An election post-mortem
There is no shortage of explanations for Democratic losses in yesterday’s elections. Here is my quick partial list with a few comments. Additions welcome.
Basic structural explanations:
Democratic losses are a standard mid-term loss for the President’s party.
[No doubt. Without checking, I suspect the losses were larger than normal.]
Democratic losses reflect standard retrospective voting – the pandemic recovery is going poorly, the Afghan withdrawal went poorly, people blame the party of the President.
[Seems like an important part of the explanation, along with standard mid-term loss.]
Democratic losses reflect a standard “thermostatic” reaction to liberal policymaking by Democrats.
[Maybe, but Democrats haven’t actually done much, policy-wise. If this is a thermostatic reaction, it’s a reaction to rhetoric/press coverage, not actual policymaking.]
Democratic losses reflect the standard unpopularity of Congress, currently controlled by Democrats, exacerbated by (take your pick) Manchin and Sinema, or the unwillingness of progressives to accept their lack of bargaining power, which led to protracted bickering and reminded people how much they dislike politics and Congress.
[Seems plausible. Are people reacting to actual conditions/policies, or just to a sense that Congress is dysfunctional and things are out of control?]
There is a debate about whether polled dissatisfaction with “education” reflects unhappiness with pandemic school closures, or culture war concerns (“critical race theory”, trans rights, etc.).
[Both seem plausible. Unhappiness with pandemic school closures seems like largely a retrospective voting problem, with limited relevance for Democratic strategy going forward. The more enduring problem for Democrats is on the culture war side. Republicans and the Republican media seem to think that race-baiting and culture war issues are good for them politically, at least with Trump out of office and revulsion at his overt racism less salient.]
There are various theories about messaging, party positioning, and press coverage:
One theory is that the party has swung too far left, especially on race and social issues (defund the policy, abolish ICE, racializing a large range of issues that do not need to be racialized).
[I think this is plausible, at least in terms of rhetoric, and to some extent in terms of policy. This is a huge challenge for Democrats going forward, given their coalition and values. The internecine wars have already started.]
Biden seems to have a penchant for overpromising – the pandemic is over, the Afghan government will survive, bipartisanship is possible.
One point I have not seen made is the effect of relentlessly negative press coverage of supply chain problems, shortages, and inflation. All this could have been spun in a much more positive way (“Of course there are some problems as the rusty wheels of commerce start turning again, but shortages are signs of things coming back to life, they are green shoots.”).
Press coverage has also been highly critical of Biden on climate policy, even though resistance to climate policy is coming mostly from Republicans.
The big picture:
In 2008, Barack Obama won a modest victory over John McCain (about 7 pts), who was trying to succeed one of the worst presidents in U.S. history (disastrous and unnecessary Iraq war, Katrina, financial crisis).
In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote, but not by much (2 pts), despite . . . being Donald Trump.
In 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump, but not by much (4.5 pts), despite the Covid-19 pandemic and . . . Donald Trump still being Donald Trump.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but this doesn’t look very promising for the blue team.
[Excellent summary since I agree with all of it. In addition McAuliffe’s unforced error lent credibility to the age-0ld Dumocrats meme. Actually I have found this meme to have rung true repeatedly for over fifty years now. Given that the party stands with Terry, then the only choice is to throw all the bums out. OTOH, your explanation covers NJ as well as VA, but I still believe that Terry found the secret sauce for resondly tanking Dems in VA for this term.
On https://angrybearblog.com/2021/11/open-thread-nov-2-2021, I posted a link and short excerpt for a 2009 ACLU article on elected local school boards in VA. Since school boards have a lot of influence on what is taught in schools along with the texts that it is taught from, then elected school boards which predominate in VA give parents a lot of influence that Terry seems opposed to, which makes him opposed to current law in VA. That is not a good look for a gubernatorial candidate nor a liberal political party.]
In a Virginia gubernatorial debate on Sept. 29 with Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin, Democratic nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffe declared: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”`
I am sure that McAuliffe is not actually a deep enough thinker to have actually meant what it sounded like he was implying. No way to tell what he was actually reacting to, most likely either right wing nonviolent civil disobedience at school board meetings or the liberal lament over civic pressure against left wing social engineering, but I really doubt that Terry was rebelling against the legal status of elected school boards. McAuliffe is a pandering limousine liberal, but he is not a revolutionary radical socialist.
The factions of the Dem party are their own worst enemies.
Other than the GOP, maybe.
We’ve got a three-party system at this point.
“or the unwillingness of progressives to accept their lack of bargaining power.”
I disagree here, they have a lot of power. We get our bill or we get no bill. Past time for progressives to stop taking one for the team. We get the BBB we agree to or Sinema and Manchin’s BIP dies in the House.
That approach will result in they get no bill and go down in flames all over the country. They didn’t manage to flip any contested races with moderates. The progressives have a highly inflated view of their electability and influence.
I do not know enough about the issues in New Jersey, but McAuliffe clearly was not the right candidate. He was a retread who gaffed and seemed very out of touch with everyone whether on the left or right. Bill Clinton’s ” I feel your pain” was simply not there. No question that Youngkin used racism to rile up his base, but he used the dog whistle of critical race theory rather than the in your face racism of the former guy which did cost the former guy enough GOP votes to lose the reelection bid. McAuliffe could have tried to lead on the issue, but instead threw down the red meat of the government knows what is best for you and your kids. IMHO Biden and Congress had very little to do with it which is not to say that if the Dems do not get their act together they are going to get killed in the midterms.
The MSM is pushing the panic button on Biden and the Democrats after yesterday’s squeaker for the GOP in Virginia. If that galvanizes Democratic voters in 2022, then good. But it’s a year before the 2022 election, and that’s an eternity in American politics. I’m not sanguine, but I’m not panicking. McAuliffe made unforced errors in VA and wasn’t a strong candidate. Youngkin ran on local issues and kept Trump at arms length. That won’t stop Trump from claiming a victory for his endorsement, but for Trump, everything is about Trump.
Biden and the party need to keep their eyes on the ball. Pass major legislation while you can, then claim credit for everything good that follows. COVID should be in decline by Spring, the supply chain issues should be resolved by then, and employment should be looking up. Remember the old addage: people’s memories of unpleasant events are short, or else there would be no second children.
It’s frustrating assembling the masses and electing based on an agenda to then have the agenda be torn apart by this back and forth.
Republicans – “Get in line or we will go after you. We are going to shove this 30% polling, unpopular agenda down everyone’s throat.”
Democrats – “Well, then I guess we agree to disagree. #taxtherich #cowfartsarekillingus #weneedchange.”
This is why congress will go Republican next year and Trump will be back for 2024. Inevitably, the people we got out to vote to help change their circumstance, congress will dilly dally and leave them out in the cold and they will refuse to come out to participate. Case in point.
So the American Rescue Plan meant nothing?
ARP did a fee things to help like the tweaking of the subsidized healthcare.gov silver plans. But that’s only for 2022. ARP also did the checks in the mail which is helpful. The child tax credit I think is dangerous and a lot of people getting those credits are going to be hit hard with clawbacks. It was a little more akin to the CARES act, temporary.
Background for VA and NJ (where I still expect Murphy to pull through):
1) VA is 1-11 (counting 2021) on electing a Governor of the party of the incumbent President. (McAuliffe eight years ago, iirc)
2) NJ runs similarly; Murphy, assuming he does prevail, would be the first Democratic Governor re-elected in NJ since the Carter Administration (Brendan Byrne in 1977).* Whitman (1993) and Christie (2009) are the rule.
With that as prelude, and agreeing with several of your points:
Joel is spot-on for VA Gov. Note that (last I saw) VA Dems had managed to maintain a split in their House. They were significantly down a few years ago, and a lot of the school board elections in VA went strongly against candidates who pushed “stop CRT” as their platform. People didn’t buy the whole schpiel, but several of them probably left the Governorship blank.
When the former Governor doesn’t run on his record (which was good) or the record of the current incumbent (who improved on his work) but instead keeps emphasizing (no matter how correctly) that his opponent is a barely-cleaned-up version of the twice-impeached President, it’s not going to motivate his base–and it will probably p*ss off his opponent’s base. In an off-year election, especially one with the known history, that’s going hurt you <i>both</i> ways: drop-off for Rs in VA was about 50% from 2020; D drop was closer to 65-70%. Enthusiasm gap.
McAuliffe didn’t stand FOR anything, which is even worse given he had things to stand on.
I don’t know anyone here in NJ who is thrilled with Murphy: he has done a fine job but that doesn’t mean people are motivated to vote for him, especially when all the polls coming into yesterday had him with nothing less than a 6% lead (and that was an outlier; consensus was 8% or even double-digits). The “sound bite” ad from a Republican “arm’s length” organization was pretty much the only thing that ran on local (NYC-area) television, and I would bet the situation was similar with Philadelphia-area stations. Didn’t see anything equivalent from Democratic organizations.
So, on a decent but cold day, with little else happening and a couple of ballot issues that either motivated Republicans or did nothing, people stayed home. And some of them may soon regret that.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Well done and I definitely agree that Joel nailed my home state’s (VA) politics. On the plus side though McAuliffe did make Northam look like a fairly good candidate in retrospect :<)
And you were right on Murphy.
It is probably beginning to dawn on voters
that the GOP doesn’t really need to do much
to further damage Dem chances for 2022/24.
The Dems are fully capable of doing themselves in.
Sad to say. I expected much more from Biden,
but I hold Manchin & Sinema largely to blame,
maybe with an assist from Chuck Schumer.
Democrats in Washington scramble to enact Biden’s agenda and save their slim congressional majorities
Dem guv’nah Murphy is re-elected in NJ.
You could say NJ is a far bluer state than VA, but
Dem incumbents practically never win reelection in NJ.
Murphy Narrowly Wins Re-election as New Jersey’s Governor
Have we not heard the end of this?
Presumably there will be outcries
of a ‘stolen election’ in Trump’s
other home state of NJ.
In New Jersey, Republicans are trying to discredit another free and fair election
My crystal ball says this is the only way back for the Democrats (and, incidentally, for most all working Americans):
Swamp Republican voters and even a Republican attempt to steal the presidential election with overwhelming numbers. Every worker I’ve spoken to who understands the concept of labor unions (surprising how many have no concept at all) would kill for regularly scheduled cert/recert/decert elections.
Bigger talk of the nation then federal civil rights legislation — involves everybody’s personal life.