“We have a weird state seal in Virginia. It’s a victorious woman standing atop a deposed tyrant,” Kaine told me. “We hate tyrants—our state was born out of opposition to tyranny. We still hate tyrants. We can see them coming a mile off, and we reject them. And that’s one of the reasons that Trump is so unpopular in Virginia, is that we’ve seen narcissistic, anti-science, bigoted bullies too often in our past, and we’ve decided to put away the childish things. We want something different.”
Our full interview can be heard on the latest episode of Radio Atlantic. What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.
Tim Kaine: It was amazing. I mean, this was the last step of essentially a 20-year effort to assemble a big picture, like the jigsaw puzzle …. Our legislature has been blocking us in Virginia for doing meaningful things on gun safety, even after suffering through Virginia Tech and Virginia Beach and so much gun violence; even blocking raising the minimum wage; blocking the Equal Rights Amendment; tried so hard to block us from expanding Medicaid—with Republicans in control, disenfranchising voters rather than making it easier for people to vote.
Dovere: Was it that Trump’s win in 2016 showed that the Democratic Party had hit rock bottom?
Kaine: I think a danger for Dems—don’t overcorrect. I mean, in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. It’s really hard to do that for a third term—Dems don’t do that. It’s hard to do that for a woman. It’s hard to do that with Russia and the FBI putting their thumb on the scale against you. You don’t have to turn everything over … You don’t have to turn everything topsy-turvy. And I do worry a little bit about the party overcorrecting.
Dovere: There were a number of firsts in these election wins for Democrats in Virginia, including the first Sikh local elected official, and the first Muslim state senator. Do you worry at all about white voters feeling left out of where the Democratic Party is headed?
Kaine: Our party is a party where everybody’s welcome at the table and nobody is pushed away from the table. For some, it causes them angst because they might see new faces around the table and they think they’re losing something as a result. But what Virginians have learned is: “Wait a minute; we’re not losing anything.”
Dovere: One way to read the results of last night is that the impeachment conversation so far has either helped Democrats or not registered as a factor in a significant way.
Kaine: Our legislative candidates’ polling in September, pre–impeachment inquiry, and then late October—Trump’s numbers went down. So the impeachment inquiry wasn’t hurting them with the public. It was hurting Trump with the public … Now, did it increase Republican turnout? You know, so sometimes your numbers can go down, but it can energize people. We’ll have to do a little more reading of the tea leaves to figure that out. But I think you can very safely say that the impeachment inquiry did not hurt Democrats in swing districts in a battleground state like Virginia.