During a rally for Terry McAuliffe, Kamala Harris declared that “what happens in Virginia will, in large part, determine what happens in 2022, 2024, and on.” Like much of what Harris says, this statement is false. There will be no causal relationship between this year’s Virginia election and the elections in 2022 and 2024.
It’s true, though, that the Virginia results are a bad sign for the Democrats’ prospects in 2022. George Allen’s victory in that state’s 1993 gubernatorial race (Republican Christine Todd Whitma won in New Jersey the same year) was followed by a wipeout of Democrats in the 1994 congressional races. And Bob McDonnell’s victory in 2009 was followed by a huge Republican year in 2010.
However, I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from last night when it comes to the 2024 presidential race. Readers will probably remember that three years after the GOP Virginia wins in 1993 and 2009, incumbent Democrats were reelected president. Three years isn’t “a lifetime” in politics, but it’s a long time.
Bill Clinton changed course after the 1994 wipeout. He brought in Dick Morris and “triangulated” with Republicans.
Barack Obama didn’t triangulate, but after 2010 he stopped pushing the envelope for two years. For example, he resisted calls to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.
I don’t expect Joe Biden to react much to the Virginia race. (Clinton and Obama didn’t.) There will be plenty of congressional Democrats pushing him to stay the course. And it will be easy enough for him to blame the bad news from Virginia and New Jersey (whichever way that race ends up going) on the failure to push the leftist agenda through Congress — ridiculous as that claim seems.
A wipeout in 2022, if it happens, should be enough to cause Biden-Harris to either change course or at least pull back. Lord knows it shouldn’t be difficult to triangulate between Republicans and the Democratic left. Biden did it some extent when he ran for president last year. Indeed, I can’t think of a contemporary politician who has changed course more often than Joe Biden.
But there’s a very good chance that, by some time in 2023 if not before, Biden will have decided not to run for reelection. Thus, he may not see much need to change course or pull back, even if the Dems are routed next year.
One advantage the Democrats might have in 2024 that they didn’t enjoy (or need) in 1996 and 2012 is Donald Trump. He is a potential spoiler for Republicans — either as the GOP nominee or as a disgruntled loser in a quest for the nomination.
The Virginia and New Jersey races illustrate that Republicans can hold rural areas, continue to make inroads with minority group members, and cut deeply into Democratic margins in the suburbs by running attractive conservative candidates who don’t come across as too angry and too threatening.
However, in 2024 there may still be plenty of pro-Trump voters who aren’t tired of, or who have forgotten about or denied, all the losing the GOP endured in 2018 and 2020.