Political Earthquake: Democratic Panic Rises as Virginia Loss Exposes the Party’s Failures

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The menacing thunder couldn’t get much louder for Democrats.

Few in the party had high hopes that their era of rule in Washington would last beyond the midterm elections next year. But the Republican resurgence on Tuesday in Virginia — a state that President Biden won by 10 percentage points last year — and surprising strength in solidly blue New Jersey offer a vivid warning of the storm clouds gathering as Democrats look warily to the horizon.

For five years, the party rode record-breaking turnouts to victory, fueled by voters with a passion for ousting a president they viewed as incompetent, divisive or worse. Tuesday’s results showed the limitations of such resistance politics when the object of resistance is out of power, the failure of Democrats to fulfill many of their biggest campaign promises, and the still-simmering rage over a pandemic that transformed schools into some of the country’s most divisive political battlegrounds.

In Virginia, the Democratic nominee for governor, Terry McAuliffe, was beaten with relative ease by Glenn Youngkin, a Republican private equity executive and political newcomer.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, faced a stunningly close race after being expected to coast to victory. In Minneapolis, voters rejected a ballot measure pushed by progressives that would have replaced the Police Department with a public safety department.

Perhaps most strikingly, the crushing setbacks for Democrats in heavily suburban Virginia and New Jersey hinted at a conservative-stoked backlash to the changing mores around race and identity championed by the party, as Republicans relentlessly sought to turn schools into the next front in the country’s culture wars.

For Democrats, the results on the nation’s single biggest day of voting until the midterms next year raised alarms that the wave of anti-Trump energy that carried them into power has curdled into apathy in a base that is tired of protesting and is largely back at brunch. Or, in what would be even more politically perilous, that the party’s motivation has been replaced by a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of a country that has, despite all of Mr. Biden’s campaign promises, not yet returned to a pre-Covid sense of normalcy.