The political blunder that won’t go away for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections

McAuliffe Youngkin
Virginia Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Glenn Youngkin participate in a debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Virginia on September 28, 2021.

  • Democrats didn’t like Terry McAuliffe’s statement that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach.
  • They’ll likely have their own chances to confront culture wars in education in midterm campaigns.
  • Republicans are seizing on the issue of parent empowerment as they hope to beat Democrats in 2022.

It’s not hard to find a Democrat these days who is ready to dunk on failed Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

His statement during a September debate with Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, that parents shouldn’t be “telling schools what they should teach,” is the lead balloon that still hovers over the Democratic party as members face what’s already shaping up to be challenging midterm campaigns in 2022.  And Republicans, eager to seize the majority in both chambers of Congress, aren’t letting the issue go.

They’re pivoting off the Virginia election with a parent-empowerment message for 2022 and pointing to McAuliffe’s statement as evidence that Democrats are out of touch with parents’ concerns.

The McAuliffe blunder is the “example du jour” of how Democrats are mishandling culture issues, said Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2020. 

“I think a much better approach would be to say, ‘We’re not a communist country that bans books…and that’s what the Republicans are asking us to do,'” Moulton told Insider at the Capitol. “‘I care what parents think, but I believe in the Constitution, and I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of thought.'”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, told Insider that McAuliffe misread the political situation and, more importantly, didn’t give credit to parents and teachers fighting for public education. “When you don’t relate is when you make those kinds of comments,” he said.

If they haven’t already, many Democrats will certainly have their own opportunities in 2022 to confront the education culture wars creating chaos at school board meetings. McAuliffe’s comment came during an exchange about controversial books but the teaching of race and gender has caused flare-ups, too. 

McAuliffe, whose staff did not respond to a request for comment, offered Democrats a lesson in what not to say. The question is what to say to parents instead. 

Democrats need a better answer about parental involvement, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said, calling McAuliffe’s statement “problematic.” “We ought to be very comfortable with this,” she said.

Now they’re on the defensive as Republicans try to position themselves as the “party of parents” and offer up “Parents Bill of Rights” legislation in the House. 

“We’ve always been the party for more parental involvement, for school choice, for more opportunities for kids and parents,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana told Insider at the Capitol. “And I think there’s never been more interest from parents across the political spectrum in that kind of Republican agenda.”

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, said “if Virginia is an indication, showing disinterest in what parents think becomes an issue.

“What Virginia proved is that when you ignore your constituency; when you ignore the things they’re most concerned with, they’re gonna bite you,” said Burr, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee who said in 2016 he wouldn’t run for re-election. “And they bit in Virginia.”

Loudoun county school board meeting
Amy Jahr sings the Star Spangled Banner after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a former governor of the state like McAuliffe, said the lesson moving forward is to fully appreciate and show more empathy toward parents and students who have had a challenging time over the last 18 months. “We may not have handled that as well as we could,” he said. Many on the Democratic side know that you need to start with empathy when dealing with parents rather than a specific policy, Warner added. Asked whether he was talking about McAuliffe, he laughed and walked away.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John King, of Maryland, was quick to bring up parents when asked if there was anything else he’d like to add during a recent interview. King said even McAuliffe would acknowledge the response wasn’t good or correct. “We need schools to be a partnership of educators and parents,” said King, who served as former President Barack Obama’s education secretary.

McAuliffe got defensive and shouldn’t have, said Grijalva, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee. Parents worry about educating their children during the pandemic and the investments they think their schools need, he said. Parent empowerment is an issue that works for Democrats, Grijalva said, and it’s to Democrats’ advantage to focus on public education.

“I don’t think we should run away from this,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider