While Republicans are positively giddy over the party’s sweep of Virginia and Gov. Phil Murphy’s paper-thin victory in reliably blue New Jersey, Democrats, rather than retrench to assess where it all went wrong, have succumbed to public bickering and finger pointing over who and what was to blame.
Whatever détente was possible between the party’s progressives and centrists vanished on the morning after the election as leaders of both factions gazed at the smoking rubble that once was their party.
Overjoyed Republicans immediately touted the election of Glenn Youngkin as Virginia’s governor and running the table for the rest of the ticket as an unmistakable harbinger of an inevitable blowout in next year’s Congressional midterms.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for instance, caught up in the euphoria of the moment, predicted a Republican gain of as many as 60 seats in the House in 2022.
Once the election night sugar high wears off, though, expectations will recede to a more realistic level.
Republican optimism has been growing steadily and, even before the favorable outcome in Virginia and the narrow escape in New Jersey, regaining control of the Congress next year shifted from possibly to assuredly.
The Virginia loss and Murphy’s two-point re-election in a race written off as hopelessly non-competitive should have led to some soul searching by Democrats but instead brought out recriminations and accusations.
The moderate wing attributed the poor showing to voter perception that the party had careened too far to the left, that it had become synonymous with radical ideas that a majority of Americans found unacceptable if not frightening.
Progressives responded by insisting that the party had become too timid, that failing to embrace major new spending and tax increases to finance vastly expanded social programs doomed its chances.
They blamed McAuliffe’s defeat and Murphy’s unexpectedly close call on campaigns that emphasized moderate rather than progressive policies.
The prevailing mood of the nation suggests strongly that the progressives are on the wrong side of the debate and that the party failed to recognize or respond to the trend toward centrist policies with broader and deeper support in the country.
The leftists had created a context in which the Democrats were the party of de-fund the police, open the borders, cancel culture in its most outrageous forms, appearing to sympathize with violent street protesters, and replacing capitalism with socialism.
Fairly or not, the perception stuck, helped by the creaseless social media drumbeat by progressive leaders’ relentless assault on those who counseled middle of the road moderation.
The rhetoric turned harsh, attaining a new plateau of fury when longtime party strategist and Clinton family confidante James Carville attributed the Democratic losses to “stupid wokeness,” a direct shot at the progressive faction.
New York congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, a leader of the left, fired back at Carville, declaring his day had come and gone and his brand of politics was no longer relevant.
Carville, though, identified the discontent abroad in the nation, a sense that government and its leaders are indifferent to concerns and frustrations of a populace who feel ignored by a dismissive and condescending ruling class whose principal concern is to remain in power.
Government, they believe, has become self-serving, caving in to the demands of vocal private interests whose views and agenda are inconsistent with those of a majority of Americans.
The woke movement Carville referred to had inflicted serious damage on the party by espousing causes which were discussed in faculty lounges of academia and had no place in the lives of everyday Americans.
While stopping short of the smack in the head bluntness used by Carville, his views were nonetheless echoed by a number of Democrats in Congress.
The Biden Administration’s stumbles and the free fall in public approval has only added to the sense of a government in disarray, one which, when confronted by a crisis, denies the existence of one, minimizes it as inconsequential or offers assurances that it is under control and no cause for concern.
The daily drumbeat of grim news from Washington arguably contributed greatly to McAuliffe’s loss and dragged Murphy to the edge of the abyss.
The agonizing, protracted debate over the bipartisan infrastructure bill, pitting moderates against progressives, embarrassed the president and the congressional leadership and cast doubts on their ability to deliver anything of consequence. The muscle flexing by the progressive bloc forced the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to publicly back down and agree to a damaging delay on consideration of the Administration’s signature domestic agenda item.
Even Democrats fretted aloud that McAuliffe would have benefitted enormously — perhaps, even won —- had the infrastructure bill been approved prior to the election and given him a potentially game-changing talking point about successful governing at a time when he desperately needed one.
The Democratic defeats was a tale of voter anger and disappointment. The party presented a large and inviting target to focus on and send a message: There’s more to the country than New York, California and Bernie Sanders.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.