Democrats Have Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Running against Trump didn't work this year.

Above is the top of the Washington Post website this morning. The Atlanta Braves winning the World Series for the first time in more than a quarter-century doesn’t make the cut. Instead, multiple stories about upstart Republican Glenn Youngkin beating former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Republican holding a slight lead in a New Jersey governor’s race that’s too close to call, and an initiative to defund the police losing in the city where George Floyd was murdered.

That Youngkin won isn’t, of course, a complete shock. Several polls had shown the race shifting in recent days. Still, between the fact that Joe Biden won the state by 10 points, no Republican having won a statewide office here since 2009, and 900,000 or so votes in the bank before the Youngkin surge, I was skeptical that it would go this way. Further, the conventional wisdom was that, because absentee ballots could continue to come in for three days, it would likely be a while before we knew the outcome. While a margin of 67,000ish votes in a contest where some 3.3 million people voted seems trivial, all of the outlets have called the race. Nor was it just Youngkin: Winsome Sears became the first Black woman (indeed, the first woman) elected lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares became the first Hispanic elected attorney general; both are Republicans. It’s too soon to say whether the state legislature went Red as well, as there are still nearly a dozen races too close to call.

I haven’t followed the New Jersey governor’s race nearly as closely but everyone seems to be surprised that Republican Jack Ciattarelli has a slim lead. There may be enough outstanding Democrat-leaning precincts out to flip the race to Democrat Phil Murphy. It wasn’t supposed to be a nail-biter.

Both races featured the Democratic candidate trying to paint their opponent as Donald Trump. This strategy, apparently, is more effective when the opponent is actually Donald Trump.

There will be plenty of time to parse these contests and what they portend for 2022 and beyond. There’s clearly something of a “voter enthusiasm gap” right now. But it’s clearly also a function of this being an off-off-year cycle. Even with generous rules for early voting, which lasted 45 days here in Virginia, more than a million more people voted in the Presidential contest a year ago.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2021, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ken_L says:

    There’s an unspoken “Of course it could never happen here!” assumption underpinning so much online discussion of recent election results in America.

    History records so many “moderates” and “centrists” expressing similar sentiments.

    3
  2. Matt says:

    Youngkin basically ran away from anything related to Trump including Trump’s phone rally. As you said Youngkin is a new upstart and has no real record to run against or for really so he was perfectly positioned to run.

    From the perspective of most voters (aka low information voters) the Democratic party has been in power nearly a year and hasn’t done anything to help the common people. The GOP with the help of their various media mouth pieces have successfully avoided being called out for stopping any progress that would help the common people. All those people know is that when the GOP was in power at least they got something (even if it was lies).

    6
  3. Matt says:

    Wish the edit button was there for me..

    For some reason at my jobs I’ve been hearing right wingers complaining about rich people not paying their fair share lately. These people are gun owning GOP voters who normally wouldn’t vote Democratic. I don’t know what happened but it’s been kind of mind blowing to hear some of their discussions lately about the top .5%. Taxing the rich would be an easy win for the Democratic party but once again big money is not going to let that happen. It’s cheaper to buy senators today than pay more taxes later..

    4
  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Sucks to be you.

    1
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt: DEMs are trying to raise taxes on the rich, but guns are more important that fair taxation to a whole lot of people. They are convinced that if DEMs had their way nobody would ever be able to shoot up another school full of children with an AR-15.

    4
  6. Tony W says:

    Racism’s death throes continue to be ugly and violent.

    1
  7. Scott says:

    Here in Texas, there weren’t any real races and Democrats are a big minority so, naturally, the Republicans are in a conflict among themselves. And it’s “culture war today, culture war tomorrow, culture war forever”.

  8. CSK says:

    Yesterday all the right-wing loons were predicting that the Democrats would steal the election in Virginia for McAuliffe. Will this finally shut them up about Trump having had 2020 stolen from him?

    5
  9. Mikey says:

    @Tony W: I think yesterday’s result indicates we are very far from racism’s death throes. Very far indeed.

    10
  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK: No

    @James, in your later post you made the point that a candidate needs to run on something, not simply against someone not on the ballot. That is a good summary of the Dems predicament and they don’t get it. They continue to delude themselves by looking at the polls showing that Dem policy proposals are popular, and they are, but policy is not what wide swaths of the voting public casts their ballot on. Those voters are saying, yup, I like this Dem proposal, but I’m voting Republican.

    3
  11. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    At some point–particularly if Ciattarelli wins in New Jersey–the Trumpkins are going to have to deal with the fact that Trump won by a fluke in 2016 and lost in 2020 because people hate his guts, not because the Dominion voting machines were rigged so Biden would win.

    2
  12. Scott says:

    There were no elections of consequence here in Texas, except bond issues, etc. Democrats are also of little consequence. The conflict amongst the Republicans are: “Culture war today, Culture war tomorrow, Culture war forever”.

    2
  13. Matt says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Well these were not the type of people to consider raising taxes on the rich let alone talk about it needing to be done in the past. Thanks to Manchin though they think the democrats are trying to stop any increase in taxes on the rich. All they hear is Manchin (D) blocking stuff they want. So they figure since the the other choice is (R) they then the GOP must be for those increases. They’ll swallow the lies and move on to the next outrage while nothing changes. I’m just not sure why this is suddenly a thing for these types.

    @Sleeping Dog: Exactly because right now all they hear is that Democrats are blocking those popular proposals. When the GOP is in charge those same people just swallow up the lies spewed by the right and their mouth pieces (Fox News, Sinclair, local paper that aint so local etc).

    1
  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: Why would they change what’s working? Long ago, somebody noted the sudden adoption of anti-abortion rhetoric by Baptists who had previously held life began at birth by observing, “Last year Jerry Falwell couldn’t spell abortion.” Last year nobody in VA could spell CRT. This year it’s their biggest problem.

    The whole situation is typified by a voter interview that went very much like, “What’s your biggest issue? Education. What makes education an issue? Critical Race Theory. What’s Critical Race Theory? Well, it’s race, and well I’m not an expert, I don’t know exactly, but I don’t want it.” How do you argue with that?

    Dems need to learn to defuse this nonsense by going with the flow. FOX “News” created this issue September last year. When somebody hollers about teaching CRT in grade school, it’s natural to react with, “Huh, where’d that come from? Nobody’s teaching your kids CRT. That’s a law school thing, and barely mentioned there. What are you people even talking about.” Gotta stay on top of the nonsense flowing out of the Mighty RW Wurlitzer and be ready to reply, “By gawd I’ve never supported teaching CRT in grade school and I never will.”

    1
  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    That election fraud is rampant has become a religion among R’s and no amount of countervailing evidence will convince them otherwise. For the R mandarins, accusation of fraud have become a cover to perpetuate their own pattern of fraud to continue minority rule. If TFG or a facsimile, like DeSantis, wins in 24 and there is an R congress, be assured that high on their agenda will be stripping voting rights and they will kill the filibuster to do it. There will also be a move on R dominated states to get the SC to look at Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims again and I wouldn’t bet much on those precedents surviving.

    2
  16. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Matt: I’m no expert on how to win any election, but I think the Democrats in Virginia should have made their appeal something like this: “Our nation lost ground from 2017 to 2021. Hundreds of thousands died, millions lost jobs, and unknown numbers saw their dreams get blown away. Don’t let it happen again!”

    2
  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Matt:

    For some reason at my jobs I’ve been hearing right wingers complaining about rich people not paying their fair share lately.

    There seems to be an undercurrent of actual populism amongst conservatives. I still indulge my bad habit of reading TAC. Started out as trying to understand conservatives, now it’s more an exercise in exo-psychology. They’ve got a serious anti-corporation thing going. In their minds corporations are the woke spearhead of the deep state.

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    As near as I can pin it down, Dems lost in Virginia because 1) “He’s just another Trump in sheep’s clothing” didn’t work – as James said, you have to be for something, simply being against something isn’t enough, and 2) the Democratic Party suffers from”they control Congress and the White House, so why can’t they get anything done?”

    Of course, it’s somewhat unfair to lay the blame for the current dysfunction solely at their feet – GOP obstructionism has played its part as always,, but let’s face it – the party has been a circus of dysfunction, fractionalism, and competing agendas since it won control. Those chickens are coming home to roost, and if they don’t reverse it yesterday & get on the same page, next November is going to look a great deal uglier than yesterday did.

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  19. Matt Bernius says:

    Reposting this from the other thread as I think it’s worth adding into the analysis:

    Last night the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson tweeted this important peice of historic context:

    For the every spicy take on Virginia you read (CRT is the new southern strategy, all politics is education politics, etc) spare a thought for the electoral thermostat.

    The WH’s party has lost *all but one* VA gov race since the 1970s. That’s a 1-11 record. @SteveKornacki https://t.co/N7IiWVMLmV

    https://twitter.com/DKThomp/status/1455701917930250241?t=4nfRffXX-xs1EFwVnZu91g&s=19

    The point is not “there is nothing to learn here, don’t analyze the race, politics is just one big dumb pendulum.”

    The point is there are probably many reasonable takeaways from VA and one of them is that, actually, politics really is just super pendulumy.

    https://twitter.com/DKThomp/status/1455702945576759298?t=vo_V0E6C94kR2gRfN0FpSQ&s=19

    The fact that 2013 was the only year that broke this pattern make me wonder if it would be more useful to look at what made that year different than what made this cycle different.

    4
  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I’ll agree with that – Virginia is what it is, and using it as a bellwether for the nation is somewhat dangerous taken in isolation. When you couple it with Murphy underperforming his 2017 results by nearly 6% and Biden’s 2020 results by nearly 8% in a state as blue as NJ as well, it starts to suggest that something is very wrong in Denmark, and if the national party doesn’t get on the other side of this, 2022 is going to be a defeat legendary in its proportions.

    5
  21. Jen says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Agreed. Virginia’s results aren’t that surprising but New Jersey’s are.

    My .02 after working in politics–it follows Newton’s third law; for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Dramatic results in one year tend to lead to equally dramatic results the other direction in the following election.

    Americans have two major parties, which tends to lead to very binary thinking.

    Dems need to get their act together.

    1
  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    Well, I hope the people of Virginia enjoy getting what they voted for last night.

  23. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @gVOR08: Ive said this for years. Democratic strategists apparently do not understand how the brain works.

    A child says there’s a boogie man under the bed. For some kids, its enough for dad to say theres no boogie man under the bed because boogie men don’t exist.

    For most kids, Dad needs to look under the bed and shoot an imaginary ghost catcher under the bed, Roll up the ghost, and shoot it into a black hole outside…because, obviously ghosts cant come through black holes.

    You have to counter theater with theater as well as reality to cover your bases with non intellectually wired people.

    Remember when Obama publicly “distanced” himself from Reverend Wright? Theater…played truly by both men.

    The answer to CRT in schools is not to ONLY say it doesn’t exist. But to ALSO, make a show of it being completely inappropriate for children. Dem candidates should be calling for curriculum review to ensure CRT is only taught in elective graduate courses.

    These are made up issues so there is no harm in theatrical responses since they dont exist anyway.

    Democrats real problem is they need better campaign strategists for branding. Now that Trump is gone they don’t have people like Lincoln Project doing Pro Bono work for them anymore.

    Frankly, I don’t think Democrats can attract the personalities they need to run to sustain power. MaCauliff was a retread and known. People want fresh faces if given an option. In VA they took it

    8
  24. matt bernius says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    When you couple it with Murphy underperforming his 2017 results by nearly 6% and Biden’s 2020 results by nearly 8% in a state as blue as NJ as well, it starts to suggest that something is very wrong in Denmark, and if the national party doesn’t get on the other side of this, 2022 is going to be a defeat legendary in its proportions.

    I think NJ is more useful to look at. But again, I think the historic context should be added into the analysis. This, in particular, stands out to me (emphsis mine):

    Murphy is seeking his second consecutive four-year term, hoping to become the first Democratic New Jersey governor in 44 years to win re-election, while Ciattarelli is hoping to bring the GOP back into power in the state’s top executive office.

    https://www.nj.com/politics/2021/11/live-election-results-race-for-nj-governor-2021.html

    So there is some historic precedence for this being a more uphill battle than polling suggested. That, BTW, is definitely a big question that folks should be asking–what went on in sampling that led to this big of a polling error going into the election.

    I think one thing this, and 2020 also, shows us is how vulnerable Executive roles are to public reactions to things like COVID-19. This is also increasingly leading me to believe that it probably was his own bungling of C19 rather than the Democrats that lead a sitting president to lose the White House.

    Additionally, I think we all should be prepared for the Dems to do poorly in 2022–because there is historical precedence for that as well (given that with the exception of 2002–and there was a major external factor there) party that isn’t in the White House historically gains seats in the legislature.

  25. Kylopod says:

    @matt bernius:

    Murphy is seeking his second consecutive four-year term, hoping to become the first Democratic New Jersey governor in 44 years to win re-election

    I think the larger context is that he’d be the first example since 1985 of a candidate from the president’s party winning at all. The reason there hasn’t been a Dem winning reelection in this entire period is that there’s been only one two-term Republican president since Reagan: Dubya, and the McGreevey scandal led there to be a different Dem running during Bush’s second term.

    2
  26. mattbernius says:

    @Kylopod:
    Additional important historic context. TY for that. Definitely needs to be taken into consideration as well.

    Which leads to an important addition to what I had written.

    Additionally, I think we all should be prepared for the Dems to do poorly in 2022–because there is historical precedence for that as well (given that with the exception of 2002–and there was a major external factor there) party that isn’t in the White House historically gains seats in the legislature.

    I think it’s important to understand that two things (among others) can be true at the same time:

    (1) Historic trends show that the Presidents party loses legislative seats in off year elections.
    (2) The Democrats have been, on the whole, underperforming expectations in key elections.

    If 1 and 2 are true, and given redistricting and baked-in structural advantages that the Republicans have, 2022 doesn’t look great for the Democratic party. Which one would hope would light a fire under Dems in Congress to get as much done as they can to have things to run on. Time and two senators will tell if this actually can happen.

    1
  27. Scott F. says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Of course, it’s somewhat unfair to lay the blame for the current dysfunction solely at their feet – GOP obstructionism has played its part as always,, but let’s face it – the party has been a circus of dysfunction, fractionalism, and competing agendas since it won control.

    This is no question true, but how could it not be so? The Republicans have abdicated all responsibility for every one of the challenges facing the country. All the nation’s fractionalism and competing agendas then have to play out in the one party that is trying to get something done. It’s is bound to a circus.

    1
  28. inhumans99 says:

    @Matt:

    They see the mega-rich taking trips into outer space and bringing along a wealthy or passenger or two, so it kind-of does seem like even some members of the GOP might be starting to look at the rich as folks who should pay more taxes. Those displays of wealth even make liberals cringe more than a wee bit.

    I do not have time this morning to go into detail, but I am not really joking when I say that Biden should stop trying to pass legislation and just start taking lots of vacations until the 2024 election rolls around. Trump took a mega crud-ton of time off to Golf and was none the worse for wear when it came to how his base viewed him as a President.

    Reports show Trump as the odds-on favorite to be our next President, and he can jawbone the GOP into passing an infrastructure bill (and I bet he will get his bill passed by a pliant all Republican Congress). Also, Trump lowered taxes already so much on the rich that he might even get some pressure from the GOP to get the rich to pony up some money to pay for the bills they help Trump pass.

    Put it this way, even the Red States know that if you keep letting the Rich keep more of their money, that there will be no funds to hoover up from Blue states like CA and NY for your poor state, so Trump gets his infrastructure bill (which helps everyone, in red and blue states) and the status quo of the rich paying some, but as usual, far from the amount they should be paying in taxes, remains intact.

    I guess I did have time to write everything out, lol.

    Still, I am not joking…if Biden is headed towards a loss he should chill out and only really get involved if a major natural disaster, or something like that, forces him to put his sit back and relax time on pause. It works for the GOP, and it will work the Democratic Party if we just give it a try.

  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think chalking this up to racism is wrong. Yes, obviously it’s a part of the picture, but Virginians did not become more racist since the last election.

    I’ve believed and said for some time that what’s happening in the US is much less white vs. black, and much more male vs. female. I don’t know why people can’t see this. Youngkin won along with a Black lt. governor and a Hispanic AG, so the racist charge falls flat. It’s not just white people playing the villain anymore, when we get serious data on this race I suspect we’ll see a large number of Blacks and Hispanics either voting R or staying home.

    Mainstream Democrats are weak and corrupt.* Progressive Democrats are entitled and obnoxious.** Corrupt and obnoxious is not a great formula, not even when the opponent is frankly anti-American, anti-democratic and cruel.

    I threw up my hands in despair when CRT became an issue. It was an obvious loser for us. Especially on top of Defund – which also lost. Not to mention the incessant speech bullying that we’re all supposed to pretend isn’t a thing.

    But lest I be accused of dumping solely on progs, the open corruption of backward, self-serving asshole Joe Manchin and the ridiculous clowning of our manic pixie dream Senator, the ever-so-cute narcissist Kyrsten Sinema played an equally big part.

    *I doubt I’ll get much pushback on this. . .

    **. . . but surely someone will come along to angrily deny that progs just piss everyone off, and hey, live in denial if that makes you happy. The Republicans do it.

    7
  30. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I threw up my hands in despair when CRT became an issue. It was an obvious loser for us. Especially on top of Defund – which also lost.

    Except they were screaming about Defund and BLM riots more in 2020 than they are now (though the CRT craze is more recent), and that didn’t stop Biden from doing better in VA than any Dem since FDR.

    6
  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    Defund lost in Minneapolis, the city whose police department started this ball rolling. Minneapolis is a very Democratic city. In fact Defund has to date accomplished just about nothing. All that’s left of it is the ashes of yet another failure. I doubt it’ll show up on Virginia exit polls, but it forms part of the progressive paradigm that Americans are quite clearly not ready to embrace. My crystal ball says that net police funding in the US will go up this year.

    4
  32. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m not defending Defund in political terms; I think it’s a terrible slogan. I’m pushing back against your use of it as a broad explanation for Dems’ electoral woes. You have claimed that it was a big part of the reason for the lack of a landslide victory last year, and now you’re citing it as a big part of the reason for last night’s loss in Virginia–despite the fact that that same state gave Biden a historically large victory last year. You’re heavily engaged in cherry-picking to support this hypothesis: when Dems lose, it’s Defund/CRT, when they win but not by as wide a margin as expected, it’s also Defund/CRT, and when they win big, you just ignore it.

    3
  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    So something that was a bad issue for us in 2020 can’t also be a bad issue for us in 2021? Is it a single use thing? I didn’t realize that.

  34. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So something that was a bad issue for us in 2020 can’t also be a bad issue for us in 2021?

    I never said that. I was examining how well your hypothesis holds up to the evidence, and the fact that Biden did historically well in Virginia suggests the anti-Defund rhetoric being used nationally did not resonate with the voters of that state. Therefore, it’s unlikely to have been a significant reason for Youngkin’s victory last night in that same state.

    2
  35. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:
    I think part of the reason for Biden’s historically large victory in Virginia is that most people can’t stand Trump, and were genuinely terrified of what he might do if given a second term.

    As I said in the other forum, only 9% of voters said Trump influenced them to vote for Youngkin.

    5
  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    BTW, the rest of your analysis of me is just bullshit. I don’t even know WTF you’re talking about this election and that election. And accusing me of some one-sided attack on progs is rather undercut by:

    Mainstream Democrats are weak and corrupt.* Progressive Democrats are entitled and obnoxious.** Corrupt and obnoxious is not a great formula, not even when the opponent is frankly anti-American, anti-democratic and cruel.

    There’s blame to go around. But of course one must never suggest that progressives are anything but the glorious, wise idealists who will save us all. Progs lost in Minneapolis on the subject of police, FFS. They lost in the NYC mayoral race. They couldn’t even win the Portland mayoral race. If they can’t win in Minneapolis, New York City or Portland, where, pray tell, is their base? Open your eyes: the progressive agenda is crashing.

    And for the record I’m really sick of being attacked as if I’m the avatar of either the police (!) or white males or whatever the fucking accusation is. I call things as I see them. Always. My positions on issues from abortion to trans rights to taxing the rich are pure, 100% progressive. But I’m not a cheerleader. My crime is sometimes suggesting that my own side should pull their heads out of their seminars and wake the fuck up and try to actually win.

    But no, no, let’s just be ever so righteous as we march into our fascist future.

    7
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:

    the anti-Defund rhetoric being used nationally did not resonate with the voters of that state.

    Jesus H. Your notion of politics is that issue X cannot have had an effect if it did not directly result in a specific outcome? Do fractions no longer exist? So a Biden win means that by 2020 everyone had just forgotten about Defund?

    We paint a picture with our political stances. We tell a story. Defund is part of that story. So are trans rights. So is abortion. So is secularism. So is hostility to guns. So is CRT. And before some idiot comes along to accuse me of heresy, let me point out that I am a strong supporter of police reform, trans rights, abortion and secularism, and no one hates guns more than I do.

    But I can admit that MY positions are poison to a large segment of the electorate. I can admit that MY messaging is very often less than helpful. I know! Crazy! It’s almost as if I don’t expect universal support for everything I believe, nor do I think I should be above criticism, or above re-evaluation or even, gasp, compromise.

    5
  38. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You may add to your list, the ‘democratic socialist’ running as sole candidate for the mayorship of the city of Buffalo losing to a write in candidate not on the ballot at all (the centrist Democrat former Mayor as I understand it, who lost poorly attended primary based on progressive activist vote)

    Such results collectively together should rather suggest that the Woke Identity Politics Progressive Left has massively over-reached although any number of posts following will of course explain away, angrily reject, or throw up hands, otherwise stick heads in sand

    9
  39. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So a Biden win means that by 2020 everyone had just forgotten about Defund?

    Biden didn’t just win in Virginia, he strongly overperformed. He did substantially better than Obama both times, he did twice as well as Hillary when a sitting Senator from the state was her running mate. And this was in a national environment where Repubs were trying desperately to tie Defund to Dems everywhere.

    Now, you might argue that Defund was in fact having a toxic effect on Biden in Virginia and that he otherwise would have won the state by 14 points rather than 10 points. But at that point your thesis becomes unfalsifiable. There just isn’t much evidence that Defund had the toxic effect you claim it did.

    5
  40. EddieInCA says:

    I threw up my hands in despair when CRT became an issue. It was an obvious loser for us. Especially on top of Defund – which also lost. Not to mention the incessant speech bullying that we’re all supposed to pretend isn’t a thing.

    Me, too.

    3
  41. Jc says:

    @EddieInCA: Yep. Defund should have never been started. The word Reform is much more centrist. Defund was dumb. CRT I don’t even know how it snowballed in to whateverland but that one I would pin a lot on social media/conservative media. It is really a nothingburger that somehow became an epidemic

  42. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I call things as I see them. Always. My positions on issues from abortion to trans rights to taxing the rich are pure, 100% progressive. But I’m not a cheerleader. My crime is sometimes suggesting that my own side should pull their heads out of their seminars and wake the fuck up and try to actually win.

    I appreciate your candor, I really do, so serious question: what the hell does trying to “actually win” look like? Because what you see as a lack of trying, I see as a nearly insurmountable messaging disadvantage that has no easy counterstrategy, only relentlessness.

    You’ve got two competing vendors – one is selling easy and the other is selling hard. One tells you a pandemic will just go away via faith and horse dewormers, while the other one tells you to take straightforward precautions that are free but also inconvenient and to act to the benefit of your fellow citizen as well as yourself. One says climate change isn’t a problem, wealth inequality isn’t a problem, systemic racism isn’t a problem, misogyny isn’t a problem, etc., while the other one says they all are. One will at least acknowledge that poverty is a problem, but they’ll tell you the solution is easy – stop giving hand-outs to the takers and we’ll all the reap the bounties trickling down from the 1%. You get the point – from whom would you buy?

    Of course, both parties could sell magic elixirs, but where would that leave us? Viruses don’t give a shit if you believe in them or not, the globe will warm regardless only faster if there’s no action, the society will destabilize into oligarchs and minions, minorities of all kinds will still struggle….

    It sucks to be the reality based party with their seminars seeking real solutions. The alternative is worse.

    3
  43. Kylopod says:

    @Scott F.: I don’t think the messaging disadvantage is simply about fantasy vs. reality, it’s also about simplicity vs. complexity–though of course these go hand in hand. I don’t think Dems are intrinsically worse communicators than Repubs, I just they think tend to look at issues for the complicated problems they are, and therefore have nuanced takes on them, whereas Repubs are all “Build the wall!” “Cut taxes!” “Don’t take our guns!” “No vaccine mandates!” Dems have answers to all these things, and their answers are generally quite popular in terms of what’s being proposed. The problem is they’re almost impossible to express in one sentence, let alone under five words.

    1
  44. Lounsbury says:

    @Kylopod: So in fact, yes as for their current configuration, US Left/Democrats are intrinsically worse communicators for mass politics.

    As such mode of communication is the mode of intellectuals / highly educated talking to themselves.

    So self-harm.

    3
  45. Scott F. says:

    @Kylopod:
    I think these are two different expressions of the same idea. Simple = easy = fantasy. Reality = complexity = hard.
    @Lounsbury:
    I’ll ask you the same question I put to Michael. What is the mode of communication for Democrats that isn’t “self-harming” and that is also realistic, assuming both parties don’t both get to sell unicorns? Or do you believe both parties can be completely untethered from reality in their own ways and we all still survive?

    1
  46. Mikey says:

    @Michael Reynolds: As a resident of Virginia I was hammered with hundreds of Youngkin ads, calls, mailers, etc. for the last several months. None mentioned “Defund.”

    4
  47. MikeSJ says:

    I’ve thought CRT is an obvious loser from the get go, just as bad as “Defund the Police”. I know technically CRT isn’t taught in schools but as long as people conflate any anti racism lessons as CRT, well there you go.

    My sense is there’s a cumulative effect on various unpopular initiatives or slogans. Defund the Police means perhaps a loss of a percent? Maybe a quarter of a percent? But it does lose you votes. When races are won or lost by a couple of percentage points it can make a difference.

    When a council votes to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson, you lose votes (it doesn’t matter where, Fox News will make sure of that.
    When the term “LatinX” gets used you lose votes. (even 1/4th of a percent adds up)
    When the term “You need to do the Work” get used you lose votes. (I’m a Bay Area liberal, donate to Act Blue and I find this horrifically obnoxious.)
    When you see the statement “Men can Menstruate” you lose votes. ( I understand this means TransMen but the average person thinks anyone who says this is a lunatic.)
    When the term “Bodies with Vagina’s” is used to describe women you lose votes. ( Men are described as “Men”…of course.)
    When an educator says AP classes may have to be eliminated due to equality you lose votes. (who the educator is and where they are doesn’t matter, Fox News will make sure of that.)
    When high performing academic schools are changed due to the stated reason of low numbers of POC when everyone knows the student population is 60+% Asian you lose votes.
    When a homeless black man stabs an Asian woman and the pundits blame white supremacy you lose votes.
    When Punctuality is listed as an example of white supremacy you lose votes.

    I had hoped that the Texas abortion law freak show would motivate people to vote Blue but that didn’t seem to happen (not enough at least) I realize there’s lots of variables in play here e.g. Gas prices, Covid fatigue, Re-run candidates but we can’t afford to carry extra baggage and hope to win elections this close.

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  48. Kylopod says:

    @Scott F.:

    I think these are two different expressions of the same idea. Simple = easy = fantasy. Reality = complexity = hard.

    To a large extent I agree, though there are issues that are incredibly simple and the liberal position is still the reality-based one: the prime example is gay marriage. The fact that this is one of the left’s big success stories in the past decade is not a coincidence. Simplicity works, whether it deserves to or not.

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  49. senyordave says:

    CRT was genius. But it is fearmongering 101, and the Democrats don’t do fearmongering well. In 2004 Karl Rove said that gay marriage fear spurred turnout in Ohio, which was the key state for GWB.
    The fact is that Trump was an amazingly bad candidate in 2020, who had a truly awful year and still only lost by 4.4%. In fact he would have won if about 60,000 total votes were switched n a few states. The majority of white people in the US are perfectly fine with the message of the GOP, which is basically “white people (and only white people), we have your back”.
    I don’t know what the counter is to CRT because the people it appeals to don’t even understand what it is and don’t even care), they just know it is bad.
    Trump lost because of Covid – if he had handled it well and showed any leadership he would have won easily.

  50. Dude Kembro says:

    @MikeSJ:

    Okay but what does any of this have to do with the Democratic Party? I missed the part of the BBB framework that included listing punctuality as an example of white supremacy lol.

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  51. senyordave says:

    I forgot to mention the tepid response by the Democratic party to January 6th. Aside from the politics (which I think would be a positive for Democrats), the majority of Republican party is now on record as supporting the actions of the January 6th mob. And most of the Democratic party leadership acts like this is not a big deal.

  52. Lounsbury says:

    @Scott F.: Simple effective messages aimed at working class, and on basic economic concerns. Other Left parties in the world manage this from time to time, there is nothing inherent requiring you to adopt foolish arch egghead academic convolution or language.

    Special pleading about the awfulness of your political opposition (which I grant readily for the Trumps side) and blithering about “reality based” is simply partisan excuse making.

    @senyordave: Lefty over intellectualisation.

    CRT is very clearly being used as a symbolic slogan for an inchoate sentiment that the Democrats have gone all in on ethnic minoritity identarian politics (particularly as perceved by white very Left uni educated class) and are hostile or dismissive of white culturally working class sensitivities.

    Reynolds has flagged the same, it really is not hard to percieve or understand (and frankly given the tenor of comments here and in similar places from Left political junkies is not devoid of some kernal of truth).

    Counter it by beating a drum of “colour blind fairness” and focus on economic fairness, on turning your egghead problem on its head by going simple and as that charming expression goes, meat and potatoes. Make an effort to split off white working class / win back percent, not sneer at their cultural conservatism.

    Populist play on unfairness, plutocrats sans being anti business (difficult for the Left to contain themselves there but perhaps if you achieve a modicum of messaging discipline, however hard that is to imagine).

  53. Dude Kembro says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Such results collectively together should rather suggest that the Woke Identity Politics Progressive Left has massively over-reached

    How? By saying that people should not die for lack of healthcare, that climate change is real and threatening, and that it’s wrong for corporate Democrats to block Biden’s agenda?

    Or by refusing damage go along with right wing smears against “woke identity politics” while they unambiguously play white grievance identity politics to the hilt? (And to great success.)

    I don’t think the answer to youth and black voters sitting out off-year elections is necessarily to run away from messaging that might energize them. Biden should just cancel student debt instead. Much simpler.

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  54. Dude Kembro says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And for the record I’m really sick of being attacked as if I’m the avatar of either the police (!) or white males or whatever the fucking accusation is.

    OK, but who here attacked you that way?Kylopod disagreed with your assessment of the impact of Defund. And in response you’re cussing, writing in all caps, snarking? Really? Is your opinion sacrosanct? Are you above being disagreed with?

    This is why white grievance works so well for well the right. Many susceptible to white identity politics cannot handle being challenged at all, without immediately getting defensive in ways that are out-of-proportion, even though no one has personally attacked them in any meaningful way. I don’t know how you fix that without simply ignoring race altogether, which Democrats cannot do an expect black turnout.

    CRT, for example, says the opposite of what right wing scaremongers suggest: that individuals are not racist, so much as systems that appear not to be but have racially biased outcomes (i.e., tying school funding to property taxes when neighborhoods are racially segregated). How this became some anti-white personal attack, I don’t know. And how you explain that when it seems any challenge or discomfort may send many whites into a defensive meltdown, beats me.

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  55. Lounsbury says:

    @Dude Kembro: Et voila, exhibit of how to prepare for 2022 and total loss. Total denial…. Brilliant.

    Reminds me of why in pre-Trump days I was generally so very comfortable with the general electoral incompetence and self-limiting of the Left as such a reliable factor in US politics. Pity the harm equation has changed.

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  56. MikeSJ says:

    @Dude Kembro:

    Unfortunately Republicans seem to be covered in Teflon whereas Democrats are covered in Velcro.
    Any crazy Right Wing B.S. never seems to stick to Republicans (empowering abortion snitches in Tx??? Really?) and any obscure Left Wing B.S. is glued to a Democrat.

    CRT is an all encompassing code word for all of that.

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  57. senyordave says:

    @Lounsbury: Counter it by beating a drum of “colour blind fairness” and focus on economic fairness, on turning your egghead problem on its head by going simple and as that charming expression goes, meat and potatoes. Make an effort to split off white working class / win back percent, not sneer at their cultural conservatism.
    POC can only dream of the day that people like you would have a policy of “color blind fairness”

    2
  58. Dude Kembro says:

    @Lounsbury: Okay, so now that you got the angry, lazy, bizarrely defensive personal attack out of the way, want to address the actual topic and point?

    How did the Evil Wokity-Woke Progressive No Concern For Any Policy Issues Just All Race And Trans All The Time Left (I know this is what they are, because Republicans and the media say so, pay no attention to that BBB bill in the corner) overreach?

    And what can be done about it while still turning out the youth and PoC voters who sat out last night’s off-year elections?

    Maybe we can actually get some workable solutions instead of bitter snark from all those who know better.

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  59. Dude Kembro says:

    @senyordave: Democrats need black and youth voters to show up. The white share of the Virginia electorate rose last night to 74% from 67% in 2020. I think the youth vote share fell to 9% from 20% (!).

    That’s brutal. Lounsbury’s colorblind fairness is probably not going to motivate black voters, because we know there’s no such thing…depending on how it’s defined. It’s a pipe dream, when white America is prepared to re-elect in 2024 a president who tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020.

    So, how do Democrats fight back against the right’s weaponization of white grievance without demoralizing its base. We cannot afford for our voters to sit at home.

    2
  60. senyordave says:

    @Dude Kembro: Totally agree. I read somewhere that 18-34 percent of eligible vote is about 30%, yesterday in VA the actual was less than 10%. If Trump’s Republican party doesn’t motivate them I don’t know what would. In Obama’s first term he pushed through Obamacare as his signature achievement, and then the Dems got destroyed in the midterms. The Republicans always turn out en masse, the Democrats do sometimes.

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  61. Dude Kembro says:

    @senyordave: Obamacare wasn’t running without kinks, full steam until 2015, that’s why he and Democrats got no benefit from it. Why I say Biden needs to do something dramatic, now, to energize youth voters, people of color, etc. Like cancel student debt.

    The threat of Trump and Republicans clearly isn’t good enough. Apparently folks are not seeing enough tangible change. People voted in Democrats, they want results not status quo. And then Democrats need to sell those results.

    Under the radar, Trump and McConnell gave billions in to farms and churches. Republicans are getting sky high, juiced turnout with evangelicals and in rural, agricultural communities.

    Meanwhile, Biden and Democrats remain hostile to canceling student debt. Youth voters are sitting home.

    We like losing.

    1
  62. Scott F. says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Simple effective messages aimed at working class, and on basic economic concerns. Other Left parties in the world manage this from time to time…

    Offered without a single, specific example that would be relevant in the US in 2021 that the Democrats are currently not communicating well. In other words, you’re going for the both parties can sell unicorns option.

    Restore American manufacturing jobs? Simple, but no more realistic than COVID is a hoax
    Lower prescription drug costs? Democrats own the simple message here
    Minimum wage? Ditto

    What else have you got?

    1
  63. Andy says:

    Just a few observations from 50k feet:

    Yes, it’s true that the party that is out of power tends to do better in these off-year elections. But two things:
    – I think people ought to consider why that pattern exists.
    – Secondly, the scale and depth of how well the GoP did are substantial and were unexpected. The VA governor race feels a lot like 2016 actually, in terms of a bad candidate running a terrible campaign while many Democrats could not conceive that their candidate could lose and were surprised and shocked when he did. Writing this off as just normal off-cycle dynamics is a mistake.

    Related to that are partisan demographic shifts, which Democrats cannot ignore if they want to win outside of urban cores, particularly in the suburbs. Biden won such a decisive victory last year because many voters who used to be part of the GoP base voted for Biden because Trump was so anathema. These were mostly middle and upper-middle class educated suburbanites. Meanwhile, working-class white voters, part of the Democratic base for generations, have shifted toward’s Trump/GoP populism.

    The thing is, these shifts are not written in stone. And this off-year election shows that. At least based on initial data, Democrats lost many of those suburban voters and did not make any gains among the white working class. The reality is that Democrats cannot be a majority party if they lose both of these groups. And, IMO, they will lose both those groups if a large faction of the party continues to embrace racial essentialism and other unpopular policies.

    Related to that, I think it’s becoming clear that education has become a more salient issue and is likely to be a very important consideration next year and in 2024. Not coincidentally, education is really a big issue for the middle and upper-class suburban voters that are traditional GoP supporters that went for Biden last year.

    Regarding CRT: Focusing on the “CRT” label misses the point and is not relevant. What many parents – including suburban parents – object to is the various DEI-related curricula that are perceived to promote an ontology of “whiteness,” neoracist notions of racial essentialism, and “equity” efforts that do things like remove popular gifted & talented programs. Claiming that CRT isn’t in schools is whistling past the graveyard and is an argument about semantics. But the reality is that DEI is growing in k-12, a lot of it is not popular with parents.

    The lefty activist response to this has been to mock those concerns and the people making them, complain that the media isn’t doing enough to mock those concerns and the people making them, and to suggest that anyone who is concerned about racial essentialism and DEI in k-12 is a racist who doesn’t want kids learning about slavery and the Civil War.

    If we’re going to talk about messaging, then that isn’t a winning message, to put it charitably.

    Finally, this isn’t just about VA or the school rapes in Louden county. Here in my own state of Colorado the pro-DEI and anti-CRT forces were active this election cycle and I don’t expect this battle over the cultural control of k-12 education will end soon. Plus, Covid restrictions have brought a LOT more scrutiny on education generally and school boards in particular, especially related to masking and other policies. A lot of parents are unhappy, one way or another now that they’ve had a glimpse of the sausage being made, and are no longer as deferential to education authorities including teachers’ unions and school boards.

    The Democratic response to this has been incoherent at best and counterproductive at worst. Democrats need coherent and appealing policies along with coherent and appealing messages supporting them when it comes to k-12 education. So far, I’m not seeing it. Meanwhile, the GoP have now seen that this is a successful wedge issue they can use to peel off votes.

    3
  64. Andy says:

    @Dude Kembro:

    Meanwhile, Biden and Democrats remain hostile to canceling student debt. Youth voters are sitting home.

    The problem with this argument is two-fold:

    – There’s no evidence that canceling student debt would increase the “youth vote” in any election, much less yesterday’s off-cycle state and local elections, much less in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

    – Secondly, canceling student debt would lose votes because it would piss a lot of people off.

    So for this idea to work in practice, one must believe that canceling student debt would bring in enough of the youth vote to result in a net positive for lost votes, and a sufficient net positive to actually make a material difference. If you are going to claim these causal connections regarding canceling debt, then I think you should show your work.

    My opinion is that it will be a bad and unpopular policy and a net negative for the Democratic party.

    3
  65. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    My opinion is that it will be a bad and unpopular policy and a net negative for the Democratic party.

    Yep. Otherwise Biden would have done it already. You can bet they’ve tested it repeatedly. It’s a net loser, and it’s probably not even close.

    1
  66. Lounsbury says:

    @Scott F.: Oh the wonderous preciousness of the defensive Lefty. It’s a post on a fucking message board mate, not an egghead dissertation. Other Social Democratic parties manage to have communications of this nature, hire some good marketing people.

  67. Lounsbury says:

    @Andy: Very well summarized and thanks for the better look at CRT as the symbolic slogan – reading from afar it was and is rather bloody obvious that this was operating symbolicly for broader concerns (and that Left semantic nit-picking was covering and missing the point).

    1
  68. Jen says:

    @Andy:

    I think people ought to consider why that pattern exists.

    It exists because:

    – We have two major parties and Americans are very binary thinkers. They also don’t pay close attention to politics. It leads to the Newton’s Third Law business I mentioned earlier.
    – Media go after whomever is in power. We’ve seen plenty of think pieces about the Biden Agenda collapsing/Dems not getting stuff done…all without a mention of the Republican role in stymieing that agenda.
    – Democrats are not consistent voters. If Dems turned out for every election the way they do in presidential years, they’d win. I haven’t looked at turnout figures for Tuesday’s elections yet (I’ve been busy) but I am guessing that the youth vote was probably down by a lot, and probably Hispanic voting bloc as well, along with overall sluggish Dem turnout.

    This last point is how, when I worked for the Republican Party, we were able to rack up win after win in Democratic districts in special elections. It’s ridiculous, but there you have it: if you don’t vote, you can’t expect to win.

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