Larry Sabato, University of Virginia professor and the force behind the respected Sabato's Crystal Ball election prediction site and the UVA Center for Politics, has come under assault from Virginia Repubicans saying that Sabato needs to be investigated, fired and his group shut down for "violating the university's code of ethics" by saying Republicans in 2021 are basically terrible people on Twitter.
The Republican Party of Virginia has publicly criticized the social media posts of University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato as partisan lambasting of former President Donald Trump and requested the university investigate them.
Sabato called the criticism “silly but predictable,” and a university spokesman said the professor’s opinions are protected free speech.
Rich Anderson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, wrote a letter to UVA on Thursday, saying eight of Sabato’s tweets from the past year appear to violate the university’s mission statement and faculty code of ethics. Anderson called them examples of “bitter partisanship.”
The dispute comes amid a growing national debate over academics’ right to express their opinions and the consequences that follow. Nikole Hannah-Jones, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, recently turned down a belated tenure offer from the University of North Carolina and accepted a position at Howard University.
On June 3, Sabato tweeted that he agreed with a New York Times reporter who wrote that Trump believed he would be reinstated to office. “Of course it’s true,” Sabato wrote. “Trump, who governed on the edge of insanity for four long years, has gone over the edge. Yet millions of people and 90%+ of GOP members of Congress, still genuflect before this false god.”
Josh Marshall notes that the story is definitely another example of Republican hypocrisy on free speech and cancel culture, but that it's also about Sabato himself finally coming around to the conclusion that both sides aren't the same.
Years ago – and in some case until quite recently – there was a group of commentators who the prestige news shows relied on for non-partisan, “both sides” commentary on the politics of the day. Two of the most visible – especially on shows like The NewsHour were Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two think tank political scientists from AEI and Brookings respectively. Another was presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Another was Larry Sabato. Ornstein and Mann tended to focus on the function of Congress; Beschloss, the presidency; Sabato, federal elections. But they each covered the full terrain of contemporary politics. If you go back through 20-plus years of my writing the Editors’ Blog you’ll probably find some criticism of each of them, almost certainly precisely because of this studious effort to see the country’s two political parties in equal terms and treat them as such, even as the evidence for that perspective steadily dwindled.
In many ways TPM was begun, right on the heels of 1998/99 Impeachment and the 2000 election, with a sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit argument that the two parties are simply not equal. They don’t function in the same way. Despite its history and current branding the modern GOP is not just another center-right party of government, such as exists under different labels in every functioning modern democracy. It’s something different. It now functions like one of the revanchist, rightist sectarian parties which also exist in most multi-party European democracies. Under the most generous read they play different roles. The fact that the GOP is substantively the latter (rightist sectarian party) while structurally occupying the space of the former (center-right party of government) is the essence of the United States’ current crisis of democracy.
Then in the spring of 2012 Mann and Ornstein published an OpEd in The Washington Post: “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem“. The title speaks for itself but if you wanted more you could read the book that it was adapted from It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Ornstein’s twitter feed is now so blistering in its criticism of contemporary conservatism and the GOP that it makes me blush. Beschloss now has a priceless Twitter feed made up largely of historical artifacts, photos, commemorations almost all of which function as subtweets of Trump, Trumpism or some related manifestation of the contemporary GOP.
Sabato was in many ways the final holdout. In an interview with The Richmond Times-Dispatch for an article about the state GOP investigation demand, Sabato chalked the shift up to Trump and the January 6th insurrection. “People had better pay attention because if they don’t, it’s going to happen again.”
Reading over this post I can see that some might read it as a claim of vindication. Far from it. It is a more a testament to the Republican party. It is a good and proper thing to have a mode of commentary that is as free as possible not only of partisan commitments but the ideological commitments and opinions which are closely situated to the political contests of the moment. It is useful. But especially in the early 21st century the Republican party has simply given people who want to occupy this ground no place to stand. The culture of lying is simply too deep in the fabric. The rejection of democracy itself, let alone the culture of norms in which it best thrives, is too total.
And thus here we are.
Those of us who have been shouting into the whirlwind for years now that the GOP is truly dangerous don't feel vindicated, we're scared because we were right beyond our wildest warnings.