Aldenschiller via Wikimedia Commons

Redistricting and $35 million in cash from Democratic dark money groups purchases narrow one-seat majorities in Virginia’s General Assembly.

Yeah — I’m a bit bitter over this one.

Virginia Republicans did everything we were asked, despite our intuition. We narrowed the talking points, stayed in our lanes, muffled internal criticisms, and allowed the effort to be centralized. Consultants made their money as they do every election and the Democrats outspent us as we thought.

Yet at the end of the day, redistricting did us in — and voters were given a choice between Virginia Democrats or Glenn Youngkin.

They chose the Democrats — barely.

By The Numbers? Spirit of Virginia PAC Got Republicans Awfully Close…

Cooler heads now prevailing, there is one culprit — maybe two — for Republican fortunes in November 2023: redistricting and $8 million in Democratic cash spent on a handful of House of Delegates races.

Consider that Democrats did not win a single seat where Youngkin earned 52% of the vote or higher. Not a single one. Likewise, Republicans did not win a single seat where Youngkin did not perform 50% or better.

Biden’s favorable numbers were also just about where they were in 2021, hovering in the low-40s (RCP has Biden at 41.4%). 2023 was no repeat of 2017, where Democrats enjoyed a massive victory over Republicans one year after Donald Trump was elected president.

A 51-49 House and a 21-19 Senate is no mandate — it is stasis.

Bolling: Three Reasons Why Republicans Fell Short

Former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has offered his thoughts on why Republicans lost in triplicate. I think he is wrong on two, but most certainly right on the third.

There will be a temptation to blame the outcome of the 2023 elections on abortion, but this is not the case at all.

Consider SD-27 where Republican Tara Durant ran as an unabashedly pro-life Catholic against Democrat Joel Griffin who advocated for late term abortions up to 40 weeks. Within that same district in HD-65, Republican Lee Peters carefully couched at 15-week regulation while Democrat Joshua Cole argued a personally pro-life position while advocating for a more intensive social safety net for mothers.

Given that Democrats did not push Republicans in any seat which Youngkin won in 2021, the culprit falls on redistricting and redistricting alone. In fact, some blame could be placed on the fact that Republicans were not decisive enough on a question as clear and as important as life and voters detected the hypocrisy. Too clever by half is too clever indeed.

Next is the omnipresence of former President Donald J. Trump on the Virginia electorate.

True, it has changed the nature of what it means to be a Republican to some degree, shifting the old conservative-libertarian alliance to a conservative-populist one in theory.

Such a shift takes the old battleground states and moves them to places where — if the New York Times is to be believed — Trump is winning if 5 of the 6 states, Pennsylvania and Arizona included. Woe to Virginia, perhaps, but at some point, Republicans have to stop whining about it and start rediscovering that rare earth element known as a spine.

Have things really changed so much from 2014 where Republicans lost by a whisker? Are things so different nine years after the fact where Republicans once again have lost by a whisker? After having swept all three statewide seats by a whisker?

Which brings us to the penultimate point where Bolling and I heartily agree:

Republicans (and this one really amazes me) never offered the voters a compelling reason to vote for them. They never put together a cohesive argument as to what they would do to help improve the lives of Virginians if they were elected. Governor Youngkin tried to do this with his own TV ads late in the campaign, but it was too little, too late.

You can’t beat something with nothing, folks.

It is one thing to be so defined that you give the opposition a reason not to vote for you on a given issue. Something else to be so undefined as not to give supporters a reason to turn out. In 2021, Youngkin’s team was handed a resolution — give supporters a reason to vote against the Democrats. McAuliffe supplied the hammer, and Youngkin held the tongs.

Yet the trick only works once.

Bolling puts the question quite nicely, though I would argue that it is a question which had bedeviled Republicans since we lost George Allen’s leadership 2006:

The challenge for the GOP remains what it has been since 2013. How does the party nominate candidates and run campaigns that energize and mobilize the Republican base, which remains very conservative; while at the same time reaching out to the suburban voters it is losing, voters who are much more moderate in their political beliefs.

The three model Republican governors thus far — Allen, Gilmore, and McDonnell — all did one thing really well. We knew why they were running. Youngkin never quite found his why until the Day One plan, but even then — Day One really wasn’t terribly ambitious. Just achievable.

We didn’t have a Day Two plan.