But Tuesday’s results are a sign that significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party, including on priorities like Build Back Better, which have some strong provisions and some discretionary ones driving up the price tag. The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government, should not be dismissed.
Tuesday was not just about Republicans reclaiming electoral ground from Democrats. Even in many blue enclaves, voters showed an interest in moving toward the center. In Buffalo, N.Y., the democratic socialist who bested the current mayor, Byron Brown, in the Democratic primary appears to be losing to Mr. Brown’s write-in campaign. In Minneapolis, a referendum to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety went down in flames. In the New York mayoral race, voters went with Eric Adams, a moderate Democrat who ran with a focus on law and order. “Progressives on the ropes?” asked The Seattle Times, in a postelection piece noting that “the more moderate, business-backed candidates in the city’s three most watched races surged to huge and likely insurmountable leads.”
Progressives notched some notable wins for mayor in Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. But progressive wins in deep-blue cities aren’t evidence of broad, national support.
Many Americans, across party lines, are concerned about crime and border security and inflation. The high price of gas is causing particular pain. More than 60 percent of voters hold the Biden administration responsible for inflation. Polls show that many independents already think that the government is trying to do too much to deal with the nation’s problems.
For many voters — especially those who don’t vote regularly — the 2020 election was about removing Mr. Trump from the White House. It was less about policy or ideology. Mr. Biden did not win the Democratic primary because he promised a progressive revolution. There were plenty of other candidates doing that. He captured the nomination — and the presidency — because he promised an exhausted nation a return to sanity, decency and competence. “Nobody elected him to be F.D.R.,” Representative Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, told The Times after Tuesday’s drubbing. “They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.”
Democrats should work to implement policies to help the American people. Congress should focus on what is possible, not what would be possible if Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and — frankly — a host of lesser-known Democratic moderates who haven’t had to vote on policies they might oppose were not in office.
Democrats agree about far more than they disagree about. But it doesn’t look that way to voters after months and months of intraparty squabbling. Time to focus on — and pass — policies with broad support. Or risk getting run out of office.