This week, reality struck back against Democratic electoral utopianism. Since 2012, Democrats have been convinced that a new, durable, near-unbeatable political coalition was in the making: a coalition largely comprised of college-educated white voters, women, younger Americans and racial minorities. This coalition would overtake the demographically shrinking “old, white majority” and win victory after victory. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin wrote for the Center for American Progress in the aftermath of Obama’s reelection, “Obama’s strong progressive majority — built on a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, cross-class coalition in support of an activist … is real and growing and it reflects the face and beliefs of the United States in the early part of the 21st Century.” CAP called this new strategy “the culmination of a decades-long project to build an electorally viable and ideologically coherent progressive coalition in national politics.”
Ever since 2012, Democrats have been chasing that chimera. Instead of seeing Obama’s 2012 victory as a testament to Obama’s unique political skill, they have doubled down on the CAP strategy: more progressivism, more race-based politics. When that strategy failed in 2016, they chalked it up to Russian election interference and Facebook propaganda. When President Joe Biden won election in 2020, they announced that their strategy had been vindicated — even though the election was rather obviously a referendum on former President Donald Trump personally, not proof of their strategic brilliance.
And so, Democrats misread the tea leaves. Biden was elected to do two things: be Not Trump and restore a sense of moderation and stability to the White House. He has succeeded in the first, mainly because nobody is Trump. He has utterly failed in the second. That’s because Biden rejected the central premise of his own candidacy, calling for more social spending than any president in history, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban for no apparent geostrategic reason, embracing the radical language of anti-racist activists, cramming down the restrictive COVID-19 policies via the administrative state and characterizing his opponents as bigots and Jan. 6-adjacent domestic terrorists. Biden Mini-Me’s like Terry McAuliffe in Virginia have imitated the strategy.
The result, predictably, was disaster — not just in Virginia, but across the country. In Virginia, a state Biden won by 10 points, McAuliffe went down in flames, a black female Republican became lieutenant governor, a Cuban American became attorney general, and the GOP took the House of Delegates; in New Jersey, a no-name candidate ran dead even with media-feted Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy; in Buffalo, New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer-endorsed democratic socialist India Walton imploded against a write-in candidate; in Minneapolis, the “defund the police” movement shattered on the rocks of reality, with voters overwhelmingly rejecting the dismantling of the police department; in New York City, Eric Adams became mayor and quickly pledged to work with new Republican city council members.
Now, Democrats have a choice. They can either tack back to the center — stop pushing a “Build Back Better” grab bag of spending that is unpopular and unnecessary — or they can push forward. They can stop pressing the language of the 1619 Project in public school education — or they can demand that parents shut up. They can double down on progressivism or try to find a Clintonian third way.
Right now, it looks like they’ll embrace more cowbell. The media and Democratic response to Virginia seems to be more spending; more labeling parental opposition to radicalism as racist and homophobic; more jabbering about Trump and Jan. 6 to distract from their own failures.
It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. We’ll see how it works out for them.
But for Democrats, a serious appraisal of the political landscape — an appraisal that might end with the realistic assessment that Obama’s coalition is not inevitable, that there are swing voters in America, that policy ought to be directed toward every voter — might just be too difficult. Better to live in a fantasy world in which Obama is president forever, his coalition is durable and stable, and more progressivism is always the answer.
But 2022 is coming. And fantasy will meet reality once again for a Democratic Party committed to fundamental untruths about the American public.