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Biden and Trump Both Lost This Week

Biden and Trump Both Lost This Week

It was all Joe Biden’s fault. It was all Donald Trump’s fault. The Democratic Party has gone too far to the left, or not enough. Republicans won due to the culture wars, and the racist dog whistles. Biden failed to deliver, and the Republicans won. Because Congress failed to deliver, Republicans won. Voters were mad about inflation and COVID and mask mandates and school closures. Terry McAuliffe made a mistake by mentioning Trump. Glenn Youngkin was a genius for not being Trump.

Ah, the blame game. There is nothing quite like this particular political ritual where, once every four year, Virginia and New Jersey hold the first major state contests after the Presidential election a decade earlier. Everyone then sifts through results to determine important national implications. A year from now, will we still be debating the bogeyman of “critical race theory” that some Republicans have decided is the ticket to taking control of Congress? We may never know. Such is the news cycle of today. Youngkin embraced it; maybe it will work everywhere.

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At least we can agree that this week’s elections were a harbinger of Democrats losing the House and the Senate in 2022, and the White House in 2024. Unless they mean nothing at all. It’s fair to say that the results were shocking. After all, Republicans had not won a state election in Virginia for a dozen years. McAuliffe lost Tuesday’s gubernatorial bid to Youngkin. Things were so unexpectedly bad for Democrats in deep-blue New Jersey that the Democratic president of the state senate lost his seat to a Republican truck driver who spent only a hundred and fifty dollars on his campaign. It was possible that it was predictable given that the incumbent President has lost eleven of the twelve Virginia elections. This is just for clarity.

The first problem with the recriminations, of course, is how to decide which explanation is right. Washington has a second problem. Everyone uses these moments to promote their preexisting views and preferred solutions. The blame game is not to be discounted. It reveals and clarifies. The lessons learned from these elections can be used to guide politicians’ actions in the future, whether they are at the White House, Capitol Hill, or in campaign offices across the country. It doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong about these lessons. The point is what they do as a result.

Biden, struggling with the lowest approval ratings of his Presidency, and with his agenda bogged down by disputes in his own party, knows his lesson: break the Democratic impasse over his legislation and “get it to my desk.” Or, as Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat in a competitive district, told the Times, “Pass these damned bills, immediately.” Both of Virginia’s senators, the Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, were quick to blame their colleagues for failing to act on Biden’s bills before the election. “I think it was on the shoulders of Democrats here who have the majority,” Kaine told reporters. “People had a lot of hope for Joe Biden and the Joe Biden agenda, but Democrats didn’t want to give Biden a win.”

Party leaders in Congress agree. They hope to use this opportunity to push through what they couldn’t do a week ago when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to get her caucus on board with a vote. This would ensure that Biden wouldn’t go to international summits in Europe empty handed and McAuliffe could see the sign of progress he had pleaded for before Election Day. Pelosi stated that she plans to call votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill (a nearly trillion-dollar measure that has languished since the summer) and the $1. 75-trillion social-spending bill. After Tuesday’s results, Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, stated that “it just reinforces the fact we need to get those things done.”

But party unanimity appears to be as elusive after Virginia as before it. While Democrats may agree that they have received a wake-up call from the Supreme Court, they remain divided on what the other side of the line said. Progressives insist that McAuliffe’s loss is not their fault and that even if the large Congressional Progressive Caucus agreed to vote last Wednesday, it would have been too late. Meanwhile, the takeaway of Senator Joe Manchin and some other centrists who have balked at the big-ticket legislation was the exact opposite of the leadership’s move-fast-and-get-it-done-now position. Instead, Manchin said the election was a “wakeup call” to “slow down and take a breath,” rather than to rush through the spending bill that he has refused for months to endorse.

None of this is all that surprising. Manchin wanted to slow down before the election; Biden, Pelosi and others wanted to speed things up. More unexpected is the debate that has broken out in both parties over the question of Donald Trump–and how large of a force he will remain in our politics. Trump claimed credit for Youngkin’s win in a statement Tuesday night. He said, “I would like thank my BASE for coming in force and voting Glenn Youngkin.” Ronna McDaniel (chair of the Republican National Committee), agreed. Trump-bashing “backfired,” she tweeted. “Trump continues to be a huge boost for Republicans across the country.”

Biden and Trump Both Lost This Week