True test comes the day after

11/4/2021, 6 p.m.
A wise person once said that the true measure of character is not what happens when you win, but what ...

A wise person once said that the true measure of character is not what happens when you win, but what you do when you lose.

For Virginia Democrats, the coming days and weeks will reveal their true mettle after Tuesday night’s stunning defeat of former Gov. Terry R. McAuliffe, Delegate Hala S. Ayala and Attorney General Mark R. Herring in the contest for the state’s top three offices and in races for a continued majority in the House of Delegates.

The watershed gains of 2017 and 2019 that led to Democratic control of the governorship and the statehouse for the first time in more than 20 years are now water under the bridge. Virginians woke up Nov. 3 to find that Republicans Glenn A. Youngkin, Winsome E. Sears and Delegate Jason S. Miyares will be the next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, and that Republicans will hold a majority in the 100-member House of Delegates.

Make no mistake: When Mr. Youngkin, a Trump acolyte, took the stage shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday to declare victory and said, “We will change the trajectory of this Commonwealth and we will start that transformation on Day 1,” he was not kidding.

We may not recognize Virginia in the next few years with a Republican governor who has pledged to start shifting public dollars to charter schools; eliminate any COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates; block any teaching of America’s true racist history from the classroom, along with books by authors who make white children and their parents uncomfortable; protect police officers from prosecution; and dismantle abortion rights.

Despite being a political neophyte, Mr. Youngkin had the skill to keep poisonous former President Trump physically out of Virginia, even as he capitalized on Mr. Trump’s many verbal endorsements and used racially tinged rhetoric to energize his base.

The big questions now: What will Mr. Trump expect in return for his support? And what will Gov.-elect Youngkin be prepared to deliver? We shudder to think how that will play out.

Certainly, this sudden political shift in Virginia has Democrats shaken and fearful. More than 1.3 million people who voted for Mr. McAuliffe are uncertain now about the future. The pundits, party echelon and commentators reinforce that apprehension by looking to tag who and what are responsible for such a miserable loss.

We believe, however, that this is neither the time for blame nor tears. Rather, what is needed now is a clear-eyed and honest evaluation of how Democrats lost this election and a game plan for how to proceed. Whether it is litigation to protect voting rights, women’s rights and education from the coming GOP assaults, or isolation by the slim majority of Democrats who will still hold the power in the state Senate to block offensive pieces of legislation, we have got to be ready.

This is a time to be strategic, to use the best minds and the best methods to prepare for what is coming and to take action defensively and offensively to keep Virginia moving—even slowly—in an inclusive, progressive and positive direction.

This is where the real work begins, and the true people of character and leadership will rise to the top.