I get it. Terry McAuliffe is not a particularly happy man right now.
After all, this was supposed to be easy. Because of its odd-year state elections, Virginia’s gubernatorial race is one of the first referendums on how voters feel regarding the last presidential cycle. Furthermore, because of the growth of the Washington, D.C., suburbs and other liberal areas of the state, pundits have increasingly been saying that the Old Dominion has moved solidly into the blue column.
Moreover, McAuliffe is a fixture in Virginia state politics and the Democratic Party. He was Bill Clinton’s fundraising bag-man back during the 1990s, served as the head of the Democratic National Committee and was Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018. (The state doesn’t allow governors to serve consecutive terms.)
And yet, it hasn’t been easy. Polls have shown McAuliffe neck-and-neck with Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin; as of Wednesday morning, the RealClearPolitics polling average has Youngkin within 2.2 points of McAuliffe, 49.5 percent for the Democrat and 47.3 percent for the Republican. The Cook Political Report now rates the race as a “toss-up,” a move from “leans Democratic.”
McAuliffe is a pro’s pro, though. You don’t end up with Terry’s resumé if you can’t handle a little pressure.
You buckle down and smile a bit more broadly. You kiss a few more babies and shake a few more hands — or whatever the socially distanced version of those two unctuous archetypes of insincere campaigning happen to be.
You hit the trail before the sun rises and don’t stop until the 11 p.m. local news fades into the “Tonight Show.”
Most importantly, you never let ’em see you sweat.
Or you abruptly end a 20-minute TV interview 10 minutes into it, telling the reporter he “should have asked better questions early on.” Whichever works.
According to the Washington Examiner, WJLA-TV gave both McAuliffe and Youngkin 20 minutes to talk about how they would lead Virginia were they elected next month. The sit-downs with reporter Nick Minock happened on Oct. 13 and 14, respectively; the interviews were posted on their website and on YouTube.
So, how’d it go? First off, it’s never good when a local news station has to air this disclaimer:
— Henry Rodgers (@henryrodgersdc) October 19, 2021
Now, there’s some question about how planned McAuliffe’s early departure was.
WJLA said on their website that McAuliffe’s campaign only agreed to a 10-minute interview in a text message with Minock. That said, the last two sets of questions were uncomfortable ones for McAuliffe — and they also just so happened to be when his campaign staffer interrupted him.
The first question had to do with crime, during which Minock pointed out Youngkin “said that the murder rate went up 43 percent when you were governor and the rape rate went up every single year when you were governor. What would you do differently in your second term to address violent crime and decrease violent crime in the commonwealth?”
McAuliffe responded that Virginia had “the lowest crime rate of any major state in the United States of America” during his tenure — which doesn’t mean crime didn’t go up, mind you, and which doesn’t point to McAuliffe as the cause of that low crime rate. (Also, what is a minor state, just out of curiosity?)
When asked how much he would invest in public safety, McAuliffe responded, “I don’t want to go through all the numbers we are dealing with.” Translation: No clue.
Minock then transitioned vaccines and vaccine mandates, which started off fine enough but quickly degenerated to McAuliffe firing off rambling denunciations of Youngkin as “an anti-vaxxer” and “a Donald Trump right-wing agenda” supporter who would “ban abortions.”
“Your viewers should be very clear on this,” McAuliffe said.
“He wants to ban abortions here in Virginia. He says election integrity is the number one issue. No, it isn’t. Health care, COVID, education, job creation.”
That’s when one of his staffers interjected and noted that “we are already over time.”
“Alright, we are over. That’s it. That’s it,” McAuliffe said. “Hey I gave you extra time. C’mon, man. You should have asked better questions early on. You should have asked questions your viewers care about.”
Nailed the landing. Beautiful.
I understand one has a lot of demands on one’s time when running for governor, but a 20-minute spot on D.C. local news for a Clintonista that ran the state in the not-so-distant-past shouldn’t be like a tooth extraction.
Not only could he not spare the extra 10 minutes, McAuliffe ended the interview with an unfocused rant about about abortion, Donald Trump and job creation, then told the reporter he should have asked better questions at the beginning. Given the scattershot attack at the end, one gets the notion McAuliffe simply wanted prompts that would have allowed him to transition into that rant much earlier.
And in case you’re wondering, Minock didn’t ask bad or unfair questions, to the extent he had time to ask many at all.
The reporter’s first line of questioning had to do with McAuliffe’s now-infamous remark that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach” during the final gubernatorial debate, whether he misspoke and what role he would play as governor in mandating what schools teach.
His next line of questioning addressed the various school board controversies in Virginia — in particular in Loudoun County — and whether he agreed with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s memorandum indicating the Department of Justice would get more involved with these contentious school board hearings.
Then came crime, then came vaccines and then it was time for McAuliffe to skedaddle — but not before firing off that strange and insulting peroration, as if Minock’s performance had been insulting or unprofessional.
No, Terry McAuliffe may not be a happy man right now, particularly when he looks at the polls.
With Hindenburg performances like this, however, he has only himself to blame.
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