[Disclaimer: Politics have taken on a tenor and tone not seen since 1860. With that in mind, what is offered below is an analysis, not an endorsement or condemnation. If I vote this election cycle it shall be for the former and now deceased first president of the Confederation Congress, John Hanson. I figure that if the dead now have the vote, it would be a violation of the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to restrict political office holding to the living.]

Recent polls conducted by Roanoke College and Morning Consult show Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump in a dead heat in the presidential race in Virginia. Mr. Trump lost Virginia to Hilary Clinton by five percentage points, a bit more than 200,00 votes, and was buried under a Biden landslide in the state by a margin of over nine percentage points and 400,000 votes. Even accounting for some shenanigans in the latter race, it was still an impressive showing for Mr. Biden. Indeed, until Governor Glenn Youngkin’s electoral victory in 2021, no Republican candidate has carried Virginia in a presidential election or has won statewide office since 2004. Youngkin’s upset victory over former Governor Terry McAuliffe and Mr. Trump’s surprise showing in the polls seem to suggest that a change in trend may be at hand. Or does it? These events warrant a closer examination.

The story of the Old Dominion’s drift into the Democrat column is simple ad tragic. As the federal government continued to expand in size and scope in the last forty years, federal workers, contractors, and lobbyists began their push into the Northern Virginia suburbs. Arlington and Alexandria were reliably Democrat by the 1990s, Fairfax County was solidly blue by the mid 2000s, and most recently Loudon and Prince William counties have turned blue. These counties are densely populated, wealthy, and range from progressive to Jacobin in their politics. Combined with a solidly blue Richmond and Henrico County, these localities dominate Virginia politics. To win statewide office or a presidential election in Virginia, a Republican must do two things: make some inroads into the solid blue morass of Northern Virginia and generate enormous turnout in the traditionally conservative areas of the state: the Shenandoah valley, the Southside, and Southwest Virginia. In two elections Mr. Trump was not able to achieve this, but Mr. Youngkin did in 2021.

Mr. Youngkin’s election victory was predicated on several crucial factors. First, he was wealthy enough to finance his own campaign. Since the Republican National Committee (hereafter RNC) views Virginia as a lost cause, no money would be forthcoming from that quarter, at least not in the amounts needed to win. The disappointing results of last year’s elections for the state house were due to the RNC financially snubbing viable candidates was proof of that. Second, Mr. Trump’s endorsement helped Mr. Youngkin in much of rural Virginia and did minor damage to his prospects among the more sensitive suburban voters.  In part this was due to Mr. Youngkin’s more affable temperament and his talent for keeping the more ardent and boisterous of Mr. Trump’s supporters at arm’s length. Mr. Youngkin came across as non-threatening even as he advocated for a conservative social policy agenda. Moreover, Mr. Youngkin knew his audience; when he campaigned in Northern Virginia and Richmond he talked about economic development and toned down his social conservatism. This played well to his strengths from his days at the Carlyle Group, and with those suburbanites who had their suspicions about Mr. Biden’s ad his handlers’ ability to manage a lemonade stand, let alone domestic economic policy. It helped that Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. Youngkin’s opponent, foolishly aligned himself with Mr. Biden’s policies. There was, however, one other factor in play that is rarely discussed, save in the closeted rooms of hard and cynical political strategists.

Mr. Youngkin’s predecessor, former Governor Ralph Northam foolishly decided to support legislation that would effectively ban those types of semi-automatic weapons that frighten white, leftist, suburbanites. Overnight counties up and down the Southside, the Valley, the Piedmont, and the Northern Neck passed resolutions declaring their locales second amendment sanctuaries, most of these counties also had the explicit support of their sheriffs. There was even some talk of secession and joining West Virginia. Mr. Northam hit a nerve; Mr. Youngkin took advantage and assured the “deplorables” that he would be a good steward of their second amendment rights, and for the most part he has kept this promise. The interesting thing is that Youngkin was able to generate higher voter turnout in rural areas than Mr. Trump, especially in Southwest Virginia, and he won a greater share of the votes of these Virginians than Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020. In addition, the recent polls where Mr. Trump is shown doing so well demonstrate that concerns regarding the economy are foremost among a plurality of Virginians. In the hearts of some Democrats there is a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Biden’s administration, which is mostly former President Barack Obama’s second stringers, is inept. This bodes well for Mr. Trump, but it is important that he learn a few lessons about Virginia.

The first of these lessons is that culture matters. No one in their right mind entertains the notion that Mr. Trump will scale the blue wall in the Northern Virginia counties, but he can make inroads. Likewise, he can galvanize and deepen his support in rural Virginia’s conservative bastions. He simply needs to let go or soften his combativeness and bombastic showmanship that does play well in so many other areas of the country. True, this is a bit like asking the tiger to change his stripes, but it does not require that Mr. Trump tone down his passion, the expression is the thing. Mr. Trump has proven himself to be intelligent and capable at times, even in the realm of foreign policy where he has little experience. What does not play well in the Old Dominion (pace my MAGA friends) is his narcissism, crudeness, and vulgarity. If you must hurl insults in the Old Dominion at your political foes, do so with deft and in good English. Ignoring this cultural quirk cost Mr. Trump in Virginia in 2016 and in 2020, even in the Valley and Southwest Virginia, the heartland of Trump country. Youngkin, who is about as culturally removed from the Valley and the Southwest as one can be, was able to inspire and galvanize the people of these regions and brought them to the polls in larger numbers than Mr. Trump.  And he did so without antagonizing the other districts of Virginia, even as the Democrat tried to paint him as the devil incarnate.

Mr. Trump has several attractive options with respect to Virginia. The state is in play and yes, he can win it in this election cycle. To do so he must allow Governor Youngkin to be his Virgil to his Dante. Be seen with Youngkin, listen to his and his people’s campaign advice, same message as anywhere else in the country, less combative. A second possibility is to engage the Biden campaign in Virginia just enough to force them to devote time, money, and resources to a state they once believed was safe, thus pulling their resources from other key battleground states. A couple of campaign stops, and a bit of advertising may push Mr. Biden’s campaign into an embarrassing and costly defense of ground that the Democrats now consider their home turf. Under this strategy, Mr. Trump may not carry Virginia, but he may get Georgia, Pennsylvania, and a few other battleground states.

Does Mr. Youngkin’s popularity and Mr. Trump’s improving electoral prospects herald a new political dawn in the Old Dominion? Probably not. Virginia (and now North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia) are caught up in the same long trend that doomed conservative Maryland. Yes Virginia, Maryland was once upon a time a conservative state. The expansion of metropolitan areas due to out of state in migration and expanding governments and the hordes of contractors that leech onto the body politic. Virginia has gone all in on data centers, the short-term economic benefits and the increase in government revenues will eventually be offset by the voracious energy appetites of these binomial factories. Also, what Mr. Youngkin and others of his ilk seem blind to is that the folks who will work at these centers, and the secondary and tertiary businesses that will supply them, are often among the hardest left of progressives and Jacobins. As these centers creep ever westward, soon the Valley will be a bedroom community for these people and the dominoes will fall. Clarke County is falling, Frederick, Warren, and Shenandoah counties will follow. It happened in Southern Maryland, Raleigh, the Triad, and Asheville, in Greenville, South Carolina, and is happening here. But for one moment this election cycle the tide may be stayed.

John Devanny

John Devanny holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina. Dr. Devanny resides in Front Royal, Virginia, where he writes, tends garden, and occasionally escapes to bird hunt or fly fish..


  • Lafayette Burner says:

    Re County Secession:
    “If western Virginia wanted to secede from Virginia, eastern Virginia would neither seek nor desire to coerce her to remain; nor do we believe that if eastern Virginia should wish a division western Virginia would employ coercion toward the East. When the consent of the governed is withdrawn from this government, it claims and will exercise no other power.” – The Richmond Dispatch.

    Somewhat ironic, and off topic of the main point, but:
    is for

    …that includes all of Western Virginia.

    • James Persons says:

      Did the article say where the dividing line between east and west was?

    • John Devanny says:

      I am all for it. Currently, Frederick and Shenandoah counties are experiencing explosive growth, mostly from folks out of state or people moving up from Fairfax county. Clarke county will be the canary in the goldmine. A once reliable red county, it is taking on hues of reddish purple in recent elections.

  • James Persons says:

    Trump was behind in the polls in VA in 2020. One thing that should not be forgotten about VA in 2020 is that at midnight on election day Trump was ahead in votes. Then the next morning, VOILA, Biden had won VA. Fairfax County found votes for Biden after midnight like numerous other jurisdictions across the country. Occam’s razor IMO, if it looks like political skullduggery, etc. It’s true that Trump is the quintessence of the stereotypical Yankee – brash, pushy, overconfident, obnoxious. a braggart etc. – which turns off Southerners, but even the “Yankee self-righteous do-gooder busy-bodies.” [Thank you Dr. McClanahan for this wonderful description.] who have invaded the Old Dominion over the last 3 decades are first and most concerned with their pocketbooks. My guess is that Trump is stronger among Northern VA voters than Mr. Devanny believes.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve noticed Donald Trump has never denigrated Southerners.* I knew nothing of him but what was on magazine covers at the register until he ran for President but have yet to hear him hint at condescension towards Southerners or any country people. I’ve come to occasionally refer to him as the redneck from Queens, Long Island. He has at various times defended Confederate iconography, even referred to Gen’l Lee as “one of our best generals”.

      As to what happens in my beloved Virginia this November, I have no idea.

      *Trump did once call attorney general Jeff Sessions “a dumb Southerner” but at the time, maybe …. .

      • James Persons says:

        I agree with you. Trump is not the typical present day Yankee when it comes to references to the South or how he views regular normal folks. He reminds me of the Yanks I knew up North back in the day [50’s and 60’s.] It’s funny you refer to him as a Queens redneck. I’ve had the same basic sense of him. Back in my youth my family lived in North Jersey and spent quite a bit of time in NYC. You are spot on, IMO, that NYC has its own version of rednecks. People from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens are most definitely rednecks even though they are different than we Sothron rednecks.

        Jeff really let us down!

        Have a great weekend, Gordon.

      • Paul Yarbrough says:

        *Trump did once call attorney general Jeff Sessions “a dumb Southerner” but at the time, maybe …. .””
        Trump was right.

    • John Devanny says:

      I hope so. If Trump can score in the upper forties or better in Loudon, Fairfax, and Prince William and has a great turnout in the Southside, Southwest, and Valley, things will be looking up for him. I do submit that people in Northern Virginia’s most densely populated counties may stay home or cast anti-Biden votes. Still, all of this would benefit Mr. Trump.

  • Joyce says:

    Thank you Dr. Devanny for setting the record straight on Maryland, the outpost of the South, as Jefferson Davis called her.

    • John Devanny says:

      Much obliged, Joyce. Though I fear the five counties of Southern Maryland are now solidly blue. My fourth grade teacher from Virginia, Mrs. Sherman (unfortunate name) never let us Marylanders from Anne Arundel County forget our Southern heritage. Due to her, our eyes and hearts always looked South.

  • Enoch Cade says:

    Mr Devanny, I like your piece (and I like your other writing too.)

    I am of the humble opinion that the USA is long past “saving” by anyone – much less a Republican, who with the exception of Massie and Paul I despise as much as I do the Ds, if not more. I appreciate Trump because he revealed the duplicity, wickedness, evil and brutality underneath all the pompous b.s. the USA says about itself; both the Rs and Ds have gleefully supported the endless wars, the offshoring of industry, the destruction of the working class and the importation of a replacement population. (Remember how Lincoln imported Irish and Germans, gave them citizenship for killing us?)

    The hypocritical disguising of amoral brutality with high-minded sentiments is the legacy of Mr Lincoln and his henchmen Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. And I do believe that we are approaching the time that the Lord God, in His wisdom, will bring justice to the United States for the blood of Southern soldiers and innocent women and kids, for their rape and pillage of our land — and, not the least, the arrogant and callous way they used the freedmen and cast them aside — after their divide and conquer tactics created the bitter hatred between us. (These days I prefer the “Cleburne Solution”: the sons of Confederate soldiers and the descendants of slaves united to rid our land of the US.

    Any polity that would desecrate the statue and memory of General Lee does not deserve to exist. The “reconciliation” is over. The flag of theirs is the flag Sherman and his rabble flew above our burning fields, and we owe it nothing. The South is an occupied nation; that’s how we should think about it.

    • Paul Yarbrouggh says:

      That is the only way I can think. I often think of some compromise. Then I realize with whom we must compromise. Then I realize “That is the only way I can think.”

  • Keith Redmon says:

    I do not believe Youngkin to be a conservative who holds to the ideals of the Old Dominion. I also do not believe Trump to be the savior of the US. To me, he and Biden are just two sides of the same coin.

    However, when faced with choosing either Biden or Trump, I’ll choose Trump. As Thomas Jefferson said, sometimes we are forced to accept a “great evil” in order to avoid a “greater” one.

    • Matt C. says:

      Yes. After all, this world is, and has been, on a “course.”

      I’m from the North. When I moved to Virginia in ’80, I could see and hear the influence of the “Bible belt” on this part of the South (SE Va). Being from the North, I most definitely noticed it. It’s difficult to see and hear that here today. The Bible influence has diminished a lot.

      “The amount of Bible doctrine resident in a nation will determine the course of a nation.”

  • Paul Yarbrouggh says:

    That is the only way I can think. I often think of some compromise. Then I realize with whom we must compromise. Then I realize “That is the only way I can think.”

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