A day before Republican Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial victory in Virginia, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich went on Fox News and warned that Democrats might try to steal the race. "First of all, if it's really tight, they'll steal it, so you can't afford to have a really tight election," Gingrich said on Sean Hannity's show. "You have to win by a big enough margin that they can't steal it." These allegations of cheating have become standard refrain for Republicans in the Trump Era — a way of ensuring that if they don't win elections, they can delegitimize the Democrats who do.
But Youngkin did win a somewhat tight race: He won by less than 70,000 votes out of more than 3.3 million cast. He came from behind to do so, starting from nearly 7 points below Democrat Terry McAuliffe in August polling. And most importantly, he did so in a state that has made it a lot easier for its residents to vote.
Republicans, it turns out, can win free and fair elections after all.
You wouldn't know it from the way they've acted. Former President Donald Trump is still contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election a year later — even in states he won. (This week, Trump ally Roger Stone threatened to primary GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida if DeSantis doesn't order an audit of Trump's victory there, which is both maddening and hilarious.) And in a bid to placate the vast numbers of Republican voters who believe Trump's lies, GOP-led state legislatures across the country have spent 2021 imposing new voting restrictions that just happen to affect Democratic constituencies disproportionately. Youngkin's victory — and Republican Jack Ciattarelli's strong showing in the New Jersey governor's race — suggests those efforts aren't really necessary for Republicans to win close campaigns.
These results present a different problem for Democrats. In recent years, the party has worked to expand voting possibilities for all voters — partly out of a belief in democracy, of course, but also because it seemed like the best path to election victory. Maybe that's not true. "There was record-shattering turnout today, and Youngkin won," election expert Dave Wasserman wrote Tuesday night.
As it stands, Youngkin's victory in Virginia makes Trump look silly — Youngkin won a state Trump lost a year ago, and he did it in part by never allowing himself to be too closely linked to the former president. (This, despite McAuliffe's best efforts.)
Republicans can triumph in free and fair elections; it's just Trump who can't.