Reprinted with permission from DailyKosVirginia may have seemed like the big prize on Tuesday night, but across the nation, Republicans had a bigger plan: Leveraging fears over "critical race theory" to take over school boards everywhere. Not only have school boards long been regarded as providing the first step on the political ladder,
taking over those boards would position right-wing zealots to generate even more controversy through censorship, pushing an even more white-washed version of history, and shoving religion into classrooms.
There were places where white Republicans made sad by the existence of any book, video, or human being who reminded them that A) people of color exist or B) America was built on racism actually did win. That includes in Southlake, Texas, the location that's become the showcase for the GOP's Southern Strategy 2.0. As NBC News reports, That board turned on a single special election, where millionaire media executive Andrew Yeager beat out decided non-millionaire former teacher Stephanie Williams on a promise to crush the district's plan for teaching diversity.
But if Virginia's gubernatorial race might not have much to really say about the political pulse of the nation, Southlake is a particularly poor way to judge the success of Republicans pushing CRT and anti-mask / anti-vaccine rhetoric as a means to power. Because there are a number of places where that strategy simply did not work.
So much attention was focused on the Southlake race that the whole Republican plan has been called "the Southlake strategy." But the victory in Texas leaned on three things: Yaeger's own sizable resources, a PAC that poured at least $250,000 into a single local school board race, and Southlake's location in the most conservative part of a district that just elected GOP Rep. Beth Van Duyne (who ran on complaints about "Sharia law" and whose first act was supporting attempts to overturn the election on January 6). The whole reason there was a new push for diversity training at Southlake, was because of repeated complaints about racism, including a 2018 incident involving multiple students who laughed over racial slurs in a video.
In short, Southlake was easy pickings for the GOP—especially when they were willing to spend roughly $60 for every student in the district in order to secure the seat. The vote there can easily be read as parents protesting, not against CRT, but against the idea that they and their children are racist. And what was spent to secure a single school board seat was an amount that could have been easily competitive in a number of races for Congress.
Contrast that with what happened in Guilford, Connecticut where the Connecticut Mirror reports that five Republican candidates who powered past primary opponents by running on opposition to CRT, got absolutely crushed on Election Day. A slate of Democrats and independents out polled the Republicans by a 2-1 margin.
That really shouldn't be surprising, seeing that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Guilford by almost that same 2-1 margin. But what it shows is that waving arms about CRT didn't generate any break within the Democratic base. In fact, Republicans candidates found the issue an "unwanted and uncomfortable" addition to their races.
In an interview with Politico, Steve Bannon—who has been instrumental in selling Republicans on CRT as the theme to guide them into the next round of political victories—called this topic "the Tea Party to the 10th power." Bannon claimed that the issue would generate just the sort of fear and anger that Republicans needed to break back against Democratic gains in the suburbs. "This isn't Q," said Bannon. "This is mainstream suburban moms—and a lot of these people aren't Trump voters."
But that's not what the results on Tuesday night showed. Yes, Republicans won some races — like this one reported in The Colorado Sun where four conservatives who ran on opposition to CRT took spots on the local board. But those board members won their spots in the conservative county by almost exactly the same margin that Donald Trump won that county in 2020, and their victory came after more massive spending.
Switch to Ohio, where the Cleveland Scene reports that "Anti-Mask, Anti-Mandate, Anti-Critical Race Theory school board candidates in Northeast Ohio fared poorly on Election Day." With 156 school board members up for election, not every candidate was pinned down on these issues. However, of candidates who definitely favored mask mandates and diversity, 46 won their seats. Of candidates who were overtly opposed to mask mandates and diversity, just 11 won out. Anti-CRT candidates won in Strongsville, a conservative suburb that has played host to Trump rallies. But Strongsville appears to be an exception.
As in many other states, Ohio saw a flood of new candidates, with Republican groups not only providing funds, but with right-wing Trumpists at FreedomWorks running a "school board academy" that promised parents upset over the need for masks or failures to teach white supremacy, that they could "take back your school board!" However, as Cleveland.com reports, those plans didn't seem to go quite according to the Southlake Strategy. Candidates pushed by conservative Ohio Values Voters "have mostly not garnered the votes necessary to win spots on their respective boards."
It wasn't just Ohio or Michigan. In Iowa, the Des Moines Register reports that a slate of conservative candidates in fast-growing suburban Waukee ran together on a platform that opposed both mask mandates and diversity. This group was "backed by a well-funded political action committee," but even so they were all "rejected" by voters.
Again and again, what the school board races across the country seem to show is that CRT was a potent tool in conservative areas with a lot of Republican voters. As with many Trump and Bannon related schemes, it seems to have done an excellent job in defeating moderate Republican candidates and replacing them with rabid conspiracy theorists.
Candidates spouting anti-CRT rhetoric won seats in Wichita, while efforts to recall existing school board members in Wisconsin failed. Winning in states where Republicans already had control, while losing in states that are solidly in the purple category doesn't indicate this is an issue that Republicans can ride to a White House victory — or even to reversing the margins in the House.
It doesn't seem that either faux outrage around non-existent teaching of critical race theory or screaming about masks were effective in generating Republican wins outside their existing strongholds. In many areas, voters appear to have explicitly rejected candidates talking about CRT. If CRT is going to be "the Tea Party times ten" … then this is pretty weak tea.
None of this means that the Democratic Party—and the news media—don't have to do a better job on messaging. CRT might not have allowed the Republicans to sweep the field on Election Day, but they still enjoyed considerable success, and captured a huge amount of media attention, with an issue that was completely and deliberately fabricated for the sole purpose of generating outrage among their base. So long as the media is willing to go along with these schemes, and Democrats are ineffective in fighting back, Republicans will always get another swing.
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