Well, you don’t normally get us in your inbox on a Wednesday, but, as promised, we couldn’t resist giving our take on all that went down on Election Day 2021 and what it means for both parties going forward.
(cover photo cred: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News)
So, without further ado, here’s our quick special edition Hacks on Tap Bulletin!
Was That “A Thumping” For the Dems?
In a word, yes. Last night was a pretty bad night for Democrats. The mood got a little brighter this AM with the news that Phil Murphy will be re-elected in New Jersey (first Dem to do that since 1977). But there's no sugarcoating what happened. In Virginia, while the eventual margin may not be all that big, the GOP and Glenn Youngkin won the Governor's office for the first time since 2009. And worse, all of this happened in a state where Joe Biden won by 10 points just a year ago and Ralph Northam won by almost 9% in 2017. My, how times have changed. Given that swing, the race in New Jersey being close shouldn't have surprised us all that much, but it did as the Murphy campaign was very confident as polls began to close that they'd have little to worry about last night.
Some of this was predictable. A year ago, Joe Biden won the Presidency, but Dems lost seats in the House. We shouldn't have confused the election of someone to oust Donald Trump as a sea change for the electorate. Additionally, there is a lot of anxiety right now in the country. Look at the right track/wrong track question in any national poll and you'll see it. The President has had a very hard three months and, well, November ain't off to a great start. Inflation is up. Supply chains are broken. Gas is expensive. We aren't where we hoped we'd be with the pandemic. The hope is that on Election Night 2022 this feels different.
It is historically normal for the new President’s party to get walloped in the VA (and sometimes NJ) Governor’s race. It’s happened in the last seven VA gubernatorial races. So some D’s might say the very bad night the Democrats had last night is a dog biting a cat. Maybe, but the problem is the dog ate the cat, and did it with one big gulp. The R’s had a clean win – and they were originally behind – in Virginia, a double digit Biden state in 2020. And in NJ, a big double digit true blue Biden state, the long shot GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli, is – as I write this – in a dead heat with Phil Murphy (no relation), the Democratic incumbent. That, is a real shocker. (My guess is Murphy squeaks by, there is enough likely Murphy vote left in a few Democratic strongholds, but we’ll see.) So no matter how you spin it, the formula of quick sinking Biden poll numbers, economic/inflation fears, Keystone Kops intra-Democratic fighting in the House, a sloppy Kabul exit and a hopeless Democratic addiction to fighting woke culture wars all added up to a genuine political disaster for President Biden and his Democrats. So Gibbsie, what next?
What Does It All Mean?
Well, Democrats need to run campaigns that look to the future with a strong positive message about what they're going to do for the electorate. We need to get past the idea that simply introducing the ghost of Donald Trump will take care of Democratic enthusiasm and secure the swing suburbs indefinitely into the future, as we painfully saw last night. That's not to say Trump is going to disappear - he certainly is not and may be more emboldened to return than ever thinking last night was, of course, about and because of him. My point is just that Trump helping Dems should be gravy, but it can't be the main meal.
Absolutely! So the big news last night are the suburbs are back with the GOP. Trump ruined them for the R’s in 2020, but they’re back now and that’s a huge warning to the D’s. It wasn’t just NJ and VA too; Republican candidates surged in Long Island, and even in Seattle! I doubt the Democrats will learn as much as they should from the train wreck last night. But two big lessons are unavoidable. Joe Biden has to get back in charge of the Democratic party. He looks weak and marginalized as he tries to appease his hard-headed Progs and it’s killing him politically. Get back in charge Mr. President. Second, the woke fest is a big political dud. Get back to middle class economics and fast. That’s how Biden won and his swoon to the Left on domestic policy has been a huge error.
Now the Republicans have a lot to learn too, and I’m dubious if they’ll learn it. Glenn Youngkin’s are not easy to come up with. Remember the Gov-elect did not have to suffer the Hellscape of a GOP primary. He won through a wire-able party convention. Next year, they’ll be plenty of those primaries and have no doubt Donald Trump will flee Mar-a-Elba to repeatedly jam his orange mug into every Federal contest. Senate and House races are more connected to DC politics than gubernatorial contests so it’s easier to go full tribal. So even though the big lesson of VA – run a suburban friendly candidate with a soft rock tone and keep Trump on the sidelines, out of the spotlight while using him as a tool to keep his rural voters turning out – looks great on paper, it’ll be tougher to pull off next year for the GOP. The best case will be NH, which Youngkin-esque Gov Chris Sununu has a good shot to pick up a vital Senate seat. The big question is who will the R’s nominate in other big opportunities like PA and NC. GA should be such a state, and with bad enough Biden numbers next year it could be; but it ain’t the Virginia model. Finally, I’d say to Democrats hoping Trump will save them next year, beware. Trump will be a problem, no doubt. But the biggest factor will be the President’s numbers. If Joe Biden and his Democrats don’t fix those, get ready for a GOP House and Senate.
As for the Biden agenda, it’s time for Joe Biden to insert himself and assert himself again as President, decide what he wants in the Build Back Better legislation and get the agreement needed to pass it soon. We've had too much process coverage and frankly not enough push to draw this to its necessary conclusion. We have to show the American people we can govern effectively again. The cards have been dealt, there's no folding our hand now. But, passage alone won't fix our problems. In fact, once it does pass, the hard work of selling it to the American people must begin in earnest. I am happy to believe the legislation is quite popular. I bet how it's paid for is even more so. But right now, not enough people know what's in the legislation and therefore don't know how it will impact and improve their lives. If the same is said the morning after Election Day 2022, we won't be up late wondering if Democrats held the House and the Senate.
Step one in the Build Biden Back Better and F*#king Fast plan should be moving Bipartisan Infrastructure out of the House FAST, after Biden makes a lot of noise demanding action. Give the Boss a win Democrats! Then pass a slimmed down spending orgy, and for once, try branding it as something more relevant to actual voters than “trillions.”
I suggest Biden host Movie Night at the WH in the great Reagan tradition, and invite the Democratic Leadership, including the troublesome Prog ringleaders. I have just the movie in mind…
Pass the popcorn, but hold the woke socialism.
I have a new hero. Byron Brown, the long-time Democrat Mayor of Buffalo. He’s a proud moderate and when a Bernie accolade beat him earlier this year in the Dem primary, Byron didn’t just take it. He said, “screw these m’fing socialist nuts” and ran as a write in! (Actually, I don’t know what he said, but I prefer the Samuel L. Jackson version, and he did run as a write in.). And now, he won!
Byron is my new candidate for DNC chairman. Give ‘em Hell Mayor!
So, I guess something positive to end on for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Plus, Gibbs, you’ll always have the Braves!
We’ll be back on Friday with more on the fallout from yesterday and the future of the Biden Agenda. We hope you’ve enjoyed this special bulletin and be sure to check out the podcast too.
Murphy and Gibbs