Virginia’s elections this last November proved to be a solid reprimand to the Republican Party. Losing legislative seats in the double digits, soundly losing the Governor’s race, on and Lieutenant Governor’s and Attorney General’s races by somewhat smaller margins ought to send a signal to Republican leadership. Simply put, the Republican party is not doing what the people want.. Whereas Congress is virtually inoperable, hopelessly and probably permanently deadlocked on the major reforms needed to instill responsibility in the federal government, state legislatures are still mobile and quick to act by comparison. However, despite a massive Republican majority in the House of Delegates for as long as I have been following politics closely, I cannot point to one major Virginia bill of which I approve. I also happen to generally hang out with and agree with Republicans. Something is wrong.
I would point to several failings in Republican tendencies, strategies, and image to explain the electoral slaughter in Virginia. Firstly, it seems Republicans must appear “tough on crime” in order to be a self-respecting conservative. In an age of over-criminalization, dishonest prosecutors, and woefully inadequate adherence to constitutional protections for the accused, the public is absolutely right to look askance at this Republican shibboleth. Based upon the Republican stance on the right to self-defense, it seems if the party took a more careful approach to criminal justice, inhabitants living in victimized inner cities would feel more comfortable voting for the GOP. Self-defense against actual violent crime combined with a stance that does not make poor families the unmerited victims of the courts seems a winning combination.
Secondly, although one can certainly trust a Virginia Republican legislator to vote in favor of the right to self-defense on any gun bill before the Assembly, they have failed to use the years of supremacy the voters gave them to re-write Virginia’s antiquated and inconsistent weapons laws. People like victory. Without legislative victory, the Republican Party should not expect electoral victory. On the economic side, there have not been major tax cuts, major debt payments, or major spending cuts to speak of. Falling short on platform promises is an easy way to lose seats.
Finally, Virginia Republicans (I speak here of the party structure, not of the Party members) exude a feeling of “old white people doing whatever old white people do.” I am not about to argue that we ought to base electoral decisions on skin color, or Virginia Republicans ought even to put up an insincere front of skin-deep diversity. Think about it. The two presidential candidates in recent years that most electrified millennials were old white men (Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul). Skin does not matter so much as heart and mind. As long as the Republican party continues to fail to put forward strong stances and actions on issues that are close to millennials’ minds (justice, electronic privacy, self-protection, etc.) it will fail in the polls.