Voters voted Tuesday in out-of-year gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, which have long served as the first reliable foretaste of the country’s political mood after a presidential election. The results send a very strong signal that the political environment has turned strongly against President Biden and the Democrats and that adjustments must be made – and quickly – if the party is to avoid a medium-term bloodbath in a year’s time.
While final margins are still being calculated, Republican Glenn Youngkin scored a breathtaking victory over former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (the state prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms). about 2-3 percent. And in New Jersey, where votes are still being tallied, the race between Democratic Governor Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli was much closer than polls suggested. Democrats too seems to have fallen in a 50-50 tie with the Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates.
These results could be compared to those of Biden in those states last year or 2017 results, and none of the comparisons are flattering to the Democrats. Four years ago, in a heavily anti-Republican environment, Democrat Ralph Northam won the race for governor of Virginia by just under 9 percentage points, and Murphy beat his Republican opponent in New Jersey by over 14. 2020, a less auspicious year for Democrats won nationally Biden Virginia and New Jersey with 11 and just under 16 points.
There’s no way to gloss it over: these are huge shifts against the Democrats. If either McAuliffe’s loss or a nerve-wracking Murphy win is an accurate measure of the general turning away from the Democrats, it means the political climate may have shifted 10 points or more against the party in recent months, moving from Biden’s 4.5 point win in the national referendum to a GOP advantage of at least 6 points.
If the national environment looks like this in a year’s time, the Democrats will be heading for a blow that could even dwarf the party’s historic extinction in 2010, when Republicans won 63 House seats, seven Senate seats, and 20 reversed state legislatures and six governorships. Virginia and New Jersey are democratic strongholds. One can only imagine the fear tonight in the offices of Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) And Maggie Hassan (DN.H.), who now have to hold onto their swing state Senate seats in what is emerging absolute horror show of a 2022 for the Democrats.
Even if the Democrats regain their foothold and regain lost ground, it’s hard to be optimistic. Given the structural advantage of the GOP in the US Senate, the Democrats would have to win at the national level by at least four points to maintain their narrow majority next year. And if democracy reforms like national bipartisan redistribution stall in the Senate legislative mausoleum, Republicans are likely to win the House of Representatives unless the Democrats have the best half-time for any party since George W. Bush’s Republicans in 2002, who defied history. It’s hard to see how that happens given what happened on Tuesday.
This is the end of the world dates for the Democrats, and the White House air raid sirens should be loud enough to wake the whole city up. It’s not too late to reset to 2022, but there is still time to make the necessary adjustments. To do this, you have to understand what went wrong at the party since Midsummer and do everything you can to correct it immediately.
The main requirement for a political rebound big enough to defeat the Republican Party next year is to resolve the differences between the vast majority of Democrats in Congress and a handful of would-be outsiders like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D- Ariz.) And Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), who launched a legislative package full of undoubted popular measures such as paid family and sick leave. The traffic collapse is pulling Biden’s approval rating down, which in turn puts Democratic candidates across the country at risk.
But the Biden government also needs to be more forceful in addressing broader dissatisfaction with persistent unemployment and sharp price hikes for cars, apartments, appliances and building materials if the economy is to be a hit by November next. With all the talk about Manchin and Sinema, the economy was the top topic on Tuesday night, and it didn’t work in favor of the Democrats. The general COVID malaise and desperation with masks, especially in schools, didn’t either.
And as much as it irritates the party elite, the Democrats to do need a better answer to the GOP Critical Racial Theory (CRT) moral panic than dismissing it for the feverish hallucination that it is. The Democrats have been on the defensive all year long, which is understandable given that the latest Fox-fueled outrage of the month is as unpredictable as the next Squid Game. That theme was essentially Youngkin’s entire campaign, and it worked in a rapidly developing democratic landslide state.
The reluctance to tackle this issue directly is puzzling. Why don’t I call the CRT freakout what it is: an unsubtle attempt to muzzle the right of school administrators, teachers and students to speak, to ban and burn books, to monopolize the “marketplace of ideas”, to scare decent people and to scare them away from ever holding public office again and to turn their parents against each other for the sake of politics? Instead, the Democrats left Republican activists looted unchallenged across Virginia, devouring recent Democratic gains in the suburbs which, if reproduced nationally next year, would be apocalyptic.
More importantly, the time has come for Democrats to attack what became of the GOP. The word “Republican” should not be used by elected Democrats unless it says “reactionary,” “insurgent,” “theocratic,” “objectively pro-COVID,” or whatever the focus group puppeteers find most effective. The party elites need to synchronize a message about the GOP’s authoritarian turn and its descent into insanity and convince voters that the rot goes well beyond Donald Trump and is now a party-wide effort to destroy belief in democracy and minority rule and gender tyranny enforce forever.
There are, of course, other reasons to be disillusioned with Youngkin’s win. His victory will increase the possibility of another rogue state voting the GOP candidate for president in 2024, even if the Democratic candidate appears to have received the most votes. If the Democrats manage to overturn the Virginia Senate in 2023, abortion could soon be as illegal in Old Dominion as it is in Texas today.
A Republican takeover of a reliably blue state by a MAGA acolyte like Youngkin will also be a spectacularly ugly and new experiment. New England has Republican governors in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, but they are old-guard and have deliberately distanced themselves from Trump and his hateful policies. In Youngkin, Virginia will be the first democratic fortress to be ruled by the newly radicalized right-wing extremist. Virginians likely won’t enjoy the ride.
Voters are extremely dissatisfied with the Biden administration, the performance of the Congress Democratic majority, and the direction of the country as a whole. This is the same toxic mix that brought Republicans painful defeat in 2018 and 2020 and brought those Democrats to power in the first place. If they are to avoid the same fate, the Democrats must stop arguing over legal price tags, promptly restore the country to normal, get rid of the culture war and get to work.