Republicans Hit on Schools as a Wedge Issue to Unite the Party

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Rallying astir what it calls “parental rights,” the enactment is pushing to physique connected its victories this week by stoking achromatic resentment and tapping into broader choler astatine the acquisition system.

In Virginia, polls showed that acquisition  rocketed to the apical  of voters’ concerns successful  the last  weeks of the contention    for governor, narrowly edging retired  the economy.
Credit...Carlos Bernate for The New York Times

Lisa LererJeremy W. Peters

Published Nov. 3, 2021Updated Nov. 4, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ET

After an unexpectedly beardown showing connected Tuesday night, Republicans are heading into the 2022 midterm elections with what they judge volition beryllium a highly effectual governmental strategy capitalizing connected the frustrations of suburban parents inactive reeling from the devastating fallout of pandemic-era schooling.

Seizing connected acquisition arsenic a recently potent wedge issue, Republicans person moved to galvanize important groups of voters astir what the enactment calls “parental rights” issues successful nationalist schools, a hodgepodge of blimpish causes ranging from eradicating disguise mandates to demanding changes to the mode children are taught astir racism.

Yet it is the free-floating consciousness of rage from parents, galore of whom felt abandoned by the authorities during the worst months of the pandemic, that arose from the off-year elections arsenic 1 of the astir almighty drivers for Republican candidates.

Across the country, Democrats lost important ground successful important suburban and exurban areas — the kinds of communities that are sought retired for their well-funded nationalist schools — that helped springiness the enactment power of Congress and the White House. In Virginia, wherever Republicans made schools cardinal to their pitch, acquisition rocketed to the apical of elector concerns successful the last weeks of the race, narrowly edging retired the economy.

The connection worked connected 2 frequencies. Pushing a mantra of greater parental control, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican campaigner for politician successful Virginia, stoked the resentment and fearfulness of immoderate achromatic voters, who were alarmed by efforts to thatch a much captious past of racism successful America. He attacked critical contention theory, a postgraduate schoolhouse model that has go a escaped shorthand for a contentious statement connected however to code race. And helium released an advertisement that was a throwback to the days of banning books, highlighting objections by a achromatic parent and her high-school-age lad to “Beloved,” the canonical caller astir slavery by the Black Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

But astatine the aforesaid time, Mr. Youngkin and different Republicans tapped into broader dissatisfaction among mean voters astir teachers’ unions, unresponsive schoolhouse boards, quarantine policies and the acquisition parents saw firsthand during months of distant learning. In his stump speeches, Mr. Youngkin promised to ne'er again adjacent Virginia schools.

While Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, and his enactment allies eagerly condemned the ugliest attacks by their opponents, they seemed unprepared to antagonistic the wider outpouring of choler implicit schools.

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Credit...Kenny Holston for The New York Times

For weeks earlier the Virginia election, Republicans pointed to the schoolhouse strategy arsenic a imaginable template for the full party. Mr. Youngkin’s narrow but decisive victory connected Tuesday confirmed for Republicans that they had an contented susceptible of uniting divers groups of voters. The inclination was astir evident successful Mr. Youngkin’s betterment implicit erstwhile President Donald J. Trump’s show successful the Washington suburbs, which see a premix of communities with ample Asian, Hispanic and Black populations.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House bulk leader, listed acquisition arsenic a main plank of his party’s program to reclaim power, with promises to present a “Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

“If the Virginia results showed america anything, it is that parents are demanding much power and accountability successful the classroom,” helium wrote successful an election-night missive to his caucus.

Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads, 1 of the astir progressive extracurricular groups moving to elite Republicans to the House and Senate, said the strategy was ripe for replicating successful races crossed the country.

“It’s ever imaginable to overdo something,” helium added, cautioning that Republicans would beryllium unwise to prosecute attacks that look hostile to teachers themselves. “But precise intelligibly there’s a precocious level of interest among parents implicit governmental and societal experimentation successful schools that transcends ideology.”

While the blimpish quality media and Republican candidates stirred the stew of anxieties and radical resentments that animate the party’s basal — thundering astir equity initiatives, books with intersexual contented and transgender students connected sports teams — they mostly avoided offering circumstantial plans to tackle thornier issues similar fund cuts and deepening acquisition inequalities.

But the predetermination results suggested that Republicans had spoken astir acquisition successful ways that resonated with a broader cross-section of voters.

In Virginia, the Youngkin run appealed to Asian parents disquieted astir progressive efforts to marque admissions processes successful talented programs little restrictive; Black parents upset implicit the absorption of teachers’ unions to charter schools; and suburban mothers of each races who were mostly connected borderline astir having to juggle truthful overmuch astatine location implicit the past twelvemonth and a half.

“This isn’t partisan,” said Jeff Roe, the Youngkin campaign’s main strategist. “It’s everyone.”

Democrats mostly declined to prosecute profoundly with specified charged concerns, alternatively focusing connected plans to pump billions into acquisition funding, grow pre-K programs and rise teacher pay.

In Virginia and New Jersey, the Democratic candidates for politician adopted the attack of Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who faced a callback challenge that exploited akin lines of onslaught but bushed it backmost by leaning into vaccination and disguise mandates successful schools.

Ahead of the midterms, galore of the acquisition issues are definite to linger.

Already, the effects of distant learning connected parents person been severe: School closures drove millions of parents retired of the enactment force, led to an summation successful intelligence wellness problems among children and worsened existing acquisition inequalities. Many of those effects were borne astir heavy by cardinal parts of the Democratic base, including women and Black and Latino families.

Strategists, activists and officials urged Democrats to hole for the Republican attacks to beryllium echoed by G.O.P. candidates up and down the ticket.

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Credit...Kenny Holston/Getty Images

Geoff Garin, a apical Democratic pollster, said the party’s candidates needed to grow their connection beyond their long-running argumentation goals similar reducing people sizes and expanding pre-K education.

Takeaways From the 2021 Elections


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“It’s going to beryllium incumbent connected Democrats to person a compelling response,” said Mr. Garin, who worked arsenic a pollster for Mr. McAuliffe during his 2013 run for governor. “They besides request to beryllium prepared to asseverate the worth of nationalist acquisition successful presumption of a spot wherever there’s a communal program and communal acceptable of values that astir voters hold are the close ones for nationalist schools.”

Katie Paris, a enactment activistic who runs Red, Wine and Blue, a radical that works to mobilize suburban women, said that adjacent arsenic she warned that attacks implicit captious contention mentation had been “spreading similar wildfire,” her pleas for resources had gone mostly unanswered by enactment donors and officials.

“These extracurricular forces person travel for our schools and our communities, and astatine the highest levels wrong the Democratic Party, radical person conscionable said, ‘Well, don’t speech astir it,’” she said. “The unwillingness to prosecute successful this was a large mistake, and it volition beryllium successful 2022, too.”

Rashad Robinson, the president of the radical justness enactment Color of Change, expressed a akin concern, saying that Democrats’ reluctance to support the request for nationalist schools to thatch honestly astir contention had near the enactment astatine a disadvantage.

Democrats, helium said, “don’t amusement up erstwhile the speech gets tough.”

“Critical contention mentation isn’t being taught, but we request to really archer radical what is being taught and wherefore this is simply a strategy to forestall our kids from learning astir each of our history,” said Mr. Robinson, who has advised Democratic strategists and candidates astir their messaging connected the issue. “It’s astir banning Black history, but it’s besides astir banning American history.”

The issue, immoderate enactment strategists admitted, is peculiarly analyzable for Democrats who trust connected teachers’ unions for fiscal and unpaid support. National and authorities national leaders drew nationalist ire for slowing the reopening of schools adjacent aft teachers were fixed aboriginal entree to vaccines. In the last days of the Virginia campaign, Mr. McAuliffe appeared with Randi Weingarten, the influential president of the American Federation of Teachers, which drew rebukes from Republicans.

After the election, Ms. Weingarten blamed Mr. McAuliffe’s decision connected his remark that helium did not judge “parents should beryllium telling schools what they should teach.” But she besides chided Democrats for their timidity, informing that pugnacious conversations were needed to rebuild spot betwixt parents and their schools.

There are signs of limitations to the Republican approach. Though the enactment poured extracurricular wealth and advertizing into schoolhouse committee races — typically sleepy section affairs — the aboriginal results were mixed, with blimpish candidates losing successful Wisconsin, Connecticut and Minnesota.

Yet nationally, the contented seems peculiarly resonant successful affluent suburban communities that faced immoderate of the longest periods of distant schooling. While schools are universally unfastened this year, acquisition successful Virginia and nationwide has continued to beryllium disrupted by occasional quarantines and schoolroom closures to incorporate the coronavirus.

Last year, Virginia was among the East Coast states that were slowest to reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning. While immoderate parents supported the cautious attack — driven by teachers’ unions, schoolhouse boards and immoderate administrators — others became frustrated and angry, particularly successful suburban counties similar Fairfax and Arlington.

“There’s a level of anxiousness and choler and radical wanting to person their lives back,” said Ms. Weingarten, who faced blowback for hosting a municipality hallway lawsuit successful September with Open Schools USA, a radical that opposes masks and vaccine mandates successful schools. “But we person to engage. That, I think, is the large lesson.”

Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.

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