Glenn Youngkin’s winning bid for governor of Virginia last year was scrutinized by both sides for signs of what was to come in 2022.
Now, as the Republican begins his work in Richmond, he is still under the microscope.
The governor made big promises about school choice and public safety. He attracted voters from across the spectrum, even the wayward ex-president. He channeled suburban voters’ frustrations with masking and distance learning and voiced conservative fears about what students were learning in the classroom.
It has many people to please.
“What he has for the first time in a very long time is a lot of energy for school choice, alternatives, accountability, public safety and classrooms that I just don’t have. not seen in 30 years that I have been in government service,” said Bob McDonnell, the last Republican governor of Virginia.
The basic call
So far, Youngkin’s conservative base seems happy.
The governor issued two executive orders that conservatives applauded: one banning school mask mandates and the other banning critical race theory, the academic framework that has become a catch-all term for conservatives who criticize the how schools teach racism.
The first executive order pledges to end “the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory, and to raise academic standards.” It also calls for a review of resources for educators and ends a state math initiative that Youngkin had criticized as a “leftist takeover of public education.”
The second order is to end a school mask mandate put in place by Youngkin’s predecessor, Ralph Northam. “Parents should have the option to decide whether their child should wear masks for the duration of the school day,” it read.
However, it’s unclear whether the order can actually be enforced, given that it conflicts with current state law requiring schools to follow CDC guidelines. But that may be less important to Trump voters who were once skeptical of Youngkin.
They are “ecstatic with his opening week,” said John Fredericks, a radio talk show host who chaired Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns in Virginia. “Right now, from my perspective, it’s Trump in a red vest.”
The olive branch
Part of Youngkin’s first speech to the General Assembly appeared to be aimed at appealing to Democrats who want to see more school funding.
“We’re going to start by investing in Virginia classrooms,” he said. “Education is the key to opportunity, the means by which all children and their parents can realize their greatest dreams.”
He requested $150 million to form 20 new charter schools and proposed the creation of laboratory schools that would partner with Virginia universities.
And while Republican governors in other states have angered voters by cutting education funding, Youngkin said he wants to sign a budget with bipartisan membership that sets “record investment in education, including including a significant increase in teachers’ salaries”.
Democrats: No, thank you
The response from Democrats has been a combination of skepticism and outrage.
L. Louise Lucas, acting president of the state Senate, criticized Republicans for promoting “bad legislation” in a video celebrated by many on the left.
“We have a few other bills here that we really don’t like,” she said, crumpling up a piece of paper. “And that’s what we intend to do with them – trash them.”
Schuyler VanValkenburg, a teacher and state delegate, called Youngkin’s push for privatization and charter schools “standard, right-wing conservative educational policy.”
And while he thought he could find common ground with Youngkin on issues like prioritizing in-person learning and raising academic standards, “the executive orders kind of undermine those claims on those two things. “, did he declare.
As for ordering masks, school districts in Northern Virginia immediately pushed back. Parents in one school district have already filed a lawsuit over it, and Democratic state lawmakers have promised more lawsuits if the administration withholds funding to force schools to comply. The State PTA released a statement maintain support for continuing to follow CDC guidelines.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and supporter of Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democratic candidate, said she was baffled that Youngkin repealed the mask mandate amid Omicron’s surge. The move resulted in “more confusion, more angst and more division,” she said.
Youngkin’s executive order on critical race theory, she said, could have a “chilling effect” on teachers by limiting their ability to teach history and current affairs.
Like others who have criticized Youngkin’s order, Weingarten noted that it’s just not on the schedule. “But,” she asked, “why do it then?”
Youngkin says he plans to inject record funding into Virginia schools. When combined with his calls to put parents firmly in charge of raising their children, Republicans see his approach as a new model that can transcend longstanding left-right divides.
“There’s something everyone loves about this message — more money and more responsibility,” McDonnell said.
Understanding the Critical Race Theory Debate
Weingarten said if Youngkin refocuses on things like teacher pay and school funding, he can expect bipartisan support in his agenda. But she is skeptical.
“I think Youngkin was trying to prove that there’s a new Republican party when it comes to education – that they’re going to invest in public schools, that they’re going to pay teachers more. And he claimed he was going to care about public schooling, not just privatization,” she said.
For some conservatives, that kind of friction is part of the appeal.
Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has urged Republicans to stoke voter anger over concepts such as critical race theory, said Youngkin was “already establishing a new paradigm of culture warfare as politics. public”.
What to read tonight
Two Trump-related investigations made the news on Thursday. In Washington, the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has asked Ivanka Trump to cooperate with its investigation. And in Atlanta, the district attorney has asked to convene a special grand jury to help investigate allegations of interference in the 2020 election.
Our Opinion Bureau colleagues hosted a focus group with 14 Independent voters – who said they were unimpressed with President Biden’s first year in office. “Asked what they hold Mr. Biden responsible for and what they would tell him if given the chance, the independents highlighted energy prices, the economy and the importance of being moderate , as well as a desire to avoid mandates and Covid lockdowns,” write Patrick Healy and Adrian J. Rivera.
Biden is planning an aggressive shift in strategy in the coming weeks, the Times White House team reports. His advisers are urging him to step down from a “senator-president” role that has mired him in endless and unproductive negotiations with Congress.
Is Trump losing his edge with GOP voters?
Buried in a new survey released today is a fascinating nugget that suggests the Republican Party may not be as committed to Trump as we’ve long assumed.
Just about every month for several years, NBC News pollsters have asked, “Do you consider yourself more of a Donald Trump supporter or more of a Republican Party supporter?”
For most of that time, Republicans responded that they saw themselves as Trump supporters first. But the lines crossed starting in January of last year – and as of this month, 56% of GOP voters said they saw themselves more as Republicans, while just 36% said identify more as Trump supporters.
What is happening here?
It’s hard to say why Republicans seem to be weaning themselves off the former president, but we can hazard a guess. Two things happened last January: Trump left office and became less of a day-to-day presence in American life; and rioters claiming to act on his behalf stormed the Capitol, damaging his image.
Other polls suggest many on the right are looking for new options in 2024. For example, only 56% of Republicans want Trump to run for president again, according to the latest AP-NORC poll.
Whatever the reasons for the change among GOP voters, it’s safe to say that Trump’s top potential rivals are watching those numbers closely.
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