McAuliffe’s Loss Means ‘Democrats Are Doomed’ Punditry. Will That Make Reconciliation Harder?

Terry McAuliffe and President Joe Biden. Getty Images/TPM Illustration
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November 3, 2021 6:10 a.m.

Pundits telegraphed their think pieces for weeks: the governor’s race in Virginia, pitting former Gov. Terry McAuliffe against the quietly-Trumpy-in-nonthreatening-dad-packaging Glenn Youngkin, will be a Democratic bellwether. 

If McAuliffe loses, they predict, Democrats are doomed — in the midterms, in their current legislative push, forever and ever, Amen. And now he has, by — as of Wednesday morning — about 70,000 votes.

Could McAuliffe’s loss portend Democratic midterm losses? Of course it could. And it’s a pretty safe take to have given the historical precedent.

Is it equally possible that Democrats could finally pass these two pieces of legislation, start shouting what’s in them from the rooftops, and watch President Joe Biden’s approval numbers climb as people realize they like it? 

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Yes — unless. Unless Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) take their cue from all the post-election caterwauling and decide to distance themselves further from the party, throwing up fresh new obstacles to the reconciliation package as they go. 

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), speaking to reporters before the polls closed Tuesday, was already prepared to blame progressives, pointing his finger at them for not passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill in September.  

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t have given the President, the country, and for that matter, the boost to Terry McAuliffe, the win on infrastructure a month ago,” he said. 

House progressives have refused to let that happen because they fear that moderates — namely Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — will let the reconciliation package die as soon as the bipartisan infrastructure bill is out the door. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) was more circumspect Tuesday, saying that passing both of the bills before the election could have helped. 

“Mark Warner and I certainly were saying to colleagues beginning in late September early October, this would be a good thing in Virginia, to have both of these bills going to President Biden, it would be a good thing,” he said. “Both of these bills are gonna pass and I think the difference between passing them in November and passing them in October, you know, could have an effect — how much we’ll see.” 

He added to TPM that there’s been a trend of Democrats winning the White House then losing the Virginia governor’s mansion, and that McAuliffe’s loss could simply be a result of this “early midterms blues phenomenon.” McAuliffe was actually the only one to buck the trend in recent years, back in 2013.

Polling in the state had been very close, much closer than Biden’s 10-point win in the commonwealth in 2020.

This one race cannot foretell the future of the Democratic party. But it can directly affect Democrats’ best, maybe only, chance to buck the historical trend and position themselves to win the midterms: passing legislation. 

Manchin, devoid of any obvious ideological consistency, seems to hold a finger up to the wind every morning and see how the Beltway gusts are blowing. If the post-McAuliffe loss freakout rattles him, makes him think he needs to take some hasty steps away from the party, that could spell the bill’s doom.

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