Why Democrats lost (and why they didn’t): 2021 election results

“This is a terrible day!” liberal commentators are saying. “A Republican won the governor’s race in Virginia! Democrats are doomed! Doooooomed!”

Let’s first put things into perspective. Most states did not have major elections last Tuesday, but in Virginia and New Jersey, governor’s races were up.

Virginia has a term limit law preventing a governor from running for re-election so there’s never an incumbent. And in 10 of the last 11 elections (that is, for the last 44 years), the party not in power in Washington has won the governorship. In other words, if there’s a Republican President, the governorship goes to the Democrat.

So this year was no different. History predicted this.

In New Jersey, governors rarely win re-election. Until now. Democrat Philip Murphy will stay in office.

The media is downplaying it. “He only won by 2.7%! It’s a narrow victory!” they scream.

Meanwhile in Virginia, these same pundits are saying “The Republican won by 2.2%! It’s a major landslide!”

So instead of the headlines being “Democrats break losing streak as predicted by history,” instead we get “The Democratic party has lost hugely! They’ll never recover! It’s all over!”

Look. Anyone who studies politics knows this: The party in power in the White House loses in the off elections, as people vote against whoever is in there. During Trump’s four years, the Democrats won the House and the Senate, and in next year’s midterms, there is a good possibility the Republicans will take back the House. That’s normal. There’s only been a few exceptions to that rule.

But there are other reasons Terry McAuliffe lost in Virginia when he probably should have won. There are all the main reasons (Democrats don’t vote in the same numbers as Republicans even though we outnumber them; voter suppression; gerrymandering discourages participation, etc.) but let’s discuss problems Democrats always have.

First: We tend to nominate smart, competent people who would make good leaders but are wonky insiders who don’t have a lot of personality. (Michael Dukakis, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry…) Terry McAuliffe is one. He was not hugely popular in his first term, so why Democrats thought he’d be a good choice to run again is a mystery. Republicans know personality is more important, so they nominate completely incompetent people who have charisma (at least to their voters).

Dancing like this didn’t help, Terry

Second reason: The Republican party has become a cult — the cult of Trump. In a cult, you don’t question your leaders, and you don’t fight among yourselves. It’s even easier when almost everyone in the cult is the same (white, Christian, male, straight).

We Democrats represent the rest of the country, and we don’t all get along. That is part of the problem. Even though we have the White House, Senate, and House, we can’t even get a bill passed that many Republicans support, because we’re fighting among ourselves. Meanwhile, the GOP votes in lockstep to prevent us from accomplishing anything, even bills that they supported when they were in charge.

That means we have nothing we can brag about at election time. Thanks to Senators Manchin and Sinema, no candidate could point to any accomplishments of President Biden in order to ride in on his coattails. We shoot ourselves in our own foot often.

Third: We’re not good at fear. Republicans know fear drives people to the polls and that’s why they make up fake boogeymen to scare their cultists to the polls. “They’re going to force our kids to get vaccinated, fear them! They want to make children learn about racial injustice! They’ll force your daughters to have abortion while giving them free marijuana while they spit on the Bible and declare a War on Christmas!”

“The American people are smarter than that,” Democrats say, ignoring the American people saying, “No, we’re not!”

Come on, there’s a huge chunk of the Republican party that believes JFK Jr. was going to reappear from the dead and run as Trump’s Vice President. They believe every QAnon claim despite the fact that not one has ever come true. They’re crazy. You can’t fix that.

So we need to be inspiring to get our people to the polls. Obama was a nerdy wonk of the type we like, but he also had the charisma we needed at the time. And Terry McAuliffe? He’s no Obama.

So the election didn’t go the way we wanted, but at the same time, it wasn’t the shellacking the media wants to portray it as. (Here in my purple county in Pennsylvania, we Democrats did quite well actually, holding back the GOP cultists trying to take over the school boards and local governments).