Stop trying to make CRT happen
A look at how the VA GOP is manufacturing controversy to fire up the base
Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in the 2021 Virginia statewide and legislative elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are investing in digital engagement and the online tactics they use to reach voters across the Commonwealth. Was this email forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.
Across the country, the Republican Party has continued to embrace white grievance politics as a rallying cause, even after the defeat of former President Donald Trump. The latest iteration of this moral panic is over “critical race theory,” a type of scholarship that studies how race and racism are embedded in U.S. laws and institutions.
Despite the fact that critical race theory isn’t taught in any K-12 schools, it hasn’t stopped the national or Virginia GOP from using it as a dog whistle to rally support from white voters. In this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia, we take a look at how Virginia’s Republicans are trying to make “critical race theory” an issue in the upcoming election, but first...
2021 by the Numbers
Now that the primaries have wrapped, we’ll be publishing cumulative and weekly spending data in competitive elections for the House of Delegates and statewide offices.
FWIW, here are the top 10 spenders on Facebook in Virginia last week.
And here’s how digital ad spending stacked up this week in Virginia’s statewide races.
We’ve also started cumulative digital ad spending tracking across the state, including spending from candidates for statewide offices, competitive or potentially competitive Delegate races (any race under a 15 point margin in 2019), and partisan outside groups with spending specifically targeted at Virginia elections.
Stop Trying to Make CRT Happen
As the debate over “critical race theory” echoes around the country, one of the epicenters of the debate is in Loudoun County, where parents recently crashed the county school board’s final meeting of the year to accuse the district of “teaching their kids that racism in America is structural and systemic,” which, for the record, is not true and the district denies.
These partisan attacks in Virginia are part of a broader national trend as Republican-controlled states and localities begin to enact draconian restrictions on how race and racism are taught in schools. While this debate is based on a controversy manufactured out of thin air, it has caught on in Virginia, with Google search trends indicating that search interest for the term in Virginia reached its all-time high last week.
Interestingly, while the most visible outrage over “critical race theory” is based in the DC suburbs, search interest for the term over the past week has actually been concentrated in the central and southern portions of the state.
Youngkin wants it both ways
At the top of the ticket, GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin leaned heavily into race-baiting with Critical Race Theory in the now-concluded GOP primary, going on Tucker Carlson’s show on May 4th to claim that Virginia’s schools are teaching critical race theory in place of math and then running the spot in his Facebook ads.
Since the GOP convention, however, Youngkin has tried to distance himself from his race-baiting statements, along with his ties to former President Donald Trump + his support of the anti-democratic Big Lie. In his most recent statement on the disruption in Loudoun County, Youngkin tries to disingenuously take a middle ground. He claimed that the Loudoun County school board is “undermining their children’s education” and “causing chaos by silencing dissent,” ignoring the fact that the protestors he’s supporting want to undermine education by silencing (one could even say canceling) the discussion of race in the classroom.
At least six HoD Republican candidates advertising on CRT
While Youngkin wants to have it both ways, downballot GOP candidates are far less coded in how they discuss Critical Race Theory. Let’s have a look:
Fringe Loudoun County Del. Dave LaRock, whose own ads feature vaccine misinformation, recently promoted a “Restoring Excellence in Education Rally” to rail against CRT, featuring none other than Glenn Youngkin.
Other GOP candidates in Loudoun-based districts are leaning into the “controversy” over CRT. Scott Pio, running in Loudoun County’s HD 32, is promoting a video ad on Facebook bizarrely quoting Martin Luther King and tying CRT to socialism. Meanwhile, Greg Moulthrop, running in the Loudoun-based HD 87, actually had an ad taken down by Facebook that compared CRT to Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. These districts are both favorable to Democrats, so running on red meat social issues is certainly an… interesting strategy from these candidates.
Del. Michael Webert, whose HD 18 is just west of Loudoun County, has also been running donor acquisition ads on CRT on Facebook, asserting that children should be “learning math, not indoctrination.”
The controversy has spilled into other corners of the state as well, even in some of the swingiest districts in the state - Karen Greenhalgh, who’s running against Del. Alex Askew in the Virginia Beach-based HD 85, is also up with Facebook ads railing against CRT and “Woke Education” to scare Republicans into turning over their emails to her fundraising list.
Tim Anderson, the GOP nominee in HD 83 against Del. Nancy Guy, ran Facebook ads earlier this week claiming that Critical Race Theory says that “white children are born racist” and “should be ashamed of themselves,” a blatantly false claim that explicitly appeals to white grievance politics.
Broadly, it seems like Republicans are defining their distortion of Critical Race Theory as all white people are racist and all black people are victims, a distortion that fits their political agenda and appeals to white voters without making them feel racist themselves. This dissociation has trickled down to less outwardly far-right candidates as well, with Jason Ballard, the GOP nominee in HD 12 against Del. Chris Hurst, using similar language to criticize an academic doctrine that, again, isn’t taught in Virginia’s schools.
From the top to the bottom of the ticket, Virginia Republicans seem dedicated to making critical race theory an issue in the upcoming election. Despite the panic over the academic doctrine echoing similar racial grievances that Virginia voters soundly rejected when they voted against Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, the Virginia GOP seems convinced the issue could help them win back the independent and moderate voters that have fled the party in recent years.
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