Virginia Battle: Why both Democrats and Republicans are not excited

Looking beyond the Virginia election, where the Democrats hope to do well, neither of the parties are in an enviable position

Donald Trump
Miffed at being thrown out of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Donald Trump has announced that he is starting his own platform, ‘Truth Social’ | File Photo - White House/Twitter

Both Democrats and Republicans are in a holding mode, neither giving the impression that they are about to make a huge political dividend in the near future or even make a decisive call about what is in store by way of 2022 midterm elections. In fact, in one sense all eyes are on November 2 when in Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe hopes to get into the governor’s mansion after getting the better of his Republican opponent. This to many analysts would be the first sign of what is in store next November and in terms of the outcomes in the House of Representatives and Senate, where Democrats are hanging on to razor thin majorities, especially in the Senate where nearly all major legislations come down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice-President Kamala Harris.

In the midst of the battle in Virginia, where only one poll calls it for the Democrats by a very thin margin, there is a sideshow that has started with none other than the former president, Donald Trump. Miffed at being thrown out of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the 45th president has announced that he is starting his own platform, ‘Truth Social’, which promises his backers to fill the void created by the big tech companies. After all, Trump argues every now and then, if the Taliban can have an account on Twitter, why can’t he? Since he was shown the door, there is something fundamentally wrong with the system, he maintains.

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What Trump does not acknowledge is that he was bounced out only because of all the preposterous, malicious and obnoxious material posted, which led to extreme actions — positions that the former president and his followers have neither any regrets about nor are taking any steps to address the patent falsehoods that have been thrown out of courts. People in the know say that Truth Social is not about to make a foray until the beginning of next year and its grand gala entry itself is dependent on a number of things, for instance in the outcome of many legal proceedings, including on the criminal front. Further, for all the hype that the former president recently made on the blogging front, that turned out to be a damp squib, only to be folded very soon.

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Democrats have every reason to be apprehensive about the Virginia election even if the last two presidential contests saw the Commonwealth state voting for Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden. For all the effort McAuliffe has taken to portray his opponent Glenn Youngkin as nothing but a faithful follower of Trump, the Grand Old Party hopes to cash in on the waning approval ratings of Biden, especially among the Independents. And this is one reason why both parties have aggressively courted the African American vote and that of minority groups dotting that state. Biden’s approval rating in Virginia, according to two recent polls, is at 48 per cent and the disapproval figure is at 52 per cent. At the same time, it is pointed out that when McAuliffe won the gubernatorial race in 2013, the approval rating of the then president, Barack Obama, was only in the forties. Virginia rules are such that a governor cannot be elected back-to-back; hence the four-year hiatus for McAuliffe.

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Democrats are worried about Virginia but the GOP is more concerned about the potential fallouts of Trump’s new social platform with many convinced that the so-called Truth Social will only be focused on re-hashing the worn-out and discredited theories of the November 2020 election, which Trump continues to maintain was “stolen” from him. Worse, he has a huge crowd of followers that believe him, as was recently seen at a boisterous political rally in Iowa. The threat of the former president once again taking to a social platform comes at a time when Republicans are hopeful of leaving the past behind and starting a new political order that would hopefully swing things around in the House and Senate elections of 2022. 

Within the GOP, Trump still has the numbers with close to 60 per cent wanting him to be politically around, especially in 2024. At the same time there is a clear group within the GOP, including senior and seasoned leaders, who do not wish to see the former president in any active political role, or for that matter start spinning his outlandish theories of the November 2020 elections.

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When it comes to Trump, the problem for Democrats is that it cuts two ways: on the one hand the more the group believes that the former president is an electoral asset by way of his runaway statements, the higher the risk of these getting traction in an election year, especially if Biden’s popularity ratings continue to sag; on the other hand, Democrats have to keep in mind that Trump still has a large following with an enviable trail of money bags. Taking on Trump will be an expensive proposition; and hence the temptation will be to let the former president politically sink on his own.

Virginia and November 2 will indeed be an eye-opener as Democrats do not expect much of a trouble in New Jersey that day with the incumbent set on retaining his post. But looking beyond the governor’s elections, Democrats and Republicans have their task cut out and neither of the parties is in an enviable position.

The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington, DC, for 15 years covering North America and the United Nations

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