Terry McAuliffe ran Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2021, but the Virginia voters who went for Clinton in 2016 weren’t buying it this time around. McAuliffe’s attempt to make the election a referendum on Donald Trump was a failure since Trump wasn’t on the ballot. After ten months of Democratic government in Washington, voters saw little action that improved their lives.
Vague platitudes and promises weren’t enough to carry the day, not in a time of economic crisis and in the absence of real achievement in Washington.
McAuliffe counted on the tired Democratic, identity-based neoliberalism of the last thirty years, and voters are tired of it.
When it comes to voters and their needs, these kinds of Democrats just didn’t seem to care. Those few voters who read McAuliffe’s web page, for example, were promised: “targeted investments in workforce training and development, partnering with businesses and our educational institutions to re-skill and retrain Virginians, and reimagining our K12 education system so that every child has access to a world-class education and is workforce ready upon graduation.”
Blah. Blah. Blah.
People need real help navigating the current economic crisis. A plurality of Virginia voters said their primary concern was the economy and jobs, and here we find an important result: McAuliffe’s voters overwhelmingly said that the state of Virginia’s economy was good (by 71 percent), while Glenn Youngkin’s voters overwhelmingly said it was not so good or poor (75 percent).
In other words, it seems that Democrats are increasingly becoming the party of the comfortable, not the afflicted
McAuliffe counted on the tired Democratic, identity-based neoliberalism of the last thirty years, and voters are tired of it. McAuliffe’s margin among women voters, a group on which Democrats rely, was eight points lower than Biden’s in 2020. His margin was 9-10 points lower among younger voters.
News flash: generational and identity voters are working people, too.
That’s not to say that Virginia’s results were a total failure for identity politics. Virginia elected its first Black woman as lieutenant governor and apparently has elected its first Latino as Attorney General.
They are both Republicans.
Maybe McAuliffe had no chance, given the broader forces working against him. As of this writing, Phil Murphy is also struggling to pull of an expected win in New Jersey.
Here, too, so-called Democratic “centrists” (who aren’t really “centrists,” since their views on these issues are far to the right of the general public) tanked their own party’s chances. Two senators and a handful of representatives—some of them elevated by the party mechanism Terry McAuliffe once ran—blocked the passage of drug price reform, paid family leave, and several other popular provisions. Instead of representing a party that had scored some wins for working people, Democratic candidates ran as members of a party that had squabbled for ten months and accomplished little while controlling all three branches of the federal government.
Imagine how different this week’s races might have been if McAuliffe and Murphy had been able to campaign on the fact that their party was about to lower drug prices, a popular and important measure among all voters. Ironically, the party apparently reached a compromise on that issue the day before the election, when it was too late to change the outcome.
Despite this string of failures, liberal pundits and Democratic leaders will continue to extol the virtues of an ideology they call “centrism.” That ideology is the product of an arrogant detachment toward the needs of working people and a dependence on corporate and big-donor funds.
Now, these pundits and leaders will probably insist that voters are “angry.” That brings to mind a line John Lennon speaks in the movie Backbeat when someone asks him why he’s so angry. “I’m not angry,” he says, “I’m desperate.”
Millions of voters are desperate, too, and the platitudes of the past won’t sway them anymore.