The other day, I saw this tweet by Bakari Sellers:
“Dammit we should be in the second term of a @HillaryClinton presidency arguing over why @timkaine shouldn’t get a free ride to the nomination. KBJ, Sri Srinivasan, and Michelle Childs on the Supreme Court.”
That got me to thinking about how things might look in Virginia politics today if Clinton had won the 2016 election (and note that she did win the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, also won Virginia by 5 points). I’m not going to do a full, Harry Turtledove-style alternative history on this, but here are a few thoughts about how things might look today in Virginia politics if Hillary Clinton had been elected president in November 2016.
- First off, Clinton being elected in November 2016 would have meant that Sen. Tim Kaine would have become Vice President, thus resigning from his US Senate seat. Back in 2016, there were articles like If Clinton Wins, Black Caucus Members Want Bobby Scott To Replace Tim Kaine, which reported, “If Kaine becomes vice president, the governor of Virginia will be able to appoint a replacement” and “Multiple sources close to Scott confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Scott is open to the idea, and has signaled to the Clinton campaign he’d accept if selected by McAuliffe.” Of course, as the article explained, “Kaine’s seat is an important one and, if he vacates it, whoever is appointed to fill it would face a challenge: The new senator would serve for about a year, then run in a special election [in November 2017], then run in a traditional election the next year [in November 2018]. With control of the Senate at stake, Democrats would be very sensitive to retaining the seat. Some choices on McAuliffe’s shortlist are said to include Northern Virginia Democrats Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Don Beyer, and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.”
- For that 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, the Washington Post reported in July 2016 that potential Republican candidates “would likely include former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, Rep. Rob Wittman or Rep. Barbara Comstock. And Rep. Dave Brat, the tea party hero who ousted Majority Leader Eric Cantor two years ago, told CNN that he would consider a run if Kaine wins.” The WaPo also mentioned Democrats Jennifer McClellan (then in the House of Delegates), former Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, Sen. Kaine’s wife Anne Holton and then-Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran as possible candidates for Sen. Kaine’s seat in November 2017.
- If Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA03) had been appointed by then-Gov. McAuliffe to Sen. Kaine’s seat, that would have created a vacancy in VA03. Who would have run to succeed Bobby Scott? Obviously, a Democrat would have won this deep-blue seat, which at that point included all or parts of Newport News, Norfolk, Hampton, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Franklin City. I’m not going to speculate on who might have won this race, but depending on who it was, that could have had implications for the House of Delegates, State Senate, etc.
- If, instead of appointing Rep. Scott to Sen. Kaine’s U.S. Senate seat, Gov. McAuliffe had named Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA08) or Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11), that would have created an opening for one of those safe-blue seats, leading to a possible free-for-all Democratic primary. It’s impossible to know who would have won that primary, but that could also have had ripple effects in various ways.
- With Hillary Clinton in the White House, there obviously wouldn’t have been the massive anti-Trump “resistance” backlash we saw here in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Instead, more likely, *Republicans* would have been energized/enraged, certainly claiming that the election was “stolen” from Trump and burning for revenge. Here in Virginia, that would have had MASSIVE implications politically, including most likely:
- a) in 2017, it’s quite possible that instead of Ralph Northam/Justin Fairfax/Mark Herring winning statewide, and Democrats picking up 15 seats in the House of Delegates, instead Republicans Ed Gillespie/Jill Vogel/John Adams would have won, while Democrats probably gained nothing (or next to nothing) in the House of Delegates, staying at around 34 seats there;
- b) if Gillespie/Vogel/Adams had won in 2017, that would have meant no Gov. Northam, no LG Fairfax, no AG Herring, and also…no “blackface” scandal, no removal of Confederate monuments in Richmond, no signature of 100s of pieces of progressive legislation, probably no public allegations against Justin Fairfax, etc.;
- c) most of the anti-Trump “resistance” wave of energy in terms of grassroots activism, many new/diverse candidates, etc. probably wouldn’t have happened, which means that many of the Democrats who won House of Delegates seats in 2017 probably would be unknown today;
- d) in 2018, it’s VERY unlikely that we would have seen a “blue wave” midterm election, and more likely that Democrats would have LOST seats in the U.S. House, which means…probably no chance that Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton would have won in 2018, while Scott Taylor, Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock would probably still be in Congress;
- e) it’s really hard to say how having Hillary Clinton in the White House would have impacted the 2018 U.S. Senate race, but obviously since Tim Kaine would be VP, someone else – Bobby Scott, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, whoever – would have been the Democratic nominee against whoever the Republicans would have nominated that year (probably NOT Corey Stewart), and quite possibly not won the election in November, meaning…a Republican U.S. Senator?;
- f) in 2019, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Democrats would NOT have taken back the House of Delegates, which would have meant no historic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, no historic House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, etc., and definitely no chance of passing literally HUNDREDS of pieces of progressive and environmental legislation in 2020 and 2021;
- g) also in 2019, it’s very likely that the State Senate would have stayed narrowly in Republican hands, with Tommy Norment continuing as Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw continuing as Minority Leader, etc.;
- h) another point about 2019 is that it’s VERY unlikely we would have seen the wave of progressive prosecutors – Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington/Falls Church, Steve Descano in Fairfax, Buta Biberaj in Loudoun – win against generally popular (at the time) incumbents
- i) in 2020, Hillary Clinton could have narrowly carried Virginia against Trump, although it’s quite possible she would have lost the overall election, given that the COVID pandemic still would have been raging, the economy still would have sucked (due to the pandemic), etc., so…probably another bad year in Virginia for Democrats in the U.S. House and maybe even the U.S. Senate…
- Assuming Trump won the White House in November 2020, it’s quite possible that the anti-Trump “resistance” would have geared up in 2021 (four years after it did in the actual “timeline”), although obviously with COVID still raging, it’s hard to say whether there would have been a huge “Women’s March” and other such protests.
- With a 2021 “blue wave,” it’s HIGHLY unlikely that Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears or Jason Miyares would have won. Instead, it’s MUCH more likely that Democrats would have swept the statewide offices as they did in the actual “timeline” in 2017, possibly with Tom Perriello (who almost certainly wouldn’t have challenged Northam in 2017) as governor and god-knows-what other changes.
- In 2022, most likely Democrats would have had a “blue wave” in the midterms, with possibly folks like Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria finally getting elected. But honestly, who knows; this is getting super speculative at this point, so probably a good time to stop. 🙂
Anyway, what do you think would have happened in Virginia politics if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election and Tim Kaine had become VP? What would you add/change/subtract on this list (and, obviously, this is just a very top-level look at what might have happened, not even considering all the changes in the lives of activists, staffers, political operatives, and individual Virginians’ lives)? Do you find this to be an interesting exercise, as I clearly do (and yes, I’m a big alternative history fan, including books like “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Years of Rice and Salt,” “Bring the Jubilee,” “11/22/63,” “Days of Infamy” – or any number of books by Harry Turtledove, etc.).
UPDATE: Thanks to Ethan Lynne for pointing out to me that it’s quite possible that President Hillary Clinton could have made Terry McAuliffe her chief of staff or given him a cabinet seat in late 2016/early 2017 – making LG Ralph Northam governor. Then would there also have been a special election for Lt. Governor? Or would the President Pro Tem of the Senate (right-wing Republican Stephen Newman) have become LG? Wild to think about…