Today's deep question: Just how badly will the tikis torch Terry?

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Actually, a better question might whether the Lincoln Project is really a crypto-double-cross operation working for Glenn Youngkin. Naah, but’s amusing to consider that it’s not a non-zero probability. Or at least to know that some Democrats might consider it a non-zero probability after yesterday’s faceplant.

The real question after yesterday’s bizarre and incredibly incompetent dirty trick is this: Did Terry McAuliffe get screwed by his own pet ratf****rs? The answer to the latter question is indubitably yes, but that may let Team McAuliffe off too easily. Whether it does any real damage to his election prospects is tough to suss out, but his allies are worried, Newsweek reports today:

The action on Friday by the PAC has prompted concerns that it could harm the election prospects of the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, whom it had intended to help.

Lis Smith, a former senior advisor to Democratic primary candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted: “What a massive, massive screw up. The last thing that the McAuliffe campaign needed this weekend. A total disservice to the hundreds of hard-working staffers on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told The Washington Post: “The overreach backfires because it is so ridiculous in its execution it hurts the point they’re trying to make.” …

Virginia legislator Sally Hudson tweeted: “Charlottesville is not a prop. Our community is still reeling from years of trauma—especially this week. Don’t come back, @ProjectLincoln. Your stunts aren’t welcome here.”

The journalist, Jordan Fischer described the timing of the stunt as an “extremely gross thing,” while Josh Jordan tweeted that the action “was horribly executed and probably helped Youngkin.”

Did it actually help Youngkin, or just make him look better in comparison to McAuliffe? Had the McAuliffe campaign not jumped into the hoax immediately and claimed that it “disqualified” Youngkin, it might not have had any effect at all. In that sense, one can’t even really blame the Lincoln Project for the impact of this stupid stunt. Team McAuliffe may or may not have had anything to do with staging it, but they amplified it into a national story — only to have it blow up in their faces.

And I’m not entirely convinced that Team McAuliffe had nothing to do with staging it, either. The identities of the hoaxers in front of the bus appear to line up too closely with Team McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats to shrug off any coordination. One has to wonder just how much the Lincoln Project was involved in the creation and direction of this stunt.

By now, though, it’s probably too late to do too much damage in any direction. Veteran political analyst Larry Sabato tells CNN’s Michael Smerconish that the stunt was “very ill advised,” in a dry understatement, but that he doesn’t think it will have much impact on voters at this point:

I’d tend to agree that it won’t flip votes to Youngkin, and the same could have been said in the other direction if this dirty trick had been carried out with even a hint of competence. Virginians had been voting for six weeks prior to this stunt, with a heavy tilt for Democrats (but maybe not heavy enough). Election Day would have turned out heavily Republican anyway, and few if any of those voters will have considered a flip over a few legit tiki torches, even if they’d heard the story by Tuesday.

The real risk over this stunt is in voter enthusiasm. That’s what the Lincoln Project and/or Team McAuliffe wanted to stoke with the tiki-torch hoax — they need more turnout from Democrats, and they’re not getting enough of it in the early vote. They wanted to light a fire under undermotivated Democrat butts on Election Day, perhaps especially black voters who are still sore at McAuliffe for bigfooting the primary and squeezing out black candidates from the nomination, and thought the tiki torches would do it. Instead, the debacle has reminded them all just how terrible a candidate and person McAuliffe really is, and demonstrated his desperation to the point of attempting to hoodwink voters with a farcical hoax.

That might end up motivating an even bigger turnout on Election Day, but for Youngkin and his fellow Republicans, not McAuliffe. If there is a backfire from the Lincoln Project/McAuliffe hoax, that’s how it will manifest itself. It may not be a yuuuuge backfire, but it won’t need to be much either in a race this tight:

The irony of any backfire is that it might let the wrong man off the hook if McAuliffe loses. He needed the hoax because Joe Biden’s collapse in standing with voters even in Virginia has made it nearly impossible for McAuliffe to put Youngkin away. If McAuliffe loses, you can bet that the media will point to the tiki-torch hoax as the inflection point rather than Biden’s incompetence and bungling.