While the party argues over its huge social spending agenda, Republicans highlight issues that preoccupy voters more immediately, such as a sluggish economy, high gas prices, expensive groceries, crime, and concerns about parents’ right to influence what is taught in schools. These concerns have in many cases been exacerbated by a protracted pandemic, which President Joe Biden declared almost over in July, but which over the summer rose to a new blow against the morale of an exhausted nation.
If the Democrats had only underperformed in Virginia, they could have put their misfortune to an erratic and unfocused campaign by veteran party heavyweight Terry McAuliffe, who was trying to win another, non-consecutive term as governor.
When the president arrived home from Europe in the early hours of Wednesday, it was not clear that Democratic leaders and many of the voters who threw Trump out of the White House last year are still on the same page. Washington’s lawmakers have spent weeks arguing over the most comprehensive plan for social spending in generations – a cornerstone of Biden’s agenda.
And while much of the Democratic Party and Washington’s political and media worlds are preoccupied with the fallout from the January 6 uprising, Tuesday’s results may also indicate that voters are focused on more tangible threats than the erosion of American democracy.
CNN political commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones declared a “five alarm fire” for Democrats, saying the party needs to consider a change of course.
“Those numbers are bad,” Jones said. “… These are our voters. These are voters who came to us in 2018, came to us in 2020 and have left us in droves in two states that should be in our column.”
Guy Cecil, chairman of the Democratic group Priorities USA, said it was time for the party to come together.
“This election is a warning to all Democrats. While DC Democrats spent weeks fighting each other, Republicans were focused on mobilizing their base and peeling voters away from the Biden coalition using deceptive, divisive tactics,” Cecil said.
“It’s time to focus on what’s next. Congress Democrats need to immediately pass the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills. We need to start tomorrow by consolidating and mobilizing those who turned out to vote democratically in 2020. And we must draw a sharp contrast between democratic progress and Republican extremism. ”
A plan for national Republicans
In Virginia, Youngkin did exactly what he set out to do: he secured a huge turnout in rural, conservative areas, while avoiding alienating the kind of suburban voters who were turned down by Trump – a factor that contributed to to cost the GOP control of Parliament in 2018 and the Senate and White House in 2020.
While sending coded messages to Trump’s base on “electoral integrity,” race and transgender rights, the polished Youngkin did not define his bid for Trump’s electoral fraud lies or adopt the polarizing, autocratic rage that the former president regularly displays. And Trump, while constantly injecting himself into the race – including Tuesday night to claim the credit for the victory – stayed largely out of Youngkin’s way. He held a telerally on the eve of the vote, but he did not travel to Virginia, for example, after his insane rally in Georgia was blamed by some in the GOP for the loss of two Senate runoff races.
Republican strategists believe that anxiety among mothers and fathers over months of lost personal classes during Covid-19 gave them an opening in democratic suburbs. McAuliffe played into their plan with a disastrous fork in a debate in which he seemed to suggest that parents should not have much to say about how their children were educated. The clap played into Republican efforts to exploit concerns among some parents about how U.S. tortured racial history is covered in history lessons. Youngkin promised to ban Critical Race Theory on his first day in office – though it’s not part of Virginia’s curriculum – a move that got conservative media on his side. But an ad that implicitly attacked the late Toni Morrison, one of America’s most respected African-American writers, hinted at an ugly racial undercurrent of Republican politics in Virginia.
Youngkin won for the Republicans by keeping Trump – who dominates the party nationally – out of the picture. And McAuliffe lined up against the former president, portraying a vote on a rival he accused of sounding purebred dog whistles as a vote for a new term for Trump in the White House. The result suggests that fears of Trump among independents and moderates do not run as high when the former president is not in the oval office or on the ballot. And McAuliffe, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama all seem to have miscalculated by reasoning that the best way to demean Youngkin was to paint him as a Trump clone – even though his behavior yielded few of the former . The President’s vibes.
Still, it is unlikely that Trump is behind the scenes next fall, as he treats the midterm elections as a dry race for his likely presidential election in 2024, so that some Democrats can profit from portraying their opponents as in the pocket of the twice-jailed former commander -in -chief who incited a coup against the US Capitol.
So it is possible that Youngkin’s borders to avoid alienating both Trump voters and suburbs may not work so well across Virginia state borders.
A warning to vulnerable members of the Democratic House
It can be dangerous to project too much from an election outside of the year. Virginia has a long habit of electing a governor from a party other than the one that just conquered the White House. And the volatile mood among voters in recent years has meant danger to established members from both sides, showing how quickly things are changing.
But while Youngkin only beat McAuliffe by about 80,000 votes among more than 3 million attendees, a 10-point turn away from Democrats in just one year will come as a frightening warning to the party’s vulnerable suburban lawmakers who have smoked House Progressives. which has kept a $ 1000 billion bipartisan infrastructure package to secure a major social spending plan. Anything close to those numbers next November would leave Democrats at extreme risk of losing both Parliament and the Senate.
Youngkin’s path to victory came by outperforming Trump in the affluent, populous, liberal suburbs around Washington, DC, where democracy favors Democrats. But just as interestingly, Youngkin also increased Trump’s turnout in some of the most conservative counties. It could indicate that he managed to attract some disgruntled Republicans who refused to accept Trump’s wild behavior in office. Or it could reflect the former president’s move to urge his supporters to show up – another apparent move to help the former president claim the credit for the victory of a candidate who largely ignored him.
No matter how the Republican dynamic plays out, Democrats know they have a serious problem. It is possible that the pandemic-hit economy may be in much better shape this time next year, and that Covid-19 will no longer be a dominant feature of national life, or that inflation, which is consuming many family budgets, may become subdued. If Biden has already reached its low point, Democrats will at least hope to limit their losses in the midterm period.
But they need their voters to show up – against what looks like an electrified GOP base, according to Tuesday’s evidence. And unless the president adopts his two priority bills soon and makes progress on other issues, including the right to vote or immigration reform, already difficult midterm elections will begin to look impossible.
“People voted for us last year,” a Democrat close to the McAuliffe campaign, who was frustrated with Congress, told CNN’s Dan Merica. “We have to give them something.”