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Turning the tide of history.
November 8, 2023
I have begun writing on Tuesday evening before we know the results of several major elections. But this much is clear: The work by grassroots volunteers across the nation has ensured that Democrats can claim victory on Tuesday—the only question is how broad and deep that victory will be. Indications are good, but we must await the result in races that may be decided by a few hundred or thousands of votes.
As we wait, every volunteer and donor who helped make this outcome possible should take a moment to reflect on their part in helping to turn the tide of history. It is often difficult to know “in the moment” what events will matter in the long run. But we know tonight that the collective victories on Tuesday will matter. Together with victories in 2018, 2020, and 2022, Democrats are turning the tide against reactionary forces making a last stand against the march of America toward a more tolerant, just, and progressive nation.
Progress toward a more perfect union is neither inevitable nor easy. It is purchased through the dedication and hard work of millions of Americans who are willing to step outside themselves, to look beyond their self-interest, to be “prophets of a future not their own.” It requires sacrifice, selflessness, vision, courage, and stubborn optimism.
We shape the future by the accretion of small acts of resistance and faith. Postcards. Calls. Texts. Knocks. Yard signs. Registrations. Small donations. Big donations. Zooms. Backyard gatherings. Protests. Letters. Kitchen table conversations. Curing ballots. Litigating. Not being afraid to be seen and heard as a proud Democrat.
To everyone who participated in any way in the victories of Tuesday evening, thank you. As a father and grandfather, thank you. As a husband heading into retirement with his wife, thank you. As a citizen who cares deeply about what our generation will leave to the next, thank you.
Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and reflect for a moment on how you are helping to turn the tide of history.
Preliminary lessons from Tuesday’s victories.
As I write, new reports of Democratic victories are rolling in:
Passing Issue 1 in Ohio.
Re-electing Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in Kentucky.
Gaining control of BOTH legislative houses in Virginia(!).
Significant Democratic upsets in several red legislative and municipal districts.
I won’t try to recap every election victory—a data-crunching, detail-oriented task that I will leave to others. But I highly recommend that you try to join Simon Rosenberg’s live Webinar recap on Wednesday, November 8 at 1:00 PM Eastern. RSVP here.
Or, check out this summary in the New York Times (accessible to all).
Lesson One: Issues matter.
According to the predominant media narrative, voters care about inflation above all else and blame Joe Biden for persistent inflation. Don’t believe it. Tuesday’s results show that voters care deeply about social issues that involve personal liberties, including reproductive choice. If it were true that “It’s the economy stupid,” voters would have punished Governor Andy Beshear and Democratic legislative candidates in Virginia. They did not.
Instead, voters demonstrated that they care about other issues—and not just reproductive liberty. Insurrection was also on the ballot in 2023. Trump put it there. The coup-plotting president endorsed Andy Beshear’s opponent—Daniel Cameron. When Daniel Cameron announced his candidacy, he said, “We have runaway inflation [and] I’m constantly having to fight against an administration in Washington, D.C., that wants to destroy the fossil fuels industry.”
So, Cameron was running against Beshear on inflation, preserving the coal industry, support for Donald Trump, and a total abortion ban. The only logical inference from Cameron’s defeat in a state Trump carried by 26 points over Biden is that voters ranked reproductive liberty above inflation, preserving coal mining jobs, and support for Trump.
The next time a media outlet or commentator tells you that the only issue that matters is inflation, don’t believe them. The economy matters—a lot—and we have a strong economy on many metrics. But telling that story requires more than a ten-second sound bite of a shopper in a check-out line at a grocery store. Issues matter. Not just inflation.
Lesson two: Tuesday’s elections served as a test for Biden. He won.
Two days before the election, Politico ran the following headline: Kentucky is about to give us a major test of Biden’s unpopularity, with the sub-header, “Kentucky likes Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear — but dislikes Joe Biden. The GOP thinks they can use that to win.”
The reports of Joe Biden’s unpopularity are greatly exaggerated. As discussed over the last few days, pollsters are confusing dissatisfaction with a toxic political environment and responses to surveys that invite respondents to express that dissatisfaction by blaming Joe Biden.
In the 2022 election, Joe Biden’s alleged unpopularity did not result in the predicted “red wave.” His alleged unpopularity in 2023 did not “drag” Democratic candidates to defeat. Sooner or later, pollsters and pundits will awake to the reality that focusing on a single number—Biden’s alleged “unpopularity”—does not constitute “political analysis.” Not even close.
I doubt that pundits will exercise the self-awareness and humility to “adjust their prior” beliefs. But we should adjust ours and stop the panic over every unreliable, made-for-TV poll that ignores the fact that polls are broken because Republicans answer their landlines at a higher rate than any other cohort in the electorate.
Lesson three: Voters aren’t being fooled by Republican lies.
In their desperation to win, Republicans lied about the language, substance, and effect of Issue 1 in Ohio. But Ohio voters saw through the lies and passed Issue 1 nonetheless. And as Governor Youngkin saw prospects for retaining control of the Virginia legislature diminish over the last several weeks, he began calling for a “compromise” and “consensus” abortion ban of 15 weeks. See ABC News, Virginia elections could allow 'reasonable' 15-week abortion ban with exceptions, Youngkin argues.
But most Virginia voters rightly refused to trust Youngkin’s promises of moderation. Time and again in GOP-controlled statehouses, promises of “reasonable” restrictions amount to six-week bans on abortion that effectively outlaw abortion immediately after women learn they are pregnant. (Under such laws, “pregnancy” is calculated from the first day of a woman’s last period rather than from conception. See Scientific American, The Absurd Pregnancy Math behind the Texas 'Six-Week' Abortion Ban.)
It is a good sign that voters are rejecting Republican lies—which is the GOP’s predominant mode of messaging and a sign of their desperation.
Lesson four: We must steel our resolve.
Democrats panicked on Sunday and Monday. That is not good. Panic causes more panic and breeds doubt in others. We need to trust that enough voters will see the truth to make a difference in the outcome of 2024. We need to trust that we can out-organize, out-register, and out-motivate Republicans. We have done so consistently over the last six years but somehow all it takes to weaken our resolve is a few bad polls of dubious quality.
Although not everyone panicked, dozens of you wrote to me after the NYTimes poll saying that it was time for Joe Biden to withdraw. That suggestion is not only wrong on the merits but also impractical and unrealistic. Joe Biden is not going anywhere and there is no one waiting in the wings. And for everyone who tells me about a mythical younger, charismatic candidate who would solve all our problems, put a name to your suggestion and undertake a serious review of that candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Every Democrat has liabilities and deficits. We overweight Joe Biden’s liabilities and deficits because he is our flesh-and-blood candidate. Don’t fall for that fallacy.
Biden is going to run against Trump—the most corrupt, compromised, unfit candidate in the history of the United States of America. It’s going to be a tough fight. But we have the better candidate (by a mile) and we need to steel our resolve for the fight in front of us—rather than pining for an imaginary contest that isn’t going to happen.
If you need more of a shot in the arm, many readers have recommended this essay by Rick Wilson on Substack, Joe Biden for President. Wilson writes, in part,
Joe Biden is old. Own it. I’ll take old and accomplished over old and evil every time. I don’t pity Joe Biden because he’s old. I honor him for still doing the work that has broken younger and stronger men. I admire him for staying in the arena . . . .
For me, he is still the candidate.
He is still the man we need as President, taking on the fight to preserve America at home and abroad and taking on the world with faint-hearted support from his own party and an avalanche of vitriol from the GOP that makes our darkest campaign in the past look like a meeting of the Fairfax Country Ladies Garden Club, circa 1954.
There is more, but you get the point!
A few more notes.
Just a few more notes before closing. Even as Republicans are reeling from unexpected losses on Tuesday, signs are mounting that House Republicans under Mike Johnson are having difficulty agreeing on a “must pass” continuing resolution of diminished scope. See NYTimes, House Republicans Toil for a Spending Strategy With a Shutdown Close at Hand (Accessible to all.)
Per the Times,
Speaker Mike Johnson is facing many of the same challenges his predecessor did as he looks for a way to avoid a government shutdown that will be acceptable to his deeply divided conference.
Next, the criticism of the NYTimes poll is becoming sharper. Indeed, it is beginning to look like journalistic malpractice by the Times that it chose to run and highlight such a flawed survey. See Daily Kos, I Can't Believe I Have to Say This About Siena/NYT Poll Panic.
Finally, if you are looking to turn anxiety about the NYTimes poll into action, see this note from Ruth Jaeger of Airlift:
Freaking out about the latest Times/Siena poll? Turn panic into action by joining Airlift on November 14 to learn how California can lead the way in Flipping the House Blue, providing a firewall against MAGA. Grassroots groups will make the crucial difference in 2024’s turnout, especially among young people and voters of color--the very groups the poll points to as a vulnerability and immense opportunity.
Special guest David Callahan, founder of Blue Tent, and leaders from OC Action and Communities for a New California (Orange County and the Central Valley) will explain how they’ll mobilize disaffected voters to flip the House and prove alarming polls wrong.
Everyone has earned a day off—unless you are curing ballots, in which case—bless you!
Everyone should be proud, even if your candidate lost. Every effort to turn out the vote in every state and municipality affected the outcome in some small way. Tuesday’s victories were your victories. You helped to turn the tide of history.
Talk to you tomorrow!