The votes are still being counted and we’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened, but one thing so far is undeniable: Election Night was a colossal failure for Senate and House Democrats.
In the Senate, Democratic candidates blew prime pickup opportunities in Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina, and lit hundreds of millions of dollars on fire to lose by double digits in Kentucky and South Carolina while underfunding candidates such as Raphael Warnock, the Atlanta pastor who now appears to be the Democrats’ best hope for salvaging a 50-50 majority should Joe Biden win the presidency.
In the House, an expected increase in the Democrats’ margins from 2018 rapidly went south as the night wore on, and the Democrats could actually lose five to ten seats by the time the cycle is over. Conservative incumbents lost, progressive challengers lost—it was an all-around disaster, and now the House has a much thinner majority that’s in extreme jeopardy in 2022, considering the wave of gerrymandering that’s about to be enacted in swing states all over the country because downballot Democrats also failed miserably.
There’s a lot of blame to go around for all of this, but two of the main problems are clear: Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic Senate and House leadership.
Schumer has been integral to Democratic recruitment efforts in the past two cycles, and each time they’ve come up dramatically short. That might have been excusable in 2018, when the map was extremely favorable for Republicans, but this year it was not—in addition to Colorado and Arizona, the Democrats should have won North Carolina, Iowa, and at the very least Maine. Surprise: they did not win any of those last three.
The biggest miss might have been in North Carolina. There, Democrat Cal Cunningham—a horny ding-dong with no charisma to speak of, who was recruited by the DSCC for the second time in ten years owing to his sterling track record of one term spent as a state senator in the year 2001—enjoyed a 4 percent cushion from third-party conservative candidates against incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, but ran way behind Biden and will likely manage to lose by tens of thousands of votes.
In the House, the New York Times currently has Democrats losing all of the lean Republican districts, 24 of the 27 toss-up districts, and having lost three of the seats that were seen as leaning towards the Democrats.
What this means is simple. Schumer and Pelosi have got to go—from leadership, from their seats in Congress, from politics altogether. Catherine Cortez-Masto and Cheri Bustos, the heads of the Democratic campaign committees, have also got to go. They again bet the entire house on Sane Republicans giving them a smooth path to power and they again failed, even with 230,000-plus people dead and an economy in the tank. This is a fuck-up far beyond Mitch McConnell’s wildest dreams, and this is how it works when you don’t follow through on the job people sent you to D.C. to do—you lose that job.
They should be replaced with someone who actually understands that class is the key to why this keeps happening, why their relationship with suburbanites is at best tenuous and why Trump’s increasing margins with Latinx voters in South Texas of all places is an existential crisis. Bernie Sanders is never going to win that leadership election, but Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Jeff Merkely—any of them could do this job way better than the current Senate leadership.
As for the House, moderate Democrats are already floating Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who hates the left way more on a visceral level than Pelosi, as an alternative should she step down. (Pelosi needs two-thirds of the caucus’s support, after a deal she made to become speaker for a second time in 2018.) House progressives need to find their own candidate to rally behind and fast. They’re already starting to get the blame for this shit, with anonymous centrist Democrats grumbling to whoever will pick up the phone at Politico that the notion that Democrats were “socialists” is what killed them despite the fact that Joe Biden devoted a large chunk of his primary campaign and a decent portion of his general bashing socialism. The party can do no wrong; it can only be done wrong.
The Democratic Party approaches elections as a set of opportunities for consulting contracts, and while this year won’t be the final nail in the coffin, Tuesday’s results portend deeply worrying trends for anyone who doesn’t want this country to be ruled by a coalition of fascists and austerity hawks. And in order for things to improve, the Democrats have got to find new leadership, from people who haven’t been groomed for leadership by the very same people who are failing us right now.