Forget, for the moment, the eventual outcome of the presidential race, which is mired in counting delays, legal threats and malefic Twitter takes. Congressional Democrats are operating under the impression it’s theirs. They also have the House and a shot at the Senate.
And they seem pretty unhappy about it.
Not without reason, either. However disgruntled conservatives might be, for instance, the words “blue wave” — usually spoken on MSNBC with a degree of ruefulness for things that might have been — can still elicit a grim chuckle.
That’s because for the left, Election Day was a bit like Christmas for a Dickensian orphan who thought he was getting new parents and instead ended up with a stale candy cane and a bottle of castor oil.
The Democrats’ House majority, never in doubt, will likely shrink once all the races are called, according to NBC News projections. Joe Biden’s national vote total, once expected to be a landslide, now stands at a 50.5 percent to 47.8 percent lead — less than 3 points. And if they’re going to get control of the Senate, they’ll have to win two runoffs in the state of Georgia. (That’s not what was projected, of course. Another bad-laugh headline, this one from FiveThirtyEight: “Final Forecast: Democrats Have A 3-In-4 Chance Of Flipping The Senate.”)
This led to a Democratic House caucus conference call which, from all reports, was a lot more entertaining than any of the cable news coverage. It included anger, crying, stark admonitions to stay away from the rhetoric the party was embracing just a few months ago and this prediction from one Blue Dog Democrat regarding what will happen to the party in the 2022 midterms: “We will get f—ing torn apart.”
According to Politico, during the Thursday call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants warned that rhetoric that tacks to the left by members in the lower chamber could kill any chance the party has of taking the upper chamber.
“This has been a life or death fight for the very fate of our democracy. We did not win every battle, but we did win the war,” Pelosi said during the call. “We held the House. Joe Biden is on a clear path to be the next president of the United States.”
However, she emphasized that House Democrats needed to focus on an “agenda of lowering health care, better paychecks, building infrastructure.”
In case you don’t get the subtext, Politico’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris spelled it out neatly: “While she didn’t explicitly say it, those ideas are more likely to be appealing to moderate Georgia voters who will decide the fate of the Senate in January.”
Georgia’s election laws stipulate that if a candidate doesn’t get over 50 percent, it goes to a runoff. Both of Georgia’s Senate seats were up for grabs this year because former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned in late 2019 due to health reasons. The special election was little more than a Republican primary between establishment favorite Sen. Kelly Loeffler and conservative-backed Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler won (more’s the pity) and will go on to face the Democrat candidate, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, in the January runoff.
In the regular sexennial election, incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue is leading Democrat Jon Ossoff but with under 50 percent of the vote. He’s unlikely to get back over that number, so to January we go.
Now, back to that tear-stained printout of that “Final Forecast: Democrats Have A 3-In-4 Chance Of Flipping The Senate” that’s laying on the passenger’s seat of the aunt’s Subaru Outback, the one with the “Coexist” bumper sticker on it. The premise of that prediction, at least as far as FiveThirtyEight saw it, was that there were five seats where Democrats had a better than 50 percent chance of flipping and another three where the chances were over 30 percent.
While the Democrats were always going to lose one seat — Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama was only there because he ran against an alleged sexual abuser in 2017 and had done nothing to distinguish himself as an independent voice in the intervening years — that still put the three seats they needed for a tie well within reach.
However, only two of the seats with an above-50 percent chance of flipping have actually flipped thus far, with former Gov. John Hickenlooper beating Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Mark Kelly besting Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona.
Two others almost certainly won’t flip. (The fifth was Loeffler, and that remains to be undecided.)
In Maine, Sarah Gideon face-planted against GOP Sen. Susan Collins, not even coming close despite the fact Collins was behind in every single poll conducted in the state.
While North Carolina is undeclared, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis looks certain to hold on against businessman, veteran and adulterer Cal Cunningham.
Other Democratic candidates adjudged to have a decent chance of winning — such as Steve Bullock in Montana and Theresa Greenfield in Iowa — also underperformed and lost.
With an undeclared race in Alaska likely to go Republican, that would give the GOP 50 seats in the Senate, meaning the Democrats needed both of the Georgia seats in January. Thus, the warnings on the House Democratic caucus call on Thursday weren’t aimed at setting the stage for two years hence.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of Georgia, for instance, warned that if “we are going to run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we’re not going to win.”
Pelosi, meanwhile, said the two months until the runoffs would be “fraught with meaning.”
It’ll also be fraught with finger-pointing among Democrats if things don’t go as planned, if the call was any lodestar. The postmortem elicited sniping between the traditionally liberal faction of the party and the progressive wing.
“We need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a Blue Dog Democrat who declared victory in her reelection bid despite the fact victory hasn’t been declared for her. “We lost good members because of that.”
It’s unclear how shout-y Spanberger was; Politico said she “grew angry,” whereas The Washington Post said she delivered her remarks “heatedly.” Picture the tenor of the remarks, therefore, somewhere between “The McLaughlin Group” and “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.”
And then there was this, better reserved for “Real Time with Bill Maher”: “If we are classifying Tuesday as a success … we will get f—ing torn apart in 2022.”
Progressives and socialists, meanwhile, urged the rest of the party not to take away the obvious lesson from Tuesday’s disappointment.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, she of the four-member “squad” of far-left members of the House Class of 2018, said Democrats shouldn’t “blame myself and others.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “conversations about language” were needed but moving from the left would turn off younger voters and the base.
“If we don’t keep these folks engaged … we will lose again in 2024, and we may lose again in the next midterm,” Jayapal said. “I ask my colleagues to quickly jump to not quickly blaming certain people, who incidentally play a part in energizing young people.”
And then there was Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, who, through tears, urged Democrats not to “tweet” barbs at one another. Can’t we all just get along?
Politico’s Caygle and Ferris acknowledged that winning both Georgia runoffs would be “a long shot, to say the least.” Loeffler was the more likely of the two to get sniped off. Voters in general are disposed to view her as an establishmentarian, and conservatives in particular were loath to energize around the businesswoman, given that RINOs that big are usually spotted in wildlife preserves.
That being said, that was before keeping her seat in a runoff could be the difference between turning the Senate into a rubber-stamp for a potential Biden administration and keeping the GOP in power.
As for Perdue, while he’s generally undistinguished as a legislator, he’s also not Jon Ossoff, a man who should come with a warning label for insufferableness.
And that’s just what remains of 2020.
If this is how the party continues to tack, 2022 doesn’t look particularly good for the Democrats no matter who ends up being president. The 2018 midterm map proved to be unsustainable in the House. Meanwhile, the 2020 Senate map — which contained the most amenable slate of seats possible for the Democrats — probably won’t deliver them the upper chamber.
Some “blue wave” that was.
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