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Biden and progressives lead Democrats into the wilderness

Election 2021 was a wipeout for the Democrats. Not only did Glenn Youngkin get elected governor in Virginia, Republicans swept out of office the incumbent attorney general and elected the first Black woman lieutenant governor in Virginia history. On top of that, high-profile progressives and their causes got crushed. The avowed socialist Buffalo, N.Y., mayoral candidate lost — to a write-in. The Minneapolis referendum to replace the police department also lost badly. 

Here are five critical takeaways from Election Day 2021.

The infrastructure bill will pass

Progressives decided to hold the $1 trillion infrastructure bill hostage for their big wish list. That brinksmanship failed spectacularly. The Democratic Election Day debacle has completely cut their legs out from under them. The inability to pass any parts of Biden’s agenda wrecked the Democratic message that they can get things done and likely is weighing on their support.

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Shumer (D-N.Y.) will press hard for passage of the infrastructure bill that has been sitting in the House. It already passed with bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Democrats have to start enacting popular things — the alternative is an absolute rout in 2022. Progressives need to face the fact that they don’t have the public behind them.

Democrats need Trump more than Republicans do

Whether in TV ads or campaign rhetoric, tying Glenn Youngkin to Donald Trump was the top strategy of Democrats. And not just for Virginia governor, but also down ballot. Even in the Attorney General race, the Democrats concocted a convoluted tale to tie GOP candidate Miyares to Trump. The Democrats do not have a unified affirmative message — and it shows. The party is a squabbling mass of factious interests that can only hold together against Trump.

In the YouGov benchmark poll, Trump scores a 92 percent disapproval with Democrats, more intense than President Biden’s 88 percent approval — and a higher number than on any issue or opinion on any candidate. Without Trump, where are the Democrats? Nowhere. They desperately need him to be prominent.

For Republicans, the opposite is true. Trump has served his purpose, and the GOP doesn’t need him anymore. Trump can strut around all he wants and claim credit, but the fact is that, after gaining the GOP nomination, Youngkin tossed Trump aside, treating him like a tire fire surrounded by toxic waste. Youngkin ran on issues that mattered to Virginia, taking mainstream positions. When Trump threatened to upset the applecart by barging in at the last minute, Youngkin made it clear he didn’t even want to be on the same Zoom call as Trump.

And shunning Trump was unquestionably the right move. Youngkin’s win is a template for Republicans in 2022 — run on your own, address the concerns of the voters, and do whatever you can to not become a Trump cat’s-paw. The danger is acute for GOP Senate candidates. Herschel Walker in Georgia and Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania are at particular risk of being plagued by Trump.

Obama is a spent force

Occasionally the McAuliffe campaign took a break from the Trump ads to run ads featuring former President Obama. Obama is — by far — the most popular prominent politician in America. At 52 percent approval to 41 percent disapproval, Obama is far ahead of everyone else polled by YouGov. The closest Democrat is Biden at 44 percent overall approval. Yet, Obama is just a Democratic phenomenon, polling slightly under water with Independents (45 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval).

The energy of the Democratic Party has moved to the left of Obama. Outside of attacking Trump and offering his personal endorsement, Obama has no real message.

Celebrity endorsements are and have been far overrated for a long time. I am sure McAuliffe, the consummate insider/fixer, got a little thrill every time he heard approving words from Democratic elite hero Obama. For McAuliffe, his campaign was a non-stop carousel of Democratic VIPs. But voters don’t really care about that. They want candidates to address their issues.

Obama and other celebrity politicos are great for raising money, but not so much for turning votes. Youngkin did it right: run on your own and on issues that matter to voters and keep the celebrities in the private fundraising receptions.

The Lincoln Project is a Republican asset

Part fraternity prank, part grab for attention and all about the money, has there ever been an independent advocacy with a worse election record than the Lincoln Project? Outside of Biden winning — an outcome for which they cannot reasonably claim any credit — The Lincoln Project has lost every race it has butted into. The group’s ridiculous tiki-torch stunt was a disaster. These are the worst political consultants in America. Now that they have burned their GOP bridges and ruined Democratic campaigns, they are the biggest pariahs in politics.

After two years of collecting money from gullible Trump-haters and losing, can they keep going back to that well? Perhaps the Republican National Committee should start funding them, they are the best asset the GOP has, next to Joe Biden. 

Unless the GOP blows it, 2022 will be a catastrophe for Democrats 

If the lesson for Democrats is that moving to the extremes and failing to deliver is toxic (that is the message), then Republicans need to heed that message as well.

Voters are in a foul mood, and the party holding the White House never does well in such an environment. With an average of 63 percent saying America is on the “wrong track” and Biden’s approval stuck in the low 40s, the headwinds are fierce. Even worse, Republicans are running up huge advantages on critical issues, including +24 on inflation and +18 on the economy.

Democrats are almost certain to lose the House, and the Senate is at clear risk. Incumbent Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan consistently trails Republican Chris Sununu, while Democrats in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona have narrow leads.

But Republicans need to contain their excitement. Their advantage is due to a combination of Democratic mistakes and the contradictions of the fractious Democratic coalition. Biden’s fumbling in Afghanistan and the inability to pass meaningful mainstream legislation is dragging them down. Trying to cater to each of their narrow special interests and confusing mass of shifting identities is impossible. If people decide that elite-imposed identity no longer matters, the Democrats lose. When a Hispanic mother decides that her child’s education is more important than her skin tone, Democratic fealty to teachers’ unions becomes untenable — after all, there are more parents than teachers.

And then there’s Trump. He remains highly unpopular. Biden’s disapproval may be at 51 percent (YouGov), but Trump is at 55 percent. Trump is below both Biden and Kamala Harris. Trump is likely to keep inserting himself anywhere and everywhere, whether wanted or not.

The Democrats are totally dependent on Trump to keep them in the political game. Unfortunately for the GOP, Trump is likely to oblige them.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Barack Obama Chris Sununu Democratic control of House and Senate Democratic Party Donald Trump Glenn Youngkin Joe Biden Maggie Hassan Nancy Pelosi progressive agenda public opinion polls The Lincoln Project trumpism Virginia Virginia Governor race

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