The center of gravity in American politics moved left in Tuesday’s off-year elections.I hope it swings fast and seizes solid somewhat left of center.
Republicans took a big step back from the tea party. An ebullient progressive was elected mayor of New York City. And a Democrat was elected governor of Virginia after campaigning unapologetically as a supporter of gun control and a liberal on social issues.
And in the one direct intraparty fight over the GOP’s future, a tea party candidate lost a primary in Alabama to a more traditional conservative. A telling distinction between the victor, Bradley Byrne, and the defeated Dean Young: Byrne said that Obama was born in the United States; Young suggested the president was born in Kenya.
Young’s persistent “birtherism” is a reminder of how far right the American political discussion veered after the elections of 2009 and the midterms of 2010. The pendulum is swinging back.
Republicans would be wiser to pay attention to the fact that McAuliffe re-created the coalition that twice elected Obama. When Democrats lost Virginia in 2009, Obama supporters stayed home in large numbers. This time, the electorate was significantly more Democratic, and the African American share of the vote rose sharply. In next year’s midterms, Republicans cannot count on the sort of Democratic demobilization that was helpful to them in 2010.Shorter: We're winning. Continue the march.
To say that this election nudged the nation leftward is not to claim a sudden mandate for liberalism. But it is to insist that the center ground in American politics is a long way from where it was three years ago — and that if there is a new populism in the country, it is now speaking with a decidedly progressive accent.