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Democrats left to sift through aftermath of ‘blue wave’ that never crested

Joe Biden secured a historic presidential victory on Saturday yet some Democrats have spent the tense days since the election engulfed in…

By admin , in USA , at November 8, 2020 Tags:

Joe Biden secured a historic presidential victory on Saturday yet some Democrats have spent the tense days since the election engulfed in recriminations, finger-pointing and infighting as they sift through the aftermath of expectations of a “blue wave” that never crested.

Long-simmering tensions between moderate Democrats who represent conservative districts and progressives who have massive online followings erupted into public view, after a series of unexpected losses in parts of the country where the president proved surprisingly resilient.

Once united behind the shared priority of removing Donald Trump from office, swaths of Democrats are now racked with anxiety and uncertainty over a path forward.

Moderates accused liberals of embracing “socialism” and supporting leftwing proposals to “defund the police”, which Republicans weaponized against vulnerable Democrats. Progressives argue that the base powered many of the party’s biggest victories and that it was the lack of an inspiring message – and not their politics – that hurt members. Meanwhile, Democrats were alarmed by Trump’s apparent success with Hispanic voters in some battleground states.

In the weeks before the election, Democrats had begun to imagine the legislative agenda their party could deliver with an undivided Congress and a new Biden administration. House Democrats anticipated expanding their majority by a significant margin – potentially even double digits. In the Senate, Democratic challengers, fueled by a historic wave of donations, appeared poised to knock off enough Republican incumbents to take the gavel from Mitch McConnell, even in states such as Iowa and South Carolina where Democrats rarely win statewide.

As Democrats engage in what has become a ritualistic practice of soul-searching, there are unlikely to be any easy answers. The election delivered a mix of successes and disappointments for both parties, raising complex questions about their coalition and their message.

For now, Democratic leaders are trying to keep the focus on their victories – Biden defeated Donald Trump, they will retain their majority in the House and control of the Senate will be decided by a pair of runoff elections in Georgia in January.

“This has been a life‑or‑death fight for the fate of our democracy,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told reporters on Friday, with tens of thousands of votes still uncounted. “We did not win every battle in the House, but we did win the war.”

Tensions came to a head during a private conference call with House Democrats on Thursday, part of which was made public by the Washington Post, when the congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, a freshman who narrowly held on to her seat in a conservative-leading Virginia district, accused her liberal colleagues of costing the party seats by referring to themselves as “socialists”.

“If we are classifying Tuesday as a success,” she added, using an expletive, the party will get “torn apart in 2022”.

Republicans struggled to portray Biden, whose reputation as centrist, bipartisan dealmaker was forged over the course of his decades-long political career, as a captive of the radical left. But there was evidence the attacks were more effective on Senate and House candidates, particularly those running in a forbidding environment.

Moderates have pointed to Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, which Biden flipped but where Democratic candidate Kara Eastman, a progressive who supported Medicare for All, lost.

“The whole ‘progressivism is bad’ argument just doesn’t have any compelling evidence that I’ve seen,” the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who identifies as a democratic socialist, wrote on Twitter. She added that such attacks by Republicans are about “racial resentment” and “you’re not gonna make that go away.”

Progressives not only won re-election but expanded their ranks in blue districts across the country. Members of the so-called “Squad”, including Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, sailed to victory on Tuesday. They will be joined in the House by newcomers Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri.

They argue that Democrats’ political future depends on organizing and mobilizing young people and people of color who increasingly make up the party’s base.

This election, they say, relied on liberal organizing in Georgia, led by Black women like Stacey Abrams, who was among the women Biden considered as a potential running mate, and in Arizona, led by young Latinos activists, helped give Biden a narrow but decisive edge in both states. And in Florida, voters approved a $15 minimum wage even though they elected Trump, who roundly rejected the proposal.

At the same time, centrists argue that Democrats’ shift to the left since Trump’s election has alienated moderate and independents voters who the party must attract if it hopes to win in rural and exurban parts of the country.

“We’ve got to get back to the ‘meat and potatoes’ issues and the issues where we’re taking care of their families, and we also need to stop acting like we’re smarter than everybody else, because we’re not,” the former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill said in an interview on MSNBC.

McCaskill, who lost her bid for re-election in 2018, said that Democrats had been too narrowly focused on social issues such as gun control, abortion and rights for LGBTQ+ Americans and “other people who we as a party, quote, unquote, ‘look after’”.

“As we circled the issues, we left some voters behind and Republicans dove in with a vengeance and grabbed those voters,” she said.

The remark drew sharp rebukes from progressive Democrats and McCaskill later apologized for her language. But her broader point remains the source of deep division: how do Democrats gain power in an electoral system that is increasingly representative of a white minority over a diverse majority?

Another troubling sign for Democrats was a dip in support that they received from Latinos in Florida and parts of Texas. Yet in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Georgia, Latinos, particularly young activists and women, were likely critical to Democratic successes.

It was all the more surprising for Democrats, since Trump frequently scapegoated migrants and began his 2016 campaign calling some Mexican immigrants are “rapists”. But ahead of the election, Latino strategists and pollsters warned that antipathy to Trump was not enough and that Democrats needed to invest more deeply in outreach to this increasingly complex and diverse electorate.

“In 2020, Latino voters, more than anything else, chose each other,” Marisa Franco, the executive director of Mijente, a progressive Latino civil rights group, said in a statement. “The Biden campaign may have chosen not to spend time in working-class, immigrant and people of color neighborhoods but that is exactly where his victory is coming from and where the solutions he’ll need to champion will have to start.”

In brief remarks on Friday night, Biden sought to dispel any notion that the outcome undercut his governing agenda.

“What is becoming clearer each hour is that record numbers of Americans – from all races, faiths, religions – chose change over more of the same,” he said. “They have given us a mandate for action on Covid and the economy and climate change and systemic racism.”

Bernie Sanders, the progressive leader who worked aggressively to elect Biden, said in a conversation with “the Squad” that progressives must now work to “make sure that Biden becomes the most progressive president since FDR”.

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