Anti-MAGA majority keeps winning victories despite gloom and doom polls
Books on shelves at public school in Atlanta. Moms for Liberty, an extreme right wing group, has been running candidates for school board who favor banning books and removing them from public schools. Mark Twain, Shakespeare and others are targeted for removal by them. In local elections so far most of the Moms for Liberty backed candidates have gone down to defeat and those winning school board elections have been liberal and moderate anti-MAGA candidates. | Hakim Wright Sr./AP

The mainstream media and political pundits have already written the 2024 election epitaph. Poll after poll suggests President Biden and Democrats are in deep trouble and will suffer defeats at the hands of MAGA. It’s time to panic, they say.

The political climate is challenging and fraught, no doubt. The president’s support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war on Gaza, for example, has the potential to cause rifts in the anti-MAGA majority and pro-democracy coalition. But, for now, actual election results tell a different story.

Voters inflicted Republican-MAGA candidates and their extreme right-wing agenda stinging defeats across the country in the November 8 elections. Adopting an abortion rights amendment to the Ohio state constitution and winning both chambers of the Virginia legislature were among the most significant victories.

But just as important was the defeat of hundreds of MAGA candidates for school boards, city councils, boards of supervisors, mayors, and other local offices.

The rejection of MAGA and the overperformance of Democratic-aligned candidates in special elections throughout 2023 and during the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections affirm the existence of an anti-MAGA majority of voters. Fear of MAGA, the assault on democratic rights, and the real-life destructive consequences of MAGA policies is a crucial driver of turnout, including Independents and Republicans repulsed by MAGA extremism. These results should give confidence entering the 2024 election cycle.

At the local school board level, no MAGA group suffered more losses than Moms for Liberty (M4L), the supposed “GOP powerbroker” astroturfed with right-wing billionaire dark money and allied with the white supremacist Proud Boys. M4L suffered resounding defeats in five of the six states where their candidates contested.

“These results underline what families have been telling us for the last two years: They don’t want culture wars. They want safe and welcoming public schools where their kids can recover and thrive,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Beginning in 2010, the GOP-MAGA strategically focused on taking over state legislatures, school boards, and other local bodies. During the pandemic, the right wing exploited anger over mask mandates to build M4L chapters. The Heritage Foundation, Leadership Institute, America Principles Project, the 1776 Project, a white supremacist reaction to the 1619 Project, which centers on the role of race in U.S. history, and a massive right-wing propaganda media ecosystem all backed them.

“National money and resources fanned the flames,” says Melissa Ryan of CARD Strategies, which tracks right-wing extremism. “It’s basically the same groups and funders that were funding the Tea Party; frankly, it’s the same tactics.”

MAGA made initial gains exploiting so-called “wedge issues,” including invoking “parental rights” and attacking “woke culture,” LGBTQ rights, and Critical Race Theory, even when it wasn’t part of school curriculums.

Backed hundreds of candidates

Abortion rights voters celebrate their recent victory in Ohio. | Sue Ogrocki/AP

They backed hundreds of candidates for local school boards, first in Florida and then elsewhere. After M4L won majorities on local school boards, the real agenda immediately became clear: school privatization schemes, white supremacist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ curriculum, promoting anti-science and climate denialism, banning books and censorship, persecuting administrators, librarians, and teachers that challenged their authority, trashing student freedom of speech and assembly, especially LGTBQ rights, and eliminating teacher unions.

Administrators, teacher unions, students, and parents have fought M4L tooth and nail since. In the 2022 elections, voters had already begun rejecting M4L candidates. But the backlash turned into a rout this year.

The AFT noted that voters defeated 80% of extreme right-wing candidates running for local to state offices advocating right-wing policies. Those right-wing candidates that did prevail were primarily in conservative areas.

Defense of public education, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and gun safety were drivers of voter turnout in Virginia, resulting in Democratic retention of the State Senate and flipping the Republican majority State House. M4L candidates lost by substantial margins across the state. In Loudoun County, a critical battleground in the debate over transgender policies, Democrats gained a 6-seat majority on the school board.

In Fairfax County, voters sent an equally clear message. “They want safe and inclusive schools with world-class educators and equitable access to the opportunities every student needs to succeed,” tweeted Karl Frisch, Vice Chair and Providence District Representative on the Fairfax County School Board. “Despite years of attacks from Richmond Republicans and well-funded dark money groups, failed recall campaigns, lawsuits to remove a Democratic candidate from the ballot, and the GOP opposition raising 75% more in 2023 than 2019, the School Board will remain entirely Democratic.”

M4L candidates were also trounced in Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina by Democratic opponents. Even in Florida, home to M4L, less than half of the group-endorsed candidates won.

In 2021, M4L, backed by a single extreme-right megadonor, won 33 seats and captured eight of thirteen school boards in Bucks County, covering parts of suburban Philadelphia. The M4L board members instituted right-wing policies, including discriminating against LGBTQ students, barring students from using preferred names and pronouns, and book bans.

One of the largest school systems in Pennsylvania, Central Bucks School District, had a majority GOP/ MAGA school Board and instituted a right-wing education agenda. Protests, contentious board meetings, and lawsuits over rights violations roiled the school district.

A coalition emerged to fight the policies, and on November 8, voters ousted three Republicans, including the board president, electing a majority Democrat board.

“I think that the community has had enough,” said Heather Reynolds, who ousted a M4L-backed board president. “They’ve seen what this former board majority has done and they said, ‘No more. We deserve better as a district and as a community. This isn’t who we are.'”

“I’m proud of the community for standing up and really using their voice and their vote to say, ‘we’ve had enough. We don’t want this for our district any longer,’” she declared.

In the conservative Republican town of Pennridge, Pennsylvania, voters elected a majority M4L school board in 2021. The board turned to Hillsdale College in Michigan, a right-wing private Christian school backed by Betsy DeVos and Ginni Thomas, to overhaul its K-12 education curriculum. Hillsdale, which developed a right-wing 1776 Curriculum whitewashing slavery, also has links to the right-wing Claremont Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Ousted all the right wingers

Chaos erupted, and parents, teachers, students, and the broader coalition fighting MAGA mobilized voters who ousted all five M4L incumbents and elected a 6-3 Democratic board majority. It turns out about half of Republican voters nationwide oppose book bans.

“These results highlight the voters’ rejection of Moms for Liberty values and raise questions about the popularity of their positions, particularly those related to educational materials and LGBTQ+ issues. And it’s even more likely that voters are starting to signal their fatigue with Trump-aligned candidates,” tweeted the anti-rightwing website ReallyAmerican1.

In 2021, M4L made gains in local school board races across Iowa, including in suburban Des Moines. Then, they instituted a right-wing agenda and accused local school districts of “disseminating pornography to children for featuring books discussing LGBTQ+ acceptance.”

On November 8, voters defeated every M4L candidate. “I think it’s clear legislative leadership and (Iowa) Gov. Reynolds are on notice” that parents are tired of their children being used as “political pawns,” said Damian Thompson, a spokesperson for Iowa Safe Schools, which advocates for LGBTQ students. “Our organization would hope that the Legislature takes notice and course corrects to the issues that are affecting real Iowans instead of these cheap political sideshows.”

Book bans around LGBTQ+ books were a losing issue in Pella, Iowa, where a ballot initiative would have given county officials the ability to ban books from the library after the library chose to keep “Gender Queer” on its shelves. The town, which had voted +35 for Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, rejected the ballot initiative.

In 2022, Everytown for Gun Safety (EGS), the parent organization of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, launched “Demand a Seat,” a campaign to train and run safety grassroots “volunteers” for office. Scores of candidates ran for local school board in response to continued school shootings and gun violence, the number one killer of children. Voters elected 1,600 of these gun safety activists in 30 states.

This year, EGS launched Demand a Seat: Student Edition to encourage youth gun safety advocates to run for office. The number of elected officials under age 26 has swelled by 170% recently.

Altogether, EGS ran 275 candidates in 2023 for school board, city council, boards of supervisors, and mayor, and 158 won, nearly 60%, including sixty-four Moms Demand Action “volunteers” in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Minnesota, New Jersey, Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Idaho, Michigan, and Iowa.

EGS invested $1.5 million in Virginia House and Senate races, and its grassroots voter mobilization efforts were a factor in winning both chambers.

In Buffalo, Zeneta Everhart won a seat on the city council with 90% of the vote. Everhart’s son, Zaire Goodman, was severely wounded in 2022 in Tops Friendly Market when a white supremacist murdered ten African Americans. After the shooting, Everhart became a voice against racism and gun violence.

“I turned a tragedy, an awful, awful tragedy into something good. And I did that because of Zaire,” said Everhart.

The struggle between the pro-democracy majority and MAGA is fierce. The election of anti-MAGA activists is a barometer of where American voters stand. Polling may say one thing, but these results matter. The challenge facing the pro-democracy coalition is uniting and mobilizing the anti-MAGA majority in the 2024 elections and beyond.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.