AOC: Virginia shows that Dems need to pander more to progressives

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

My election-night prediction on how lefties would spin the results: “Unless McAuliffe wins easily, which he won’t, they’ll claim that his defeat or narrow victory is evidence that lefty voters are demoralized and will remain so until congressional Dems go big on spending.”

Watch this clip and bear in mind that she’s talking about a cycle in which (a) the socialist who won the Democratic primary for mayor in Buffalo lost the general election to a write-in candidate; (b) the hyper-powerful Democratic president of New Jersey’s state senate lost to a Republican truck driver who spent $153 on his campaign; and (c) George Floyd’s hometown easily defeated a ballot initiative to replace the police department with a “public safety” agency.

All I’ll say in her defense here is that this sort of ideological willful blindness very much goes both ways. I’m old enough to remember tea partiers telling me in 2010 that Christine O’Donnell would pull the upset in deep-blue Delaware’s Senate race because The People had been awakened coast-to-coast by the gospel of small government. True believers will never accept that they’re too far out on the fringe. If their party loses, it’s because the party wasn’t fringy enough.

Is it true that a candidate more progressive than Terry McAuliffe would have animated progressives in Virginia more? Sure, probably. Is it also true that that would have ceded even more of the middle to Glenn Youngkin, making his attacks on Critical Race Theory and other leftist excesses that much more potent? Almost certainly. For all of AOC’s grumbling about demoralized lefties, McAuliffe actually improved on Ralph Northam’s vote total from 2017. Northam notched a shade over 1.4 million votes; McAuliffe fell just shy of 1.6 million. He would have won easily if not for the enormous surge in Republican support, from around 1.2 million four years ago to 1.67 million on Tuesday night.

And for all the justified hype about Youngkin clawing back votes from Democrats in the suburbs, he would have been roadkill if not for the gigantic support he received in Republican areas. Somehow a hedge-fund guy who looked a lot more like Mitt Romney than Donald Trump improved on Trump’s margins with Trump-loving rural voters:

It doesn’t seem to occur to AOC in the clip that the reason Team McAuliffe didn’t want more of a progressive presence in Virginia is because they expected that would have antagonized suburban normies and rural MAGA voters more than his center-left Clintonite credentials did. For every additional left-winger that would have turned out if the DSA all-stars had barnstormed VA, a suburbanite who stuck with McAuliffe or a rural voter who ended up staying home on Tuesday might have voted Republican.

Democrats desperately need a way to cut into the GOP’s margins with rural voters the way Youngkin did with Democratic margins in the suburbs. The Squad won’t be the ones to help them do it. But they’re evangelists for a cause so they *think* they’re the ones to help them do it — much to the consternation of centrist Dems, who see their chances of reelection fading away:

“We were so willing to take seriously a global pandemic, but we’re not willing to say, ‘Yeah, inflation is a problem, and supply chain is a problem, and we don’t have enough workers in our work force,’” said Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat facing a bruising re-election. “We gloss over that and only like to admit to problems in spaces we dominate.”…

“Nobody elected [Biden] to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” she said, alluding to the sweeping agenda the president is seeking to enact with the thinnest of legislative majorities…

Representative Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Long Island, said the party should be careful about including too much in its social-welfare legislation. “I don’t understand some of my more progressive colleagues saying last night now shows us that what we need to do is get both of these bills done and shove even more progressive stuff in,” Ms. Rice said. “What we’re talking about is not resonating with voters.”

They knew who was at fault for Tuesday night’s beating even before the votes were fully counted:

Meanwhile, as Dem centrists are fretting about how to avert an impending Republican landslide, progressives are focused on … primarying Kyrsten Sinema:

Lefties should stop worrying about what to do in purple states like Arizona or bluish-purple ones like Virginia and focus on indigo-blue states and House districts. They can turn their caucus more progressive by primarying centrist Dems in states where a Democratic general-election win is a foregone conclusion. Although, of course, a more progressive caucus will lead the party further left on policy, ceding even more ground in the middle to the Glenn Youngkins of the right.

All of that said, I think the crowing on the right that Democrats should learn a hard lesson from Tuesday about CRT and imperious school boards, etc, is a touch too glib and triumphalist. Ocasio-Cortez may be wrong that a more progressive campaign would have fared better in Virginia but she’s right that normie Democrats depend to some degree on progressive votes, just as Republicans depend on populist MAGA votes. There’s a reason why Steve Scalise still won’t flatly say that Biden won the election last year fair and square and it’s not because Scalise is some diehard election truther. It’s because he knows a meaningful number of his party’s voters are and he’s terrified of alienating them. God only knows whether Terry McAuliffe, who claims CRT isn’t being taught, actually believes that or supports the teaching of it or quietly opposes the teaching of it or what have you, but the hard fact remains that him capitulating to Republicans on the issue might have alienated some lefties while gaining him few centrist or Republican votes in return. There are cranks on both sides and their votes count as much as yours or mine. A party that fully alienates its cranks is doomed.