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What Can We Learn From the Election Results?

There will be a great deal written about the results of the Governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, if for no other reason than that they were the biggest races of this year, and then we will have to wait until the midterms of 2022. So these results will be microanalyzed, and extrapolated from; and by some people, almost seen as an unalterable vision of the future. which of course they are not.

But it would also be a mistake to understate them. I would like to be able to just write them off, but I would have a sense that by doing so, we would be missing important lessons. And we simply cannot afford to do that, the dangers are far too great.

One could potentially construct a narrative that this is doom for Democrats; that after Trump skewed things, the voters are ready to go back to mostly electing Republicans. Not everywhere, of course, but in enough places to give them Congressional and electoral majorities.

We know that the electoral map which controls our country’s governing processes, has a built-in bias in favor of smaller states, where Republicans mostly control things. We know that winning a national popular vote is not nearly enough, as we saw in 2000 and 2016, two of the most consequential elections in American history. Of course, Democrats probably won the electoral vote in 2000 as well, but Republican control of the statehouse in Florida, and their majority on the Supreme Court, thwarted the popular will, to cause a dreadful short-term and long-term result.

So we have to realize the impediments we are up against. I knew I would not enjoy reading this article, but I gritted my way through something that Tim Miller wrote for so-called Never-Trumper site The Bulwark, entitled, “Virginia Results: Giving Up on Rural America is Proving a Nightmare for Democrats.”

We’ve seen Tim Miller on TV. He was a major strategist for the rather ridiculous Jeb Bush campaign of 2016. But he is bright and straightforward. I would never see him as a Democrat, but he does seem very aware of the horrors of the insurrection and incipient Republican fascism, so I think that he is trying to help here, in at least some way; not at all trying to mock or disparage Democrats in his analysis.

In this article, which like the one I quote from below, is not behind a paywall, so is open to everyone, Miller points to the results in both Virginia and New Jersey showing that “many of the suburban red dogs and independents who had been powering the blue wave, backslid toward the Republicans, while the rural whites continued their march rightward.”

He says that Republicans “did not throw up their hands and decide that the burbs were lost forever; they keyed on an issue where the Democrats were out of step with some of their voters, and won it.” That issue, of course, was “education.”

“Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t even seem to trying to do the reverse–to chip away at the Republican hold on working-class whites, despite the fact that there are plenty of opportunities to wedge them.” He mentions the way that Democrats ran against “vulture capitalism” in the 2012 Obama campaign against Mitt Romney. He notes that Youngkin was the former CEO of a private equity company, and that he is “straight out of out-of-touch-elite central casting.” He notes that Youngkin’s Carlyle Group had some damaging accusations against it of neglecting the elderly in nursing homes, and bankrupting a company that put food on the shelves of grocery stores.

So Miller thinks that McAuliffe could have mounted a regional populist campaign against Youngkin. Not that he would have won rural counties, but he could have depressed the large margins which Youngkin piled up there.

It makes sense to me. Miller finishes by saying this: “Reversing the trend in rural America to such an extent that some of these communities become swing territory again, is a pipe dream. The working-class move away from liberal parties both predated Trump, and is happening in democracies all throughout the world.

“But that doesn’t mean that for the Democrats the right answer is to hope that there will be some kind of natural reversion when Trump is off the ballot. Or to just give up and not worry about whether the Republicans win the boonies by 45 or 60 points. Because if we end up with more close elections in 2022 and 2024, that shift might make all the difference.”

I think that there is much to ponder here. Has the so-called “Obama coalition” ceded the rural areas to Republicans? Bill Clinton was able to recapture much of what Democrats had lost from 1968-1988. Of course, he was unique, a very intelligent and learned person who was from Arkansas, and could speak in a down-home yet very literate manner, and take complex economic issues and put them in a way that most people could understand. I think that his speech to the Democratic Convention in 2012, talking about the difference between Democratic and Republican economics, saved the election for Obama and his struggling campaign. Tens of millions of people saw him explain what Obama in eight years was unable to do.

The virtual ostracism of Bill Clinton from the Democratic hierarchy, led by Donna Brazile and some sanctimonious moralists, was a very bad thing; unfair to him, and a great loss for the Democratic dialogue

Now here is part of what James Carville, the brilliant former Clinton campaign manager, just said when he was interviewed by Judy Woodruff on PBS, and asked, “What went wrong?” Carville said, “What went wrong was this stupid ‘wokeness’. Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off schools, people see that.”

He said the woke Left has had a suppressive effect on Democrats in races across the country. “Some of these people need to go to a woke detox center or something. They’re expressing language people just don’t use, and there’s a backlash and a frustration at that. Suburbanites in Northern Virginia and New Jersey pulled away a little at that. Youngkin never ran any ads against Biden.”

He said, “Youngkin just let the Democrats pull the pin and watched the grenade go off on them. And we’ve got to change this,and not be about changing dictionaries; and change laws. And those faculty lounge people that sit around mulling about I don’t know what, they’re not working.” Addressing “certain activists,” the story states, Carville said, “I’ve got news for you. You’re hurting the very people you’re trying to help. Terry got caught up–he’s a good friend of mine, he’s a good guy, you know, he got caught up in something national, and we’ve got to change this internally, in my view.”

I happen to agree with much of this. The important point is that whatever went wrong–whether it was specific to those races, or historical off-year trends, or whether it is deeper than that–has to be understood. Because we do not have the luxury of a few more cycles to figure it out. If Republicans take over even the House, as they are 1-4 (80%) favorites to do, there goes the rest of the Biden agenda, plus we will see endless House hearings, maybe impeachments. This is no time for, “Let’s see what happens.” But of course panic is not a good thing, either.

I have always considered myself a liberal, maybe close to Dukakis in positions, which is to the left of many Democrats. But I am not a fan of the so-called Left in the Democratic Party, the people who backed Nader and gave us Bush; who somehow wanted Dean over Kerry; who hated Hillary, and ended up vociferously supporting Sanders to the extent that they would not vote in the general election, and thus we got Trump. Five Supreme Court Justices were appointed by those two presidents, and it has been dreadful. But too many of the Left did not see it, or did not care.

And as to “wokeness,” it is one of those terms which one cannot exactly define, but “you know it when you see it.” I guess it refers to a viewpoint which looks for and finds all sorts of ways in which everything is explicitly or subtly biased: the laws, the rules, the people in power, the words and phrases used, the arrangements in museums, the list of TV shows, how the characters are portrayed, the commercials, and on and on. And some people make a livelihood out of attempting to call out bias.

But of course that is in their perception. Some is there, some not. Some is just people feeling proud at how “aware,” or “woke” they are. And I don’t really care what they do–except that this may well cost us elections,and that affects everyone. And that is where I get upset at the arrogance and sanctimoniousness behind it.\

If they want to argue those things in graduate schools, absolutely, that is partly what they are there for. But not in elections, because they are sure losers. In fact, they are so much so, that I am inclined to think that some of this is being done by right-wing plants and instigators. Or maybe not, maybe it is just that these people are so full of themselves, that they don’t care what damage they do. And some of them get very good teaching jobs out of it; they write books, they are on TV cable news every day. So like many people in recent history who do this, they may come out very well, while their followers do not.

Putting the two articles together, plus the losses in Congressional races in 2020 which Biden largely attributed to “Defund the police,” there are trend points. We cannot afford to get swamped in races in the rural areas. McAuliffe did well in most urban counties, even with the fall-off in Loudon County. Turnout in those counties was good. But some of the turnout was because somehow Youngkin bought out new voters there, or some of them switched their votes. And crucially, the turnouts in the rural counties were even higher compared to 2020.

Democrats used to dominate the “working class vote,” certainly under FDR and going at least up to 1980, and the “Reagan Democrats.” Then we were really in trouble; witness Paul Begala’s comment quoted by RD, which I think was from 1992 or so, about Democrats not going to be able to win with a coalition of only intellectuals and Blacks. Bill Clinton got back much of the white working class vote. Then the so-called Obama coalition won for Obama, but for no one else once he took office. Biden got some of the White working class vote back, mostly suburban woman, but now we just lost most of them, at least the ones without a college education. We must get a good number of them back.

But the crucial problem is that there is this tension between approaches. To try to capture more of the white working class vote, might mean, at least to the latter, that there is abandonment of the Black vote. Tim Miller suggested an approach which simply goes back to the “anti-wealthy capitalists” line of attack which had historically been successful, but was apparently not used in Virginia. We cannot just be the party of Blacks, some other minority groups, “woke White People,” and the more educated. Hispanics seem to be turning more to the Right, and that was something always to be feared, since most of them are Catholic, and that often goes together with conservatism, nor do the Latinos identify with most of the issues expressed by Black people/

I watched new DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison the day before the election, and I was impressed. But he did predict a Virginia win, and whatever strategies he recommended or implemented, did not work.After the election, he was gracious and determined. He did point out a variety of elections of minority Democrats to various city positions. We can applaud that, but it doesn’t get us majorities in itself, it is concentrated n the cities. We can win all sorts of victories there, and yet lose all the rural areas, and hence the state votes, and all the seats gerrymandered by Republican state legislatures. And suppression of big city and minority vote, could make it worse.

I would just hope that there are serious discussions among party leaders about these things. James Carville is blunt as always. and he might be wrong here, but I don’t think that he is. The Democrats always have a greater problem than Republicans, because the Republicans are basically a bloc, while the Democrats depend on various ethnic group votes, and the uneasy alliance between their liberal and conservative wings.

It has to be bridged; and just like in the “Build back better” and infrastructure negotiations, there has to be a willingness to subsume one’s own issues to the greater good, which is winning many elections,and keeping national control, because the alternative is disaster for everyone. I am not confident that they really see this right now; or maybe they do, but each faction will insist that the way they see it is right, and will just continue doing the same thing. And maybe some of them don’t care nearly as much about Democrats winning, as pursuing their own political or cultural agenda.