9 things we learned about U.S. politics in 2021


Our position at the end of the year is largely disappointed and angry with each other. A good chunk of Republicans are mad because they believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and that’s why Democrats are running things. A good chunk of Democrats are angry not only that so many Republicans are downplaying the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6, but also that their party leaders were able to implement so little of the bold agenda. that they had promised.

Thinking back to the dozen months that made up 2021, here are some specific things we’ve learned or re-learned about American politics.

1. It’s always a question of economy, stupid

There was probably not a single day in 2021 when the most important news was about the economy. That distinction generally went to something relating to the pandemic, or the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, or the withdrawal from Afghanistan, or the mass shootings, to name a few.

But the economy remained the dominant issue in the minds of voters, according to polls. Indeed, it was the number one issue in closely watched races for the governor of Virginia and New Jersey.

The economic picture was not limited to the employment growth numbers that were hopelessly slow in the fall, the number of people leaving their jobs or a tipsy stock market that has hit several records. The economy was also felt by consumers who had to contend with the highest levels of inflation in 40 years, which particularly affected the prices of gasoline and basic groceries. Indeed, the days of watching gas prices for political clues are definitely back.

2. Republicans don’t pay the January 6 price

The year began when some Republicans publicly declared that the deadly attack on the Capitol building on January 6 was not only bad, but that their party would pay a political price for a very long time to come.

But aside from Trump’s immediate impeachment, Republicans have been largely successful in convincing the public to move on. No, not everyone has moved on. A bipartisan congressional committee investigating the attack is just beginning. Some members of Trump’s inner circle face criminal penalties. Dozens of rioters are sent to prison. But politically, no mind changes with each revelation, and no one seems to resign or risk losing their seat because of their actions involving that day.

When the impeachment process began, some wondered, perhaps as Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell hoped, that the party would part ways with Trump. This does not happen.

3. Latinos are America’s most interesting swing voters

There is continued interest among political agents in white women as a key electoral bloc. It’s understandable. They made up a large portion – 39% – of voters in the 2020 election. It was obvious that the key to winning the 2000 election was to win over white women in the suburbs. Yes, soccer moms.

But here’s the truth: White women have almost always voted Republican in presidential elections. And while a wobble percentage here and there may decide some elections, as was the case in the 2018 midterm elections in favor of the Democrats, following the 2020 election, it is clear that There is a new swing voter bloc: the Latinos.

While the strategy with white women is marginal, the diversity among Latino voters shows how volatile the rapidly growing group is in the political landscape.

Consider this: In the 2020 election just over a year ago, polls showed 60% of Latino voters voted for Democratic candidates for the US House and Senate. In 2021 something happened, at least according to a Wall Street Journal survey conducted by top pollsters for the Biden and Trump campaigns. In December, the poll found that only 37% would support a Democrat in Congress, 37% would support a Republican and 22% were undecided.

No, Latino voters are not homogeneous. Latino men backed Republicans by a 16-point margin while women favored Democrats by 17-point margin. There were also huge differences based on education, with the higher educated likely to support Democrats, as was the nation as a whole.

The engine of change: the economy, which Latinos favored under Donald Trump.

4. We know who Joe Manchin is

Prior to 2021, Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, was not a household name. At the close of 2021, it must be difficult for anyone interested in politics from a distance not to know who they are and to have an opinion on them.

As President Biden once told reporters, when there is a 50-50 Senate, each senator has presidential veto power because he could be the deciding vote.

Yet, bill after bill, it was Manchin who wielded this power. Often times, Manchin worked in concert with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, to push back on points supported by the rest of the Senate Democrats. But it was Manchin at the end of the year who put an end to the Build Back Better legislation, shutting down Biden’s national agenda.

5. America’s most bipartisan belief last year: China is a problem

Yes, America in 2021 was extremely politically polarized. But this is the year when the confrontation with the Chinese Communist Party becomes a unifying act.

Beyond perhaps the designation of post offices, no issue has garnered wider support in Congress than taking action to curb China’s rise and calling China for various reasons. One example at the end of the year was a ban on imports of goods from China’s Xinjiang region, unless companies can prove that no forced labor was used to make those products. Only one congressman, Kentucky Republican Representative Tom Massie, opposed it, while 428 House members voted in favor.

The Biden administration has also pivoted U.S. foreign policy so that concerns about China are paramount. Yes, America had already vowed to leave Afghanistan, but for Biden, the decision to follow through had less to do with ending a 20-year war on terror than with spending time, resources and attention to China. The Democracy Summit? It is about China. Are you working on the climate change summit? China. Ensure that African nations have access to American vaccines? It was to counter China. And having a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China is obvious at first glance.

6. Education is no longer a winning democratic issue

For a lifetime, Democrats have benefited when the conversation turned to education. It was the party that wanted to talk about education, spend more money on it, and was fully supported by the teachers’ unions.

But in 2021, it was the Republicans who wanted to talk about education. The Conservatives were able to annoy their base with the idea that something called Critical Race Theory was being taught in public schools, even though there were very few instances where this turned out to be true.

Either way, prominent Republicans couldn’t help but talk about the CRT and benefited from the cultural backlash that followed after the Black Lives Matter movement took on new importance following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. And Democrats often tried to find something else to discuss.

7. Vice President Harris is not the apparent Democratic heir

Few American politicians have had a worse year in 2021 than Vice President Harris. She entered the year by making history. She not only was sworn in as the first female vice president, but also broke barriers as a black and Asian woman.

Politically, his new status also meant something. The last time a vice president in a Democratic administration lost the contest to be his party’s presidential candidate was when Alben Barkley lost to Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

In other words, she was created to be the heir to the Democratic presidential nomination, if not the presidency.

But a lot has changed since then. His detractors are right that the blame goes to his self-imposed mistakes, one after another, in press interviews. His supporters are also right that the Biden administration didn’t exactly set up the vice president to be successful: handing him things like stopping the flow of migrants to the country’s southern border and adoption. of a new draft law on voting rights. (Update: No politician could single-handedly stop the migrants, who always arrive, or get the franchise bill to go somewhere.)

But critics and supporters alike agree: Harris’ vice-presidency is not going well, and now it’s open season to discuss another potential main opponent for Harris when the day comes.

8. Republicans are not overtaking Trump

Trump doesn’t walk into the Oval Office or have Air Force One to take him wherever he wants, but he has Mar-a-Lago, and now people are coming to him. Trump is the leader of the Republican Party in a way he wasn’t even during his presidency. Because he’s not in front of the press every day and because he doesn’t make decisions on behalf of the country, no Republican is asked to run away from him. And that means everyone is running towards him.

Which is beyond doubt: His endorsement is golden in Republican politics for any office. Indeed, no former president has been able to have a stranglehold on the Republican Party like Trump does, even Ronald Reagan and certainly not Teddy Roosevelt.

9. Democrats are in disarray

While Republicans don’t have a cohesive ideology, they do have an identity (Trump). Democrats end the year in disarray. Here are the things they promised to fix if elected: climate change, gun control, police reform, higher taxes on the rich, universal pre-k, expansion of health care, human rights. vote and path to citizenship for immigrants. None of these happened in 2021.

To be clear, there are a lot of things they can celebrate. They control Washington and have done great things like an infrastructure bill.

But they ended the year uncertain of the party’s leadership and the direction of the agenda. After all, Democrats have power, and what exactly are they going to do in 2022 – besides possibly losing power to Republicans in the midterm election?

James Pindell can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @jamespindell.


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