Well, that was unexpected!
After McAuliffe made an appearance before the already deflating crowd of supporters and staffers on Election Night, only acknowledging the ominous news of a persistent Youngkin advantage by saying that “every vote” should be counted, the news media assumed that the close Hillary Clinton ally was planning a long battle over a close result if he lost the election. “His speech was notable for what he didn’t say,” one commentator said at about 10 pm. But by the early hours of the morning all outlets had declared Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who McAuliffe’s campaign had tried to brand as a racist and a Donald Trump clone, was the upset winner of the governor’s race, with not enough uncounted votes available to give McAuliffe the win he once assumed was “in the bag.”
McAuliffe defied expectations by conceding, quickly and graciously, the old fashioned way. His statement, issued early on in the morning after what must have been a crushing defeat, read,
“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in. We must protect Virginia’s great public schools and invest in our students. We must protect affordable health care coverage, raise the minimum wage faster, and expand paid leave so working families have a fighting shot. We must protect voting rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, and, above all else, we must protect our democracy. While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness and tolerance for all.
“Congratulations to Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin on his victory. I hope Virginians will join me in wishing the best to him and his family.“I would like to thank my wife Dorothy, my family, and my incredible campaign team for their tireless efforts and dedication over these past eleven months. And to all of my supporters across Virginia who knocked on millions of doors, made countless phone calls, and talked to their family, friends and neighbors: I am eternally grateful that you joined me on this journey to move Virginia forward.
“Serving as Virginia’s 72nd governor was the highest honor of my life, and I will never stop fighting to make our Commonwealth stronger and brighter for all.”
It would be easy to pick apart the details of this—describing the right to have unborn children aborted as “the right to choose” is deceitful and cowardly, for example—but what matters is that this is how candidates are supposed to handle defeat in the United States after the voters have spoken. It is why Richard Nixon, hardly a paragon of ethics, chose to concede in the 1960 Presidential race when there were good reasons to question Jack Kennedy’s close victory, enough to demand a recount and an investigation. If Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had followed Nixon’s example, the United States would be in a far more secure and healthy state today.
The fact that McAuliffe had invited Stacey Abrams, the losing candidate for Governor of Georgia who still claims her opponent stole the election and refuses to concede, to campaign for him was widely assumed to mean that McAuliffe planned to follow her divisive playbook. No, it just meant that a desperate McAuliffe campaign was trotting out everyone and thing but the kitchen sink—in fact, if there had been more time, he might have had a kitchen sink speak for him at a rally. It couldn’t have been more ridiculous than having American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten appear, shout and wave her arms like a deranged semaphore operator.
“Nothing in his life became him, like the leaving it,” Duncan says of MacBeth at the end of the tragedy. The same can, and should, be said of Terry McAuliffe’s last act in his political career.