It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Democrats entered 2021 supremely confident, as they looked to leverage their narrow majorities in Congress into revolutionary changes in the country.
The Republicans were dispirited and disunited. Donald Trump had been muzzled by Big Tech, and the January 6 riot inquiry promised weeks of bad headlines for the GOP.
But after a promising beginning, Democrats on the Hill have faltered and stumbled badly. They managed to pass a pandemic relief measure via the reconciliation process, but their efforts to pass an infrastructure bill appear dead in the water — even with a smattering of Republican support. The $2.5 trillion American Families Plan is also on hold as a couple of Democratic senators — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — have decided not to support the bill as it is currently written.
Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle has caused some top Democrats to criticize him, as gleeful Republicans pile on the hapless president. And now, over the next few weeks, Democrats face the prospect of losing two larger-than-life Democratic personalities who run two of the largest states in the union. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation takes effect next week. He’ll be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a political nobody whom few outside of New York politics had heard of.
And California Governor Gavin Newsom’s political future is very uncertain given the recall election he’ll be facing on September 14. He may even be replaced by a Republican if the voters successfully recall him.
In short, the Democrats’ fortunes are in free fall. And with a damaged Joe Biden, who will be able to rally the party in time for the 2022 elections?
Newsom’s dismissal would be painfully demoralizing to Democrats who wield total control over California’s government. It could also energize Republicans by showing they can win even in the bluest parts of the country. The GOP would inevitably frame Newsom’s defeat as a repudiation of Democratic governance.
“Don’t think for a second this isn’t also about 2022 and being able to hold the House. The consequences are profound,” Newsom said at a get-out-the-vote rally in San Jose on Monday. “A ‘no’ vote would be heard loud and clear, not only across this state, but across the country.”
A week ago, Newsom was begging Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to speak on his behalf in California, where both are very popular. Now, Newsom and his advisors are going to have to weigh the negative effects of “Bug Out Biden” coming to the state to stump for him.
The effects of a Newsom recall would be seismic.
Though the outcome of the recall is still weeks away, some Democrats are already fretting about the potential knock-on effects in New Jersey and Virginia, the only other states with gubernatorial elections later this year and ones that are often viewed as weather vanes for national political currents.
“Other than the Virginia governor’s race, this is the most important thing going on in the United States,’’ veteran Democratic strategist Garry South — who advised Gray Davis, the only previous California governor to be recalled — said of the Newsom recall effort.
It’s not so much that Cuomo could have made a difference in the midterm elections, although he has been a popular fundraiser for Democratic candidates in the past. Nor is a Gavin Newsom recall vote going to flip California red.
But political personalities like Cuomo and Newsom drive news coverage and fundraising efforts for the entire Democratic Party. Losing them would be especially fraught considering the trouble their party leader Joe Biden is in with the border crisis and the questioning of his competence to govern.