WASHINGTON – On the way to the election, Democrats dreamed it would go like Star Wars, where rebel forces blew up the Death Star and celebrated on the streets as a blue wave swept them to power in Washington and state capitals across the country.
But President-elect Joe Biden’s victory ended up looking more like the horror film Alien, with the last grieving survivor kicking the monster out of the airlock and then drifting out to an uncertain fate in deep dark space. And no matter where they ended up, there would probably be another stranger.
Yes, Biden safely defeated President Donald Trump ̵
The party fumbled important Senate races, lost ground in the House and failed to catch state legislators in a year of redistribution despite the political winds being on its back, more money in their bank accounts and a hyper-activated grassroots who had spent four years preparing for this moment .
If this was not the year for the Democrats to win big, when can they then?
“It’s really hard for our party psychology to learn any lessons as we continue to win,” Democratic strategist Danny Barefoot said, referring to the presidential race. “But someone has to have the tough conversation of saying, ‘That’s not enough.’
In interviews with more than two dozen agents and elected officials, Democrats said they are concerned that the 2020 results will be an obstacle to the party and the progressive agenda, creating a bleak next decade of upward fighting where it will be difficult to win usable legislative majorities at both state and federal level.
Of particular concern was the party’s brilliant display in state legislative races, not only because the GOP will once again have the upper hand in drawing districts, but because it revealed a fundamental problem in communicating the Democratic Party’s brand.
“We need to demonstrate that we are the party that is on the side of working families,” State Rep said. Chris Turner, the Democratic leader of the Texas state House.
In Washington, the plan for many Democrats was to conquer the Senate and implement a lightning round of reforms, from the right to vote to the accession of new states to the union that would help the party overcome structural constraints and set them up to not only win political victories. , but additional election wins along the line.
“2020 was the last best chance we had a genuinely usable Senate majority. It’s gone,” said Sean McElwee, founder of the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress. “We have two more years where we can try to work within the structure and win these elections. And then I’m a little lost.”
There is still much that is not known about the 2020 election, but talks – and finger-pointing – have already begun as the party begins to take some lessons away.
Demography is not fate
For a long time, Democrats like the gospel took that their future was secure as the country became younger and more diverse as long as they showed these voters.
But turnout broke records this year, and not only did Democrats fall short of their hopes, but Republicans ate Democratic benefits with non-white voters they had considered part of their base.
Some worry that the party, once rooted in the working class but now run and funded largely by university-educated liberals, may lose touch with blue-collar voters of all races outside major metro areas.
“We are such a Beltway party that we can not even understand that there are many Mexicans in the (Rio Grande) Valley who love Donald Trump,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic Democrat in Texas who runs a super PAC focused on Latino outreach. “Biden won and it’s great, but everything under Biden was a huge disaster.”
White working-class voters began to abandon the party decades ago, and some Latinos and African Americans, especially men without college degrees in several rural areas, followed suit this year, turning a strong Latino rural area in Texas red after voting Democrats by a wide margin. in 2016.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, said especially younger black voters were less connected to Democrats and that the party could not take them for granted to move forward. She noted that Trump made a concerted effort to attract them by highlighting his support for a bill on criminal justice reform, even as his “law and order” message portrayed black activists as violent extremists.
“He’s a wandering hypocrite, but Trump is a master at being able to give soundbites and tell people what they want to hear,” she said. “It was no different when it came to black voters.”
Mistakes here have been made on both sides of the party’s ideological divide, from party leaders who can sometimes seem out of touch with the daily struggles of working Americans to an activist class that pushes democratic candidates to take sometimes unpopular positions that may not once fully reflect the views of the groups they pretend to represent.
All politics is national
The goal of the Biden campaign was to make 2020 a referendum on Trump’s chaotic period, and it succeeded, but the results were far worse in the vote.
Republicans blocked turnout districts with ads linking moderately to the party’s most left-leaning voices, which has led to bitter accusations between the factions.
“When you’re Joe Biden and you’ve 47 years of public life and you have a billion dollars behind you, you can build your own brand,” said Matt Bennett, executive vice president of centrist think tank Third Way. “But when you’re down for voting, it’s hard to run out of that mark in red and purple districts.”
Left-wing activists have claimed that they are unfairly appointed. They claim that they provided progressive voters to Biden and helped take youth participation to a new height.
“We can not let Republican narratives drive our party,” the left-wing groups Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement, New Deal Strategies and Data for Progress wrote in a post-election memo.
But a surprising number of democratic thinkers and strategists, including some on the left, are beginning to wonder – delicately and often privately – whether the party needs to emphasize some of the divisive cultural struggles that are playing out, especially on social media.
After all, six out of ten voters do not have a college degree. More than 40 percent live in a home with a gun. And while atheism and agnosticism are on the rise, the religiously independent still make up barely more than a quarter of the population.
It does not mean abandoning policies of social justice, just publishing the popular ones and not necessarily putting the more divisive ones in front.
“We should pay more attention to what the Latin woman who works two jobs thinks than the hipster in Brooklyn, whose entire involvement in public space is on Twitter,” Barfodet said.
The unknown future
While Democrats are already arguing about what went wrong in the run-off race, clear answers may take some time.
Some states still agree, and analysts are still throwing in district data to find out where the party underperformed. Until voters find out why they missed important races, it will also be harder to determine which issues resonated with the public and at what points in the race.
Then there are the two biggest unknowns that only future elections will solve: Trump and the pandemic. Trump drove turnout to the level unseen for a century on both sides, and it is unclear what will happen if he is gone.
“Republicans do not get so hot when Trump is not at the polls,” said Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, pointing to Democratic gains in 2018.
Coronavirus also makes the 2020 cycle difficult to assess. Democrats mostly stopped traditional turnout operations for fear of exposing volunteers and voters.
“This is perhaps the only campaign in history to identify that one party’s candidates knocked on many more doors than the other party’s candidates,” said Daniel Squadron, a former New York State senator and founder of Future Now. Fund. , which is aimed at state legislative races.
Arizona and Georgia showed a potential roadmap for the party’s future, but the winners were the fruits of seeds planted many years ago with high-profile campaigns to register and organize voters. In Arizona, it began a decade ago with efforts to overturn a strict immigration law and remove former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, while Stacy Abrams began his work in Georgia in 2014.
“If you want to win and maintain your gains, you have to sustain your investments,” said Perez, who will soon step down as chairman of the DNC and, in his opinion, leave the party in a much better shape than he found it. “You can not just invest every four years and expect to win.”