Politico: Democrats worry suburbs could return to the GOP fold if schools remain closed

According to this Politico story published today, Democrats and Republicans are in agreement on something. The Biden administration is hoping to hold on to the gains Democrats made in the suburbs during the 2020 election but that’s obviously dependent on returning some sense of normal life to these areas before the next election. Meanwhile, Republicans recognize that Democrats are failing to push for progress in at least one significant area that impacts suburban voters, reopening schools.

Nearing a year into the pandemic, Biden’s advisers and allies recognize that they need to respond to the spiraling angst felt by families or risk driving them into the arms of waiting Republicans.

It is a crucial test for Biden and Democrats as they try to consolidate their gains from the 2020 election…

GOP lawmakers, while offering no commitment to meaningfully engage on policy proposals, have responded to continued school closures by striking hard at Biden and Democrats, with more Republicans each week accusing the administration of scaling back their ambitious goals on everything from testing to school reopenings.

“The science says that the schools should open, but instead of listening to the science, the Biden administration is caving in to Democrat special interest groups,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told POLITICO. “As a result, the education of our children is suffering and hundreds of thousands of working moms are being forced out of the workforce.”

In this instance, both parties are right. Democrats will lose their suburban gains if voters don’t see progress and Republicans are right that schools are a very visible piece of this. It also helps that Democrats from the White House down are essentially dragging their feet at this moment to avoid offending teacher’s unions. As NBC News reports today, unions spent $43 million on elections in 2020 and 98% of that went to Democrats. So the party cannot afford to publicly confront its most powerful supporters. And that creates a genuine political opportunity for the GOP:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the main obstacle standing in the way of reopening schools is “the rich, powerful unions that donate huge sums to Democrats and get a stranglehold over education in many communities.”…

Attacking the unions as standing in the way of educational progress is a classic conservative tactic that helped Republicans win over frustrated parents in Democratic-leaning states such as New Jersey and Wisconsin the last time they were locked out of power in Washington in 2009. It both unites the fractured GOP and is sowing division in some corners of the Democratic Party…

“This is the suburban-parent revolt,” said Corry Bliss, a leading Republican consultant. “One of the reasons why I think the suburbs are back in play for Republicans is because the Democrats are simply unwilling to stand up to the (teachers) unions.”

Naturally, all of these reports are taking some sort of Republicans seize approach to the story, which is annoying. That framing is always used to suggest that Republicans (and only Republicans) are cynically playing politics while Democrats try to deal seriously with issues.

But in this case I don’t think the media’s usual playbook is going to work. Yes, Republicans really are trying to stick it to Democrats on this, but they are justified in doing so. Remote leaning is not working for a lot of kids and it’s creating serious problems that may take some kids months or years to recover from. It’s also going to create a drag on the recovery if children are stuck at home and parents can’t go to work. Also, the science is clear that schools can reopen safely now. n short, there would need to be a really compelling reason to keep kids at home at this point and Democrats don’t have one. If they want to drag their feet to pay off their unions friends they deserve to pay a price for doing so.