House Election Results Prompt Democrats Debating Socialism, Defunding Police, and Campaign Strategy


In the wake of his projected 2020 presidential election victory, Joe Biden’s campaign is making moves towards becoming the Biden administration. But as questions remain about which party will have a majority in the Senate pending two Georgia elections expected to go to January 5 runoffs, questions have also been raised about the shrinking Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. An intraparty debate about how and why Democrats had a net loss of seats broke out last week and continued into the weekend, as a factional divide between the party’s moderate establishment and upstart progressives is already evolving in response to results in these elections.

At the root of the disagreements is a complicated question: Did progressives’ embrace of concepts like socialism and defunding the police hurt the party’s messaging or did moderates’ lackluster campaigns ultimately cost them their elections? At stake in the dispute is the authority to determine why Democrats lost seats in the House — despite hopes they might gain some — and what the lessons of those losses mean for the party moving forward.

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The arguing started on Thursday as the world continued its long wait for the presidential election results to become clear. As the Washington Post reported, House Democrats had a heated exchange that lasted hours. Remarks from Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA spy who flipped a seat from red to blue in 2018, became a flash point of the dispute at the center of this episode.

Calling Tuesday a failure from a congressional standpoint, Spanberger advocated for the Democratic caucus to watch the well-funded political attack ads that were “shellacking” Democrats in the run-up to the election, arguing that their efficacy was a warning against certain kinds of messaging.

“The number one concern and thing that people brought to me in my [race] that I barely rewon was defunding the police,” Spanberger said. “And I’ve heard from colleagues who have said, ‘Oh, it’s the language of the streets. We should respect that.’ We’re in Congress. We are professionals.”

Spanberger said that, as congressional professionals, Democrats need to say what they mean on issues like defunding police. Later in her remarks, she specifically called for banishing the word socialism from their political vernacular.

“We need to not ever use the words socialist or socialism ever again, because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of that,” Spanberger said. She went on to say that her background with the CIA had trained her to assess what went right and what went wrong, and advocated for better messaging around Democratic policy and doing so informed by the attack ads against Democrats.

Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — the House majority whip and the person some credit for Biden’s success in the South Carolina primary and eventual ascension to the Democratic nomination — was similarly critical of calls to defund police in several appearances this weekend, as USA Today reported, arguing that they not only cost Democrats House seats but also could harm the Black Lives Matter movement. Representative Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who has a narrow lead in his reelection race, told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday that his constituents were most worried about language like defunding police and banning fracking.



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