The conventional wisdom among Republican consultants up and down the Acela corridor for the last few decades was always to leave those icky cultural issues alone and focus on tax cuts and deregulation. Moderates, particularly suburban women, they said, are turned away from the GOP by a focus on “rube issues”—topics that might get a person labeled “racist” or “bigoted” at a dinner party. Fiscally conservative, socially moderate—that was the sweet spot to woo 50.1 percent of independents.
That conventional wisdom was probably always bunk, but yesterday it was dealt a death blow in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin rode to victory over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, in a state that went for Joe Biden by ten points, largely by focusing on critical race theory and radical indoctrination in public schools. Virginia is a state, moreover, with a heavily college-educated, suburban, managerial class-wealthy voting population—exactly the kind of voters thought lost to the GOP forever.
Youngkin fits the typical profile of a Republican running in an uphill battle state in many ways; he’s certainly no Donald Trump rhetorically, (although CNN contributor Van Jones called his brand of politics “the Delta variant of Trumpism”) and he’s quite moderate on not a few policy issues.
But he is like Trump in one respect: he made a campaign centerpiece out of pushing back on Democrats’ increasing cultural radicalism. Trump may have broken the ice on putting the culture war front and center, but the Virginia race is showing the popularity of that focus isn’t limited to the hardcore Trump right. Running against critical race theory, gender ideology, indoctrination in schools and other cultural hot button issues actually brings in moderates and even Democrats who may disagree on other issues, like government health care or taxes.
As I’ve been saying for a while, the “economics trumps all” view of politics doesn’t quite hit the mark, and is often delivered, whether on the left or right, with a kind of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” type of condescension. It’s entirely possible for people in the center, or even left of center, to prioritize concerns about their children being taught to rank themselves by racial privilege or their daughters losing team spots and locker room space to biological males, even over budget-busting health-care premiums or other traditionally left-leaning priorities (although those inflationary prices can’t have helped Democrats).
Not only is waging unapologetic culture war—meaning strong and brave pushback on all types of leftist narratives, whether they come from schools, media, or big corporations—a winning strategy for the Republican Party, it’s the most important thing we can do to back off from the cultural disunion we’re hurtling towards.
Youngkin’s victory in Virginia should show Republicans what they need to do to win. As for getting the country off its current disastrous cultural trajectory, well, that’ll require actually following through and prioritizing legislation that throws a wrench in the left’s domination of every institution in and out of government.
Why do we find ourselves, at this late date, in a situation where public schools feel free to actively teach America’s future voters to hate their country? Because the Republican Party and the right more generally abandoned every cultural institution to the left decades ago, and dismissed the increasing radicalism seeping out of academia into K-12 as the fringe views of the faculty lounge.
As I wrote back when cities burned in 2020 in the midst of the riots that summer:
Well before protesters spilled into the streets in 2020, the largest national teachers’ union gave its official stamp of approval to Black Lives Matter and to indoctrinating teachers with the concept of ‘white fragility’ and its supposed cause, ‘white supremacy culture,’ as part of professional development. The effort to re-educate the nation’s teachers in the left’s radical image will also likely be accelerated due to the protests… The cultural revolutionaries produced by our education system then advance into corporations, tech startups, Hollywood, sports, and of course, media.
If conservatives ever believed the canard that safe-space social justice warriors would implode on impact with the “real world,” now’s the time to forget that happy notion. They’re not John Mayer, waiting on the world to change; they’re remaking the world as they see fit, consistent with what they’ve been taught from K-12 to the highest echelons of learning…
Where the right finds itself today is a direct consequence of its appalling failure to take culture, and the institutions that shape it, at least as seriously as it takes tax cuts, deregulation, and economic growth. I like taking home more of my paycheck as much as the next person, but minor economic reforms will not change the overall trajectory of the country if its schools and academies continue to preach disunion instead of e pluribus unum.
If conservatives get another bite at the national apple in 2022 and 2024, they’d better not squander it on tax cuts. That’s because, with our education system churning out new ranks of cultural revolutionaries every year, it may be the last bite they get if they don’t use their political capital to force some transformative institutional shakeup.
And no institution has been more of an asset to the radical left in the past decades than our education system, kindergarten through graduate school.