Conservatives who ran on culture war issues won dozens of school board elections in battleground and Democrat-controlled states last week, but you wouldn’t know that from Politico’s coverage of the races. The outlet claimed pro-parent candidates who ran against racist curricula in classrooms, lockdowns, and radical gender ideology “flamed out.”
Politico not-so-subtly concluded, based on recent school board election results in Illinois and Wisconsin, that “leaning on school-based wedge issues to court primary voters in a crowded White House campaign” won’t bode well for 2024 front-runner Republicans including former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not yet announced his candidacy.
Not long after publication on Monday, the article gained traction with leftist talking heads and organizations such as Rachel Maddow, the Lincoln Project, the nation’s largest teachers union, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who were thrilled to share about the potential demise of the issues that made them a target of public scrutiny for the last three years.
“Parents, educators, and community members are all looking for candidates who are committed to strengthening public schools, not abandoning them,” the National Education Association’s elections arm tweeted.
The public school activists were specifically thrilled that the publication’s education reporter, Juan Perez Jr., pointed to Democrat wins in recent school board elections as evidence that the right’s culture war issues were a brief and unsustainable phenomenon.
“General election voters are less interested in crusades against critical race theory and transgender students than they are in funding schools and ensuring they are safe,” Perez Jr. asserted.
He evidenced this claim by noting that Democrats and teachers’ unions in both Wisconsin and Illinois celebrated the wins of many of their preferred candidates in the more than 100 races they endorsed. Many of those wins came in districts in or near Democrat stronghold cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee, but that didn’t stop the author from concluding that Republicans “lost big.”
Perez Jr. included data from political action committees that clearly showed candidates on the right claimed several victories but discounted those results by claiming that at least “two conservative national education groups did not dispute that their candidates posted a losing record.”
Just seven paragraphs into the article, Perez Jr. included a half-sentence quote from 1776 Project PAC founder Ryan Girdusky — “We lost more than we won” — that seemingly backed up his belief that these results “offer lessons to both parties as they eye even more board elections this year.”
“We had an hour-long conversation. [Perez Jr.] left it to one edited half sentence,” Girdusky told The Federalist.
Poorly framing quotes from Girdusky wasn’t Perez Jr.’s only mistake.
Leftist school board wins may have dominated corporate media coverage, but there’s no denying they were rivaled by dozens of triumphs by conservative-backed school board candidates who ran on fighting the radical racial and LGBT indoctrination infecting the nation’s government schools.
Overall, school board candidates endorsed by Girdusky’s 1776 Project PAC won 30 out of their 63 races.
“The seats that we did lose in Illinois were because of a third-party conservative candidate. So it wasn’t that conservatives lost, we split the vote,” Girdusky explained. “It wasn’t a rejection.”
Politico’s article fails to mention this nuance — likely because it would undermine the article’s purpose.
Winning nearly half of the elections it participated in is not “losing big,” especially when readers consider that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Democrats, and their teachers’ union allies in both Wisconsin and Illinois outspent conservative challengers by hundreds of thousands of dollars. They also got a helping hand from corporate media, which gave supporters of left-wing school board members plenty of TV time to help protect eligible seats from pro-parent candidates.
Handpicking the results from one off-year election and selling it as gospel truth about the future of culture war issues in local and national politics isn’t just incredibly ignorant. It’s deliberately deceitful and helps teachers’ unions keep their monopoly on making decisions about children’s lives that should fall under parents’ jurisdiction.
Whether corporate media like it or not, conservative messaging on education resonates with voters and has done so for years now. In 2021, dozens of parents concerned about the rise of racist curricula in government schools curried enough support to secure landslide victories against left-wing incumbents in states such as Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and many more. The same momentum was found in 2022 in states like Wisconsin.
Perez Jr. can repeat the prevalent lie that conservatives simply “seized on transgender students to rejuvenate a social agenda,” but the truth is even he couldn’t deny that parents’ frustration with the education bureaucracy is responsible for changing the course of countless elections including Virginia’s gubernatorial race in 2021.
Contrary to what Perez Jr. and his sullen quotes from “GOP activists” would have you believe, the organizations propping up pro-parent candidates aren’t backing down from the culture war. As Girdusky said: “I think that there’s clearly a message there that education is an important issue that Republicans can overperform in substantially.”