A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“The entire nation is watching” the Virginia governor’s race, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin told an audience in Richmond on Monday as he urged voters to help him defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
To the extent that’s true, “the entire nation” has heard that disputes over schools have been paramount in the election. Chris Jansing asked an interesting question on MSNBC Monday: “How did education become the No. 1 issue, Larry?”
I’ll share Larry Sabato’s answer in a moment, but let me lead with what he didn’t say. The right-wing media ecosystem was the loudspeaker for legit concerns about schools as well as dishonest partisan point-scoring on the subject. Figures like Christopher Rufo propelled “critical race theory” to the top of the MAGA media agenda. Hosts like Laura Ingraham highlighted “concerned parents” without noting they were also GOP activists. Virginia’s Loudoun County has been cited more than 450 times on Fox News this year. Fairfax County has been mentioned more than 200 times. This is how a political party’s TV network operates.
It’s important to respect that authentic arguments by parents are layered into this. If no one was genuinely outraged about Covid-era school closures; if no one was angry about masking rules; if no one was triggered by school curricula, then Ingraham et al would have nothing to amplify. Right-wing media was the loudspeaker but not the original speaker.
But to understand why school boards are “under siege;” to understand why Arizona’s attorney general appeared on Fox fear-mongering about parents being sent to Gitmo; to understand why Youngkin has made parents’ rights “key to his campaign,” look to the media outlets favored by conservative moms and dads. News outlets shouldn’t leave this part out of the story…
“It has to do with race”
Here’s what UVA Center for Politics director Larry Sabato – who has shifted his Crystal Ball prediction to “lean Republican” in Virginia – said on MSNBC to explain the state of the governor’s race: “The operative word is not ‘critical’ and it’s not ‘theory.’ It’s RACE. What a shock, huh? Race. That is what matters and that’s why it sticks. There’s a lot of, you can call it white backlash, white resistance, whatever you want to call it. It has to do with race.”
New polling by PRRI adds an exclamation mark to Sabato’s point about “critical race theory” concerns. “One-third of Americans (34%) say they have heard nothing at all about critical race theory, 44% say they have heard a little, and only 19% say they have heard a lot,” the group reports. “There are no significant differences among partisans, but Republicans who most trust far-right news outlets (37%) and Fox News (30%) are more likely than Republicans overall (20%) to say they have heard a lot about critical race theory.”
A final falsehood
At McAuliffe’s final campaign rally on Monday night, he closed “with quite a falsehood” about Donald Trump’s tele-rally in support of Youngkin, CNN’s Dan Merica reports. “McAuliffe said his opponent was ‘doing an event’ with the former president, and that is not true… A Youngkin aide confirms to CNN tonight that the Republican candidate did not call in…”