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Dear Moderates: The Left Isn’t Why McAuliffe Lost Virginia

Win McNamee/Getty Images Nothing motivates conservative Democrats like an excuse for inaction, and Virginia’s sucker punch of a gubernatorial election Tuesday night offered a golden opportunity for them to pump the legislative brakes.

Let’s own the bad news: after an increasingly vitriolic campaign centered around the bogeyman of “Critical Race Theory,” Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat and former Governor Terry McAuliffe to end what has been a successful and effective streak of Democratic victories in the Old Dominion dating back nearly a decade. In the race to place blame, the centrists zeroed in on their left flank.

To a progressive, it feels like many centrist Democrats spent the past few weeks quietly hoping McAuliffe would lose — or at least scrape soberingly close to a loss. With McAuliffe’s defeat sure to turn Democratic jitters into a full-on 2022 panic, centrists are racing to shift blame onto progressives even if that narrative makes no actual sense .

Montana Sen. Jon Tester was so eager to start firing on the left that he accepted McAuliffe’s defeat before Virginia counted even a single vote. On Tuesday morning, Tester told Politico the Progress Caucus’ failure to ink a deal with Manchin on spending could sink McAuliffe. “We haven’t gotten anything done,” Tester snapped. “That says enough about their strategy.”

In his blind swiping for a lefty scapegoat, Tester gets to the heart of a real problem. Beltway animals like Tester, Manchin, and cable news anchors love to draw sweeping political lessons from Virginia’s off-year elections, but they’re imperfect-at-best augurs. That’s especially true this year, when the Virginia GOP effectively rewrote its entire political rulebook to prevent a full-on Trumpist takeover. Democrats should read into their political future with caution.

Democrats worried about 2022 don’t need a crystal ball to understand what needs to be done. Supermajorities of Americans are already shouting their preferences: They want as much of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda as possible — and a Democratic Party willing to stand behind his ambitious and necessary promises. The worst thing that could possibly happen, then, is for the party’s conservatives to read McAuliffe’s loss as a sign that Americans are turned off by the Democratic agenda.

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