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Jacobin - November 9, 2021

Can a 68 percent win rate for DSA-backed candidates and causes honestly be described as ‘seeing setbacks at nearly every turn’?

Here’s a thought experiment. It’s an off-year election, and the Democratic Party has just spent nearly eight whole months mired in what feels like endless internal negotiations despite controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress. The major bill they’re trying to pass has polled consistently well even after months and months of delay. While it leaves out the big-ticket priorities of the Left, it’s nevertheless full of progressive measures that are both popular across the partisan divide, and ones the party has run on and promised for years — even if most people don’t actually know they’re in the bill. But after eight months of dithering, the Democratic president’s approval rating has fallen to a near historic low of 42 percent. Then, in the weeks and days before voting, the party halves the size of the bill, stripping it of almost every one of its most popular, progressive provisions.

While this is going on, at stake are two solid blue states with a Democratic trifecta. After months of congressional gridlock, both, like the rest of the country, see turnout among left-leaning voters plummet, and turnout among right-leaning voters surge. In one, the party runs a corporate-backed centrist who’d been governor once before, and the party establishment’s leading lights come out to campaign for him; he loses by two points, and the GOP wins the state House. In the other, a progressive governor who has enacted left-wing priorities like a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and a millionaire’s tax has the country’s leading socialist politician campaign with him, alongside the establishment figures; he keeps his trifecta and wins by 2.6 points, becoming the first Democratic governor to win reelection in the state in forty-four years.

Is this result:

  1. proof that moving to the center is an electoral winner?
  2. a typical postelection electoral backlash hastened by Democrats’ stalled agenda?
  3. proof that the party has moved too far left?

If you picked (2), then congratulations: You have more analytical rigor than many of the people who cover politics for a living. If you picked (3) or (1), there’s a good chance you work for a mainstream press outlet or a campaign consulting firm, all of whom wasted no time in using last Tuesday’s results to roll-out their go-to excuse for Democratic failure.

“How much of this is a message just to the Democratic Party that it’s too far left?” asked CNN’s Anderson Cooper on election night. “I don’t know if it’s a rejection of the Democratic Party, or the party moving too much to the left, or the party not delivering on progressivism,” said his colleague Jake Tapper, at least acknowledging there might be more than one option. “It likely hasn’t helped that progressives — who lost out in a series of city elections and ballot initiatives decided on Tuesday — have been a dominant force in the party in Washington, playing into GOP claims that the president is hostage to far-left influences in his own party,” wrote a third CNN pundit, Stephen Collinson.

This went far beyond CNN. “Who Lost on Election Day? Progressives,” wrote the US News & World Report’s Susan Milligan, who charged that “a series of losses at the ballot box and on Capitol Hill have put the limits of the progressive and socialist wing of the Democratic Party on stark display.” “In races across the country, there were signs that voters see the party as having moved too far to the left,” wrote the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, in a piece of ostensibly just-the-facts reporting.

The New York Times has leaned especially hard into these talking points. “Tuesday’s results are a sign that significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party,” wrote the paper’s editorial board, known for its on-point political acumen. ...
Read full report at Jacobin