Whatever happens now it’ll be too late for Terry McAuliff.
McAuliff is in an unexpected dead heat to reclaim the Virginia governorship in a state that Joe Biden won by 10 points a year ago. He blames at least some of his woes on DC Democrats’ endless dithering on infrastructure, social safety net and climate legislation. His party is in control in Washington and still can’t get anything done. That dampens motivation for his voters and sours independents on the Democratic brand.
With the election on Tuesday and early voting already well underway, it hardly matters anymore even if his party should finally pull itself together by the weekend. If McAuliff loses, it will be largely because of this and if he wins he will have gotten no help from his friends in Washington.
We can place about 95% of the blame for this mess on Democratic “progressives”, a group that I think is more accurately described as the “hard-left.” While I’ve actually agreed with them on substance (I thought the full $3.5 trillion package was a good thing), their insistence on it was just out of touch with reality. It was clear from the start that the whole thing would come down to Sen. Joe Manchin and the small group of moderates he runs interference for. Nothing can pass without them, so why pretend otherwise?
The smart thing would have been for Biden to sit down with Manchin and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney at the very start, hammer out an agreement, and run with it. That agreement might have included the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has been held up for months by the hard-left, making permanent the child tax credit that has cut childhood poverty in half, and maybe one other good thing. Pick anything out of that $3.5 trillion hard-left smorgasbord. My candidate would have been expanding Medicare to include dental care, but that’s just me.
It’s entirely possible that two-thirds of that package could have passed without the need to resort to the budget reconciliation process. The infrastructure package is already bipartisan and the child tax credit was Romney’s idea in the first place. As for the Medicare expansion, well, let Republicans vote against that and let’s see how seniors treat them at the polls next year.
There would have been three over-arching benefits to doing it this way. The first is that it would have shown voters that Democrats know how to govern and how to break gridlock in Washington. Biden’s numbers would certainly be much, much better right now.
The second political benefit is that voters would clearly understand what was in those bills. As it is, with the emphasis on the $3.5 trillion price tag, all most Americans get is that the Democrats want to spend a lot of money, and what else is new? But a small, focussed agenda would be clear. Americans would know that their roads and bridges would get fixed, high-speed Internet would get expanded, there would be a lot fewer poor kids and health care for older Americans would be improved. Not a bad day’s work.
And the third benefit is related to the second. Not only would people know what the Democrats’ agenda was, if it had passed last summer, they’d already be experiencing some of the benefits and they’d see a lot more by this time next year — which just happens to coincide with the mid-term elections. What luck that would have been!
And all of that might have resulted in the defiance of political gravity. Democrats might have actually not just held on to their majorities, but expanded them so that they could do even more good stuff in the following two years.
But thanks to the recalcitrance of the hard-left, there’s little chance that any of that can happen now, no matter what they pass. The party’s image as dysfunctional has been cemented. They’ll be better off if McAuliffe pulls it out next week, but it hardly matters.
It’s not impossible for the party to rebound. Let’s say McAuliffe pulls a Gavin Newsom and wins handily. Let’s say the Dems pass the infrastructure bill plus another $1.75 trillion or so in social service and climate spending. Let’s say that voters get to see those benefits in time. And, finally, let’s assume that Donald Trump becomes even more visible, scaring suburban voters with the idea that he could make a comeback.
Under that scenario, things could still turn out happily for the Democrats in the mid-terms. But they’ve made everything so much harder on themselves. What can I say? They’re being Democrats.
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