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Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan, as the old saying goes. Just two days after the GOP swept to victory in Virginia and ran a surprisingly close election in New Jersey, Democrats are blaming each other for the electoral collapse. Tuesday’s results will surely create even more rancor between the warring factions of the Democratic Party, which have quarreled the entire year over Biden’s domestic agenda.
Tuesday results give every faction enough material to make their case and impose their narrative. Progressives point out the fact that McAuliffe is part of the Democratic establishment, Biden blames Congress’ inaction on his domestic agenda, while moderates criticize the radical agenda of progressives, which they believe doesn’t play well with voters.
This is not the first time that both wings of the party have blamed each other for their electoral woes, back in 2020, the senator for Virginia Mark Warner (D-VA) blamed progressives’ pet projects like “Defund the Police” for the party’s losses in the House of Representatives. The way the Democratic Party rationalizes Tuesday’s defeats will be crucial, as it would surely play an important role in the way they face next year’s midterms.
Progressives Democrats blame moderate Democrats for Tuesday’s disaster
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who has never run in a truly competitive congressional district, blasted the moderate wing saying that the election results in Virginia “shows the limits of trying to run a fully 100% super-moderate campaign that does not excite, speak to or energize a progressive base”.
Just a few hours after it was clear that Glenn Youngkin had just put an end to the Democrat’s 12-year winning streak in Virginia, the Progressive Change Campaign Committe—a progressive grassroots organization aligned with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey—issued a statement saying that “Terry McAuliffe sadly can blame his loss on a few corporate-aligned, obstructionist Democrats who blocked bold action in Congress”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) quoted a tweet criticizing moderates who would blame progressives over the Democrat’s poor performance on Tuesday. Paradoxically, the Minneapolis, the city that Omar represents, not only voted down a proposal to eliminate the police department and substitute it with a “Public Safety” department, but it also reelected the incumbent major, defeating the two candidates that Rep. Omar endorsed just a month before election day. Whether Democrats would follow campaigning advice from a congresswoman who didn’t manage to get progressive wins in her own city remains an open question.
Biden blames everyone but himself
Biden—whose presidency has been in constant damage control mode since the deadly Afghanistan withdrawal in August—has decided not to take responsibility for the electoral defeat of his party. When asked about McAuliffe’s defeat at a press conference, President Biden said that “people want us to get things done”, which is why he said he is “pushing hard for the Democratic Party to move along and pass my infrastructure bill”.
However, Biden also said that maybe passing his trillion-dollar reconciliation bill would not have changed the electoral outcome in Virginia, saying that “I’m not sure I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in the red districts who were Trump voters.”
The president, who campaigned with McAuliffe in the final days of the election, has had dismal approval rating numbers in the nation. According to the poll aggregator from FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s approval ratings are at an all-time low of 42.7%. Among all the thirteen past presidents, only Trump was more unpopular than Biden at this point of the presidency.
Manchin says “we can’t go too far left” says Election is a “wake-up call”
While progressives say that McAuliffe wasn’t progressive enough and Biden tries to deflect blame, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said that Tuesday’s results are a “wake-up call” and says that he has been talking “about our debt, about inflation, about the economic fallout we may have”, Manchin was referring to his constant concerns over the magnitude of the spending bill that Democrats have tried to push through Congress, which he expressed in a WSJ op-ed back in September.
The senator, who along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), has played a fundamental role in preventing the reconciliation bill from becoming law, also said Thursday that the results have clearly shown that “we can’t go too far-left. This is not a center-left or a left country. We are a center, if anything, a little center-right country. That’s being shown, and we ought to be able to recognize that.”
Manchin’s remarks sounded similar to those of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) who told The New York Times that President Biden’s mandate was quite limited to just removing Trump from office, with Spanberger saying “nobody elected him to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos”.
Democrats will now enter a short period of soul-searching in order to tune their strategy for 2022. It is up to them if they will follow campaign advice from Progressive firebrands who run in extremely safe Democratic districts, or from politicians like Manchin, who have managed the seemingly Herculean task of winning as a Democrat in the most Republican state in the country.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.