In fact, moderate and progressive Democrats came together in 2020 to mobilize more voters than any other national electoral campaign in American history. Progressive policies were likely decisive in mobilizing some individuals to vote, and to vote for Democrats—and they likely alienated some individuals who chose not to vote or to vote for Republicans. However, moderate Democrats have yet to prove that progressive policies alienated more voters than they mobilized. They have yet to prove that Republican misinformation tying moderates to progressives swung a decisive number of voters in swing districts, and didn’t simply give a decisive number of Republican-leaning voters a reason to do what they were going to do anyway.
Perhaps some moderate Democrats, like Biden, ran good campaigns, and that’s why they won handily. Perhaps other moderate Democrats ran bad campaigns, and that’s why they lost or barely won. Perhaps still other moderate Democrats ran excellent campaigns, but barely won or had no chance of winning with Trump on the ballot. In the end, some moderate Democrats refused to recognize the source of their electoral struggles. They looked at the American people and spread misinformation about Democrats, just like Trump did.
In 2016, some Democrats blamed “economic anxiety” for their losses, instead of admitting that racist ideas, more than any other factor, distinguished Trump voters. It was politically sound for Democrats to dismiss the racist ideas of voters they hoped to win over in 2018. In 2020, they are blaming progressives, for much the same reason.
We’re all prone to making mistakes. I was wrong when I feared that a moderate Democrat would lose to Trump. I wrote a book that shared the times I was wrong about race. Progressives can be wrong; moderates can be wrong; conservatives can be wrong. But how many times do politicians admit they were wrong when they lose—that they were wrong for their constituents? It’s far more comfortable to find someone else to blame.
For Trump, the misinformation started long before Election Day. For Democrats, it started two days after Election Day. “The No. 1 concern in things that people brought to me in my [district] that I barely rewon was defunding the police,” Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger told her colleagues during a heated three-hour House Democratic Caucus conference call, claiming that such concerns had cost the party votes. Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib countered, “To be real, it sounds like you are saying stop pushing for what Black folks want.”
The attacks and counterattacks went on. House Speaker turned peacemaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus that the results weren’t as bad as they seemed. Democrats held on to 70 percent of the 30 Trump districts they’d won in 2018, she said. But peace did not come. The attacks from moderate Democrats (and the progressive counterattacks) traveled from the postelection call to social media to the news, and into the commentary of pundits, academics, and consultants.