What lessons can be learned from Tuesday’s victory by Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia? Exit polls show some intriguing opportunities. 

For Democrats, McAuliffe’s weak showing among the youngest voters is the most alarming result. Polls show that Youngkin only narrowly lost among voters younger than 25, earning 47 percent of their votes. President Donald Trump received only 33 percent of that cohort’s ­support. 

McAuliffe’s weak performance here appears to be driven by comparatively low turnout among the youngest cohort. According to the exit polls, voters 18 to 24 years old were 12 percent of the electorate in 2020. In 2021, they were only 5 percent — Democrats failed to mobilize them, and Republicans got enough. 

In spite of their victory, some of the Republicans’ electoral problems remain unchanged. Trump performed surprisingly well among Latino voters in 2020, outperforming both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Might a different Republican, one without a history of making caustic remarks about immigrants, do even better? 

Glenn Youngkin won in Virginia, a state that President Joe Biden carried by 10 points in 2020.
Glenn Youngkin won in Virginia, a state that President Joe Biden carried by 10 points in 2020.
Andrew Harnik/AP

We don’t have the final results yet. But if CNN’s exit poll of 32 percent for Youngkin among Virgina Latinos is accurate, it will be the election’s most disappointing result for Republicans. Other surveys, however, show the final result could be much higher. 

As always, these results will be a Rorschach test for different factions within the parties. The Democratic Party’s moderates will claim that Republican victories in Virginia, as well as its strong performance in blue states like New Jersey, represent a rebuke to the party’s radical fringe. 

Middle-class suburban voters supported Joe Biden because they wanted a return to normalcy, not defunding the police and other far-left ideas. 

Youngkin voters favored having parents having a say in their child's education.
Youngkin voters favored having parents have a say in their child’s education.
NY Post composite

Progressive Democrats will fire back that the party’s centrists have hindered their efforts to pass popular legislation, giving the party few victories to campaign on. Neither side will change its agenda or talking points. The party’s infighting will only get worse. 

Critical race theory, and its place in K-12 education, was the top story this election. Youngkin outperformed Trump among parents with children under 18 (51 percent compared with Trump’s 44 percent), suggesting that this is a winning issue, especially if the Democrats continue handling it in such a ham-fisted manner. Keeping attention on the “culture war” is in the GOP’s best interest. 

In terms of style, this election might also teach an important lesson. Republicans won an improbable victory in Virginia by running a candidate with an anodyne personality. Independents especially were what decided the race, with 54 percent for Youngkin, compared with 38 percent for Trump. 

Terry McAuliffe failed in his bid to win in Virginia again.
Terry McAuliffe failed in his bid to win in Virginia again.
Steve Helber/AP

The former president built a fanatically loyal base of support, but he also mobilized the left to an unprecedented degree. If he wants it, Donald Trump is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. From the party’s perspective, the Virginia election suggests bringing the Trump era of American politics to a close is in the party’s best interest. 

Straight-laced candidates running against left-wing overreach represent the most viable path to future Republican victories. 

George Hawley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alabama, is the author of “Making Sense of the Alt-Right.” 

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