 2020, rejected a ballot proposition to replace the police force with a “public safety” department. So much for defunding the police.

And in Buffalo, socialist Democratic primary winner India Walton was beaten by write-in votes for the incumbent mayor she had defeated for the nomination, 59 percent to 41 percent. So much for socialism.

The results in Virginia and elsewhere are, as Cook Political’s David Wasserman tweeted, “consistent w/ a political environment in which Republicans would comfortably take back both the House and the Senate in 2022.”

In an environment where Donald Trump is no longer the central figure despite Terry McAuliffe’s constant mentions of him, Youngkin managed to improve on Trump’s numbers with non-college-graduate white voters while making substantial inroads in affluent suburbs.

The Virginia race was fought out over cultural issues. Youngkin seized on McAuliffe’s Sept. 29 debate statement of “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That’s holy writ among teachers union members and school administrators, who believe they have special expertise in enlightening the children of backward parents.

But in the Virginia exit poll, 84 percent said that parents should have a lot of or some say in what schools teach, and only 13 percent said little or none.

Youngkin was not afraid to criticize public schools’ use of materials championing critical race theory–the idea that whites are irremediably racist. Children should learn the good and the bad about our history, he said, and to judge others by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

That predictably prompted charges of racism. Barack Obama, campaigning for McAuliffe, insisted, “We don’t have time to be wasting on these phony trumped-up culture wars.” Youngkin, he said, was avoiding “serious problems that actually affect serious people.”

But for parents, the education of their children is a serious matter, not a phony trumped-up issue. Cultural issues are more important to Americans on both sides of the cultural divide than economics. Although Biden Democrats have argued their economic policies would help the little guy, an ABC/Ipsos poll found that only 25 percent believe his reconciliation bill would help people like them, while 32 percent say they would hurt.

That leaves 43 percent not seeing much difference. A similarly pervasive skepticism explains polls showing majorities against passing Obamacare in 2010 and against repealing Obamacare in 2018. In contrast, attitudes on cultural issues are more firmly rooted in personal experience and moral principles.

Liberals and progressives are vulnerable on cultural issues because their search for the latest underdog cause to champion, while sometimes producing results widely accepted, sometimes puts them in lasting opposition to large majorities of voters. That’s what happened in Virginia. The advice of Democrats’ MSNBC and CNN cheering squads–to double down on accusing voters of racism–is not helpful.

So, for the moment at least, and possibly into 2022 and 2024, the nation Biden returned to in the wee hours of Nov. 3 no longer supports him or his party.


Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.