Their majority shrunk, House Democrats cast blame Thursday on their election message, ground game and leadership under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s team after expectations for big wins came crashing down by a stark reversal in Trump country.
They focused too narrowly on health care, when voters were also worried about the economy.
They failed to fight back when Republicans labeled them “socialists” aligned with the party’s most liberal firebrands.
They didn’t knock on doors to meet voters, focusing instead on phone calls, digital outreach and TV ads, due to the health risks of campaigning during the pandemic.
They lost Latino voters in some places, and white, working class men in others.
They did not pass more COVID aid through Congress when Americans needed help most.
And perhaps most importantly, Democrats are coming to grips with the fact that whether President Donald Trump is e-elected or defeated by rival Joe Biden, they still have a problem understanding and winning over Trump voters.
Lawmakers unloaded during a caucus call Thursday — Democratic freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger, in a so-tight race in Virginia, spoke with “passion” about the party’s campaign failures, according to a person familiar with the private call and granted anonymity to discuss it.
The marathon call ran three hours, with some 30 members adding their views.
No one spoke against Pelosi, who tried to remind them, they did, in fact, win: Biden is on the verge of replacing Trump, and House Democrats are on track to keep their majority, according to another person familiar with the call and granted anonymity to discuss it.
“We did not win every battle but we did win the war,” Pelosi said.
But there were plenty of complaints to go around — over faulty polling, Republican attack ads — as expectations had been raised sky high for election night gains and that made the setbacks all the more disorienting.
Rather than bolstering their majority, as planned, Democrats lost a handful of freshman lawmakers who had just won in a 2018 midterm election backlash against the president. They also failed to add to their ranks as Republicans defeated one Democratic challenger after another.
Several Democrats said the “socialist” label particularly harmed lawmakers who lost seats in Florida with its vast Cuban and Venezuelan communities who largely reject socialist ideologies.
Murphy said the House leadership team was putting “lipstick on a pig” by touting the overall election outcome as a success.
“This playing footsies with socialism is not going to win over most of America,” she said. “There’s no amount of lipstick that can cover up the fact that these far left ideas are costing us races.”
But progressive ideas were also defended on the call, said another person granted anonymity to discuss it.
Other Democrats argued it was always going to be difficult to defend the House majority. It was won in 2018 with more women and minority candidates in history, reaching into districts Trump had won in 2016. Holding onto those seats would be tougher once the president was back on the ballot.
In defeating Democrats, Republicans filled many of the seats with more women and minority candidates than ever, after their ranks of both had dwindled to single digit numbers in the House.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) reportedly took issue with such concerns, and at one point pulled the race card: “To be real, it sounds like you are saying stop pushing for what Black folks want.” It’s not clear to whom Tlaib’s remarks were directed.
Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), on the other hand, reportedly agreed with Spanberger’s remarks about professionalism, prompting backlash from Tlaib on Twitter.
“It’s unrealistic and unprofessional to be okay with people dying because air pollution is causing cancer in their communities. It’s unrealistic and unprofessional to look away while Black folks get gunned down in the streets by police,” tweeted Tlaib.