Democratic demise

Election defeats portend a grave situation for the Democratic Party

Andrew Thompson

The Republican sweep of statewide offices in Virginia on Nov. 2 presents three key questions: Was their victory a fluke? If not, why have voters revolted against the Democratic Party? And, lastly, what ought Democrats to do now?

The first question is necessary to pose. Political races feature local dimensions, and if national significance is to be derived from state elections, purely local issues must not dominate. GOP Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin ran a smooth, clean, organized campaign focusing on two key issues—education and the economy—that are readily applicable elsewhere. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe’s effort is best described as sloppy and uninspiring, casting about for abstract reasons not to vote for his opponent. Surprisingly, Mr. McAuliffe, a seasoned politician, committed the contest’s worst verbal gaffe when he stated that parents should not have a role in shaping their children’s education. Thus, the unique characteristics of the race benefited Mr. Youngkin.

However, as Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel notes, the near Republican victory in heavily Democratic New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest shows that Youngkin’s victory was not solely the result of internal dynamics. A much wider movement is afoot.

Two camps are emerging regarding the demonstrated flight of suburbanites, college-educated whites, Hispanics, and others from the Democratic Party. Pundits on the right in particular believe people have tired of wokeism in government, schools, and boardrooms.

Others, however, explain that, by and large, incumbent school board members across the country retained their seats, which indicates that backlash to the supposed proliferation of leftist ideologies in schools did not cause the Republican swing. Instead, posits Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, the shift results from Democratic incompetence at making headway on national issues. The Democratic Party has thus become unpopular.

This author deems it difficult to determine which was the greater factor. At the very least, the GOP’s hard stand against leftist educational ideologies ensured strong turnout from the base while focus on bread-and-butter issues made their candidates palatable for independents. Indeed, emphasis on the prosaic serves to highlight the incompetence of the Biden administration thus far. Inflation of over 6% provides as good a wedge issue as education.

Either way, the next steps for the Democrats are clear. They first must deal with the progressive, activist wing of their party. This group, while admirably spirited, is giving the Democratic party an image irreconcilable with the public at large.

Democrats then need to revamp their playbook. Writing off Republicans as racist is—bluntly put—stupid, especially when the GOP ticket includes a Black Jamaican immigrant. Running against a defeated ex-president when their own president has reached comparable levels of unpopularity is also clearly an unsound tactic.

But here Democrats find themselves trapped. In past elections, the above two issues acted as a bridge between progressives and moderate/independent voters. Yet the latter group no longer responds to a focus on race and Trump, necessitating specific, calculated policy positions to win them back. And here is the trouble—adopting stances which appeal to moderates and independents would alienate Democratic candidates from their own progressive base.

In analyzing November’s elections, the Economist makes an interesting point—American politics obeys the laws of physics. The Democrats won the presidency and Congress in 2020. “To any action there is always opposed an equal reaction” — momentum is now against them.

In politics, the best leaders accept the operating conditions of their environment and work with them, not against them. Joe Biden needs to be a Bill Clinton. This, of course, seems unlikely in the extreme, especially given the toxic nature of his party’s far-left wing. That is a pity. As Joe Biden himself pointed out last year, effective, “principled” opposition is always needed.