Don Rogers: A familiar wind vane

The Republican victory in the Virginia governor’s race and near victory in New Jersey offer a huge clue how the party might win the presidency in 2024.

That is, win the suburbs.

This is not so different than other elections in our era, actually. Even with the Republicans’ turn to populism and the Democrats edging ever more progressive.

Here’s something else not so different than the past: President Barrack Obama’s party lost the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey at this point in his first term, in 2009. Both states had gone to Obama in 2008.

So it’s a little early for the Democrats to panic, the Republicans to gloat. But whatever the issues of the moment, whatever the combination of wins, the suburbs were the key.

Donald Trump only lost there because of the pandemic, and Joe Biden only won from exhaustion with all the drama. The wind vane can squeak any direction now. What zephers might stir the suburbs in 2022, 24?

Virginia and New Jersey fit a familiar pattern. Expect the Republicans to retake the House and the Senate in 2022, also a longstanding mid-term trend. The real game, then, is 2024.

If governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey are your crystal ball, Biden might be in better shape than Obama. And Obama won re-election after both had turned away from his party.


Glenn Youngkin underperformed Trump in Virginia’s hinterlands, though he led handily there, too. He really won the state by doing better than the ex-president in the cities and winning the suburbs, which Biden took in 2020.

Jim Hood in The National Review said Youngkin did so largely by politely leaving Trump out of his campaign and focusing on crime and education. Likewise, New Jersey voters seemed less concerned about Trump than the economy — high taxes mainly. The loser, Jack Ciattarelli, did indulge in attending at least one “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6 in his state. Now he’s tiptoeing a similar line by not conceding to incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Republican candidates in both states benefited from parental concerns about critical race theory and other elements of what some commentators call the “woke” agenda.

Never mind that the precise theory is not part of the state’s K-12 curriculum. This is politics. It resonated enough where it counted, and enough so that local Republicans think they have a winner of an issue to push here, too.


But what really caught my attention was Trump — or the lack of Trump — in these campaigns. I mean the Republican campaigns. The Democrats tried holding him up as a scarecrow, which didn’t work.

That’s a good sign for cranky centrists like me — unhappy with progressive governance in California as well as “conservative” populism, which doesn’t have all that much to do with conservatism as far as I can tell.

The intellectual underpinning of smaller government, lower taxes, civil liberty, and focusing on the fundamentals of health and safety and commerce is cohesive and cogent. It’s the other stuff caked on these principled basics that ruin the party for me. Well, ruin both parties. The Democrats don’t lack for their own excesses.

A dynamic tension with more liberal governance like the Scandinavian nations practice would strike the best balance, and would have the best chance of moving our great country forward.

Instead the worst instincts of each party lead to big shifts and then bigger backlashes, leaving a nation shaken but stuck as citizens struggle to keep their feet, and their lunch down. Gridlock starts to look like leadership in the absence of such.

The Democrats own the cities, good for 27% of the nation’s population. The Republicans have the countryside, 21%. That leaves 52% to the suburbs. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but in at least two states we know the suburbs have become deaf to clarion calls concerning the ex-president.

The GOP in Virginia and New Jersey, at least, figured that much out. The best thing Democratic partisans can do now is to just shut up already about Trump. There’s more than enough to contest with the issues themselves.

That seems to be the whisper from the suburbs. If so, the Republicans elsewhere would do well to heed it, too.

I’m not holding my breath.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299


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