Historians say McAuliffe twisting history to attack Republicans

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Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has repeatedly claimed that his Republican predecessor and opponents set new records for awfulness in Virginia history. Historians and a graduate school dean dismissed McAuliffe’s comments as extreme exaggerations in remarks to Fox News on Thursday.

During the 2017 governor’s race, McAuliffe claimed that Republican Ed Gillespie was running “the most racist campaign we’ve ever seen in Virginia history.”

In a June 2021 tweet, the Democrat claimed, “I inherited the largest budget deficit in the history of the state from the Republicans,” referring to former Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va.

Earlier this week, McAuliffe told the Washington Blade that his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, is “the most homophobic, anti-choice candidate in Virginia history.”

Historians responded to each of these comments.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“McAuliffe’s remarks are off base,” Miles Smith IV, lecturer in history at Hillsdale College and a resident of Virginia from 2016 to 2019, told Fox News. “Ed Gillespie never campaigned on racial division but late as the 1950s, Virginia’s Democratic governors and senators ran campaigns based on segregation and racist policies. It was called ‘Massive Resistance’ and was led by Harry Byrd Sr. He and his supporters ran on a platform of explicit school segregation.”

When it comes to the budget deficit, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave the Democrat “Four Pinocchios” for this claim. As it turns out, McDonnell left a balanced budget when he left office. Yet Smith explained that in order for debt to qualify as the worst in Virginia history, it would have to be very great indeed.

“Virginia’s recent debt issues were small potatoes in comparison to its 19th century debt,” Smith told Fox News. “At the time the Civil War began, Virginia had the largest in any state in the South and Midwest. It was third behind New York and Pennsylvania. Per capita, Virginia’s debt was two or three times what Pennsylvania and New York’s was. Virginia’s modern debt issues under McDonnell pale to what it dealt with historically.”

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images  |  Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images )

“Rhetoric can get pretty wild in the heat of a tight campaign, and no one expects 100% accuracy. But for sheer chutzpah, Terry McAuliffe is in a class by himself,” Wilfred McClay, a history professor at Hillsdale College, told Fox News.

“Like a riverboat gambler who is confident that no one will check his sleeves, he constantly invokes the authority of ‘history’ to make completely absurd claims against his opponents,” McClay argued. “He did this against Ed Gillespie four years ago, calling his campaign the ‘most racist in Virginia history,’ and now he’s doing it against Youngkin, calling him the most ‘homophobic and anti-choice’ candidate.”

“Does anyone really believe that the Virginia politicians of the Jim Crow era, years when McAuliffe’s own Democratic Party had a complete stranglehold on the state’s politics, was more racially enlightened, and more tolerant of gays and abortion, than any politician of the present day?” McClay asked. “If you believe that, I have an ocean-front cottage in Oklahoma to sell you.”

Matthew Spalding, dean of Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government and a Virginia parent, said McAuliffe’s trail of remarks “establishes yet again that Terry McAuliffe doesn’t care one wit about history.”

“As with his allies teaching critical race theory, he constructs his own history regardless of actual facts to make political arguments,” Spalding added. “The Left today does not care about history unless it serves their ideological purposes.”

Glenn Youngkin speaks to supporters outside after his speech.
(Tyler O’Neil/Fox News)

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