No, the GOP War on Critical Race Theory Did Not Win the Election

The backlash against Democrats arrived on Tuesday, but claims of victory from opponents of “critical race theory" are overblown.
People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via
People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

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The backlash against Democrats arrived on Tuesday, but claims of victory from opponents of “critical race theory" are overblown.

In Virginia, right-wing pundits immediately gave credit for GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin’s defeat of Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the campaign against CRT, an academic theory on the legal system that the right has portrayed as a bogeyman infiltrating America’s schools to teach white kids that they’re evil. 

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Youngkin himself played up these fears, running an ad in the final days of the campaign featuring a Fairfax County mom whose failed campaign to get Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved banned caused a stir during McAuliffe’s previous term in office. The incident foreshadowed the reactionary rage against the push in schools to change curricula after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

One of the centers of anger has been Loudoun County, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where school board meetings have been the site of fierce protests and even injuries and arrests. Adding fuel to the fire was the portrayal in conservative media of a teen’s sexual assault by a classmate in her school’s bathroom, which right-wing outlets falsely claimed was a result of providing accommodations for transgender people in public spaces, including bathrooms. 

But on Tuesday, Loudoun County still went for McAuliffe by double-digits. And although there was a 14-point shift away from President Joe Biden’s share in Loudoun since last year, Youngkin outperformed former President Donald Trump by double-digits all over the state—including Virginia Beach, which went for Youngkin just a year after going for Biden. 

In the areas that actually had school board races on Tuesday, the results were even more mixed. In Southlake, Texas, another suburb where conservatives have railed against a district plan to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom, a conservative candidate won in a landslide and handed the board an anti-CRT majority to kill the plan

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Conservatives campaigning against critical race theory also won seats in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, and early results in Douglas County, Colorado, showed a similar trend

But that wasn’t the case everywhere. In Guilford, Connecticut, which has been the setting for a similar fight over school curricula, anti-CRT candidates were shut out of their attempts to take over the school board. This was also the case in Waukee, Iowa, where right-wing candidates on a slate calling itself “Wolves and Warriors United” were all defeated in their runs for spots on the school board

And in Wisconsin, an effort to recall members of the Mequon-Thiensville School Board, in the Milwaukee suburbs, failed to recall any members of the board despite the unprecedented sums spent on the race. There have been 16 failed school board recall efforts in Wisconsin since the pandemic began, according to the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel. 

Still, Republicans were giddy about an overall good night in which even the gubernatorial race in staunchly Democratic New Jersey remained tight, and conservatives who’ve criticized critical race theory and mask and vaccine mandates were all too happy to credit their newfound focus on “education.”

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, released a memo to committee members Tuesday night following Youngkin’s win which said the “concerns of parents needs to be a tier 1 policy issue for Republicans,” calling a much-criticized McAuliffe statement about parents dictating school curricula as a “the defining moment of the campaign.” 

“Youngkin’s success reveals that Republicans can and must become the party of parents,” Banks said. “There is real energy from parents that we need to understand.”