The good news for President Biden and his party is that they have come out of August in far better condition than they began it. The bad news is that they are now well aware of that fact but mostly oblivious to the reasons why.
The two flattering self-deceptions that are most irresistible in politics are 1) our side lost because we were too virtuous and unwilling to lie, cheat, and steal like the other guys, and 2) our side is winning because voters really like us.
The Republican Party has been gagging on the first one for almost two years and is consequently unable to either articulate a message about the future or temper the darkest, angriest voices inside the GOP. Democrats for most of the same period have been struggling with the second self-deception. In our time of intense negative partisanship, voters are more likely to be casting ballots against a candidate or party rather than for them. That was particularly the case in 2020, when the race was a referendum on the fitness of the incumbent. Donald Trump lost that election far more than Biden won it.
But since then, Democrats have struggled to understand that their party’s only discernible mandate was to stop the crazy cavitations of the Trump era. Surprise victories in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections handed Democrats the Senate and fed into the party’s self-congratulatory vibes, and helped obscure the truth: that Georgia and other red states weren’t as much getting more progressive as they were rejecting Republican kookism. What resulted was a mostly wasted year of Democratic internal debates over progressive priorities even as swing voters were making it clear that they were mostly worried about inflation and public safety.