The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?
Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.
The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.
Democrats need to rethink the idea that these voters would have put Democratic House and Senate candidates over the top if only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were less radiantly socialist. They need to accept that they took hits on the economy by failing to escape the trap Republicans set by doggedly refusing to do anything about the uncontained contagion destroying it.
And they need to understand how Mr. Trump saved his party by weaponizing polarization. Conservatives needed a way not to get spun by the president’s destabilizing act of disloyalty, so they steadied themselves by reaffirming their loyalty down the remainder of the ballot. They were voting against a personal crisis of identity, not the Green New Deal.
Democrats might have done better had sunny polls and their own biased partisan perceptions not misled them into believing that backlash to indisputably damning Republican failure would deliver an easy Senate majority — but not much better. Until the mind-bending spell of polarization breaks, everything that matters will be fiercely disputed and even the most egregious failures will continue to go unpunished.
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