A Hard Truth for Progressives

Joe Biden’s sizable electoral and popular vote win over Donald Trump has sparked exuberance among Democrats. A commander-in-chief that proved to be divisive, indifferent, and tone-deaf has left the White House.

Yet, this happiness among Democrats will be short-lived, as the infighting seen during the primaries will resume shortly. Progressives now feel they have done their part in ousting Trump, and are looking to push a moderate President Biden further to the left as he assembles his Cabinet and starts to govern. However, if Biden uses the election results as a mandate, progressives will be disappointed.

The autopsy of the election results proves one thing with conviction: the majority of America is nowhere near ready to accept the progressive policies pushed by millions in the Democratic base. While Biden himself is a moderate, Trump and his campaign successfully painted him as a socialist, an empty vessel for the dream policies of leftist Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar. His campaign attempted to tie Biden to Sanders’s plans for socialized healthcare and to leftist Democrats’ Green New Deal. While this is false, the campaign’s fearmongering seemed to gain significant traction.

The most notable example of this was in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Looking at Miami-Dade County’s raw election numbers, one might be quick to conclude Biden got the job done in this urban, historically Democratic stronghold, winning the county by seven points. However, this margin was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2012, the last time a Democrat won Florida. Obama’s margin of victory against Republican Mitt Romney was 24 points, a massive win in the most populous county of the state.

Trump effectively peeled millions of voters from Democrats in Miami-Dade because of his messaging toward the Latino community. Miami-Dade is home to millions of Latino voters who fled socialist Cuba and Venezuela. When confronted with the falsehood that Joe Biden’s America would be open to socialist policies, they outright rejected the agenda. Compared to 2016 when Hillary Clinton secured the Latino vote in this county by thirty points, Biden saw this lead shrink to a meager nine. 

Biden’s underperformance in Miami-Dade especially proves the state’s rebuff of progressive policies, despite Trump’s repeated attacks directed at immigrants. The possibility of a socialist in office, though untrue, was enough for Latinos in Florida to reject the Democratic candidate, and is telling of how even immigrant communities feel about the leftist proposals spearheaded by the AOC and Sanders wing of the party. If a democratic socialist takes on the mantle of the Democratic Party, the crucial swing state of Florida could turn into a Republican stronghold.

But Florida is not the only state that rejected leftist policies in November. The Democrats, who hoped to expand their majority in the House, dealt with humbling defeats that trimmed their ranks. The majority of Democratic seats lost, along with those that had the toughest elections, were located in swing districts across the country.

Democratic Representative Connor Lamb, who represents a perennially competitive Western Pennsylvania district, eloquently elaborated on the struggle within the Democratic Party. After winning by a razor-thin margin in a moderate district representative of the country, Lamb articulated that his constituents frequently say “they are extremely frustrated by the message of defunding the police and banning fracking . . . those things aren’t just unpopular, they’re completely unrealistic, and they aren’t going to happen.”

Lamb’s analysis of the election is direct, honest, and reliable, given his district’s geographic and demographic makeup. Swing districts like his are the lifeline of an electoral map. According to Lamb, Biden capitalized in these regions because he rejected leftist policies and connected with Rust Belt working-class voters.

Lamb is not alone in his views on the impact of leftist policies on electoral prospects. Jim Clyburn, House Majority Whip and one of the most influential members of the chamber, echoed Lamb when he discussed South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison. He stated that Harrison lost his momentum when “defund the police” became a main talking point during this election cycle. “I’ve always said that these headlines can kill a political effort,” Clyburn elaborated.

Representative Abigail Spanberger joined Lamb and Clyburn after barely surviving a competitive swing district election in Virginia, saying that if the left continues to tout phrases like “defund the police,” “we will get fucking torn apart” in 2022. The anger of these congressional leaders stemmed from severe underperformance in House races, where the DNC expected to grow its majority but failed to flip a single seat. 

Progressives, such as AOC, resent these sorts of responses. They have frequently cited two points to show that progressive policies are popular among the electorate. But both fall short of effectively countering moderates’ claims.

When State of the Union host Jake Tapper asked AOC about the moderates’ statements, she stated that not a single Democrat up for election in this cycle had “defund the police” as one of their main policy proposals. This is simply false. Cori Bush, Congresswoman from Missouri’s First Congressional District, made it a centerpiece of her campaign, tweeting her support for the policy and pushing back on Obama’s take that such slogans alienate voters. This sort of campaign is fodder for Republicans who attempt to tie moderates in swing districts, such as Lamb, to a leftist agenda. What is lost on Bush and Ocasio-Cortez is that while these sorts of policies may be acceptable in their districts, they hurt most Democratic candidates.

Ocasio-Cortez often counters the notion that leftist policies hurt swing candidates by citing that every single House candidate that endorsed leftist ideas such as Medicare for All won re-election. This point, again, does not tell the full story. A majority of these candidates, such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, are in Democratic strongholds, where a rejection of such policies would have still seen them win. In fact, only two of the twenty-three swing candidates endorsed Medicare for All, and most of them still won. Plus, one of the two who did endorse it was Katie Porter, whose win is likely more attributable to fundraising at a level most candidates cannot replicate.

The autopsy on House elections, as well as Miami-Dade County, is a mandate for the moderate Biden. If he fully embraced leftist policies, Democrats would not have taken the Senate, and they will see more swing seats lost in the House in 2022. Biden pulled off this election because of effective positioning, distancing himself from Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and the call to “defund the police.” Until the electorate swings left, Democrats will need to adopt the Biden strategy. Otherwise, in Abigail Spanberger’s words, they “will get fucking torn apart” in future elections.

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