Midterm blues: Greens about to abandon Beltway Democrats?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Talk about votes of no confidence, although this feet-voting goes beyond Joe Biden. After nearly eighteen months of waiting on their Green New Deal, hardline environmentalists and their progressive allies have despaired of seeing their agenda advanced. It’s so bad, in fact, that Politico reports that they’ve rediscovered federalism.

They’re not alone in that revelation either, but this may have some real midterm consequences:

The climate advocates who cheered President Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House last year are preparing to give up on Washington.

Instead, environmentalists and many of their Democratic allies are starting to shift their focus to state capitals as the places to press for action on climate change — going back to a strategy that they employed with some success during the Trump era.

The flight from D.C. is in large part a response to 18 months of frustration with major setbacks to Biden’s climate agenda, capped by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Even before that decision, Democrats’ ambitious plans for hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of climate action wilted in the Senate. And November’s midterms are giving off vibes of a Republican sweep — similar to the rout that Democrats suffered in 2010, the last time they tried and failed to pass major climate legislation.

Actually, the whole Build Back Better package cost five trillion dollars over ten years once the gimmicky sunset provisions got stripped out. The Green policies appear to comprise most of the “other spending and tax breaks” category of provisions in the bill, which even with the gimmicks ran to $1.43 trillion and ended up at $1.55 trillion without the sunsets. How much of that was the environmental package? It’s hard to say, but it’s supposedly the main part of what Schumer wants to salvage in the rump-BBB negotiations with Schumer, and that’s still well over a trillion dollars in the guesstimates of what’s on the table.

The chances of this ever getting through a 50/50 Senate with Joe Manchin as the deciding vote were always somewhere between slim and none anyway — even under reconciliation. It didn’t help that the White House apparently didn’t think to get Manchin strategically involved from the start of this project, and then left him to twist in the wind while progressive activists threatened him and his family. Even before that, though, the eruption of a historic inflationary wave catalyzed by Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion, off-budget spend-o-rama American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March 2021 put a stake through its heart. Had Biden tried a more incremental approach to environmental policy, some of it might have succeeded — and more importantly, it might have kept expectations at more rational levels among the progressive activists.

Nothing exceeds like excess, however, and nothing divides like disillusionment. Having run for office as a uniter and a centrist, Biden let it be known immediately after his win that he planned to preside over a massive cultural and policy shift to the Left akin to those like FDR and LBJ. Having set those expectations and having no way to deliver, the only accomplishment Biden actually got was an infrastructure bill that Republicans wanted as much as Democrats and the disastrous and unnecessary $1.9T ARP.

Does this mean that the Greens won’t vote Democrat? Not really, but it does mean they’re not going to be nearly as enthusiastic about it as they were two years ago. It does mean that all of the Greens’ sweet sweet greenbacks will flow elsewhere other than Democratic national orgs and candidates, probably especially Biden but also in the House and Senate races. That in itself will have a serious impact on organizing and fundraising in a cycle where Democrats already find themselves in a hole of their own making, and where Biden & Co keep digging.

“We don’t have to pretend anymore,” said one activist. At this point, no one’s buying the pretense anyway. Biden’s ship is sinking, taking Democrats down with it, and it’s becoming an every-man-for-himself situation. The captain and his crew will be the last aboard.

Jazz Shaw Aug 07, 2022 2:31 PM ET