‘It’s Time to Head for the Lifeboats’: Democratic Fatalism Intensifies


The collective mood of Democratic insiders has darkened appreciably in recent weeks.

Pollsters and prognosticators are forecasting increasingly dire results for their party in the November midterm elections. Inflation, the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters, is accelerating. And despite a booming job market, the president’s average approval rating hasn’t budged since January, when it settled into the low 40s.

“Are you calling to ask me about our impending doom?” one Democratic strategist quipped at the outset of a recent phone call.

“The vibes just feel very off,” said Tré Easton, a progressive consultant.

Others use words like “horrible” and “debacle” to describe a political environment that has gone from bad to worse over the last three months. Many fault the White House for steering President Biden too far to the left as he sought to pass social spending legislation stuffed with progressive priorities. Some see the president as a wounded figure who has failed to establish himself as the unequivocal leader of his fractious party.

“It’s going to be a terrible cycle for Democrats,” said Doug Sosnik, a former political adviser to Bill Clinton. Democrats have only a matter of weeks, he said, to try to alter the contours of a race that will largely be determined by factors beyond their control.

One sign of the alarm rippling through the party: Some Democratic politicians have begun creating distance between themselves and the president. Senate candidates are stampeding to break with the administration’s immigration policies, for instance. Other moves are more subtle, such as those of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who quietly removed the president’s name from news releases about federally funded infrastructure projects.

“What you’re seeing is people feeling like it’s time to head for the lifeboats rather than trying to steer the ship,” said Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary who worked under Barack Obama.

A sense of fatalism is setting in among many, with discussions centering increasingly on how to limit the party’s expected losses rather than how to gain new seats. In Arizona, for example, some Democrats are losing confidence that they will be able to flip the State House, a major target for national party strategists this year.


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