WASHINGTON – Democrats cried, cursed and traded blame Thursday at a special party meeting to dissect this week’s disappointing election results, agreeing on little except that they needed a ” deep dive ”into how they ended up with painful losses that weakened The House majority instead of the big gains they had boldly predicted.
In a caucus meeting held by phone that was their first group conversation since election day, President Nancy Pelosi and Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who led the party’s election campaign, defended their efforts. Democrats expressed frustration at the loss of eight of their members – and a net loss of six seats, with 36 races still undecided – which had left them a tighter margin of control.
Party leaders noted that Democrats appeared on track to hold the House, thanks to the incumbents’ relentless victories in competitive districts, and that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared to be heading for a victory , according to seven people on the call who requested anonymity to disclose a conversation that was meant to be private.
“We did not win all the battles, but we won the war,” said Ms Pelosi.
But on the call, which lasted three hours and gave an overview of divisions among Democrats over how to exercise their power and define their message, Ms Bustos admitted that things had gone wrong. She said she was “gutted” and “heartbroken” by the losses.
“Something has gone wrong,” Ms Bustos said, accusing the electorate of incorrectly modeling in the polls and promising “deep analysis” of the issue. “They all pointed to a political environment, but the voters who turned out looked a lot like 2016.”
“We have protected the only firewall of our democracy,” she added. “Now, hopefully and probably with Joe Biden to take over the White , we are now in a position to put our priorities into action because we have held onto this fragile majority.”
It was a bitter pill for Democrats who had been overwhelmed days earlier on their chances. On polling day, Ms Pelosi and Ms Bustos sang about their chances of success. Ms Pelosi cited predictions that the party could win five, 10 or even 20 seats and expressed concern that “fewer than a handful of incumbents”. The two women, however, declined to come up with their own precise predictions.
But on Thursday, one of the incumbents they hadn’t worried about, Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was defeated Tuesday night as President Trump won a resounding victory in his Miami neighborhood, broke down in tears as the that she was talking to him soon. – former colleagues on internal divisions of the party.
“We have a divided America,” Mucarsel-Powell said on the call. “Keep fighting for the kids or whatever you believe in, but if you have a problem pick up the phone – don’t tweet it.”
Representative Abigail Spanberger, who narrowly escaped defeat on Wednesday in a conservative-leaning neighborhood in Virginia that Democrats also believed to be safe, berated her progressive colleagues for embracing the ‘defund the police’ movement and for failing to push back with force the accusations of socialism. If Democrats did not recognize the election results as a “failure” and strategies for change, she said, using an expletive to emphasize, they would be “crushed” in the next election.
Ms. Pelosi objected to this.
“I don’t agree, Abigail, that this is a failure,” she said. “We won the house.”
Ms Bustos, who was only narrowly re-elected herself, highlighted the success of the so-called frontlines, around 40 mostly freshman Democrats, including Ms Spanberger, who have traditionally held seats in districts preservatives. While some lost this week, most were set for victory.
“These were seats that were in Trump country, and we were able to keep 30 seats that are Trump districts, and that’s no small feat,” she said.
Ms Bustos also defended the Democrats’ offensive push deeper into Republican territory, a move that yielded few revivals and some members said incumbents left incumbents insufficiently protected.
The losses for the Democrats included freshmen in swing districts – like Reps Joe Cunningham from South Carolina, Xochitl Torres Small from New Mexico, Kendra Horn from Oklahoma and Abby Finkenauer from Iowa – but also a veteran, Representative Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, who heads the Agriculture Committee and has served in the House for three decades.
One of the biggest surprises of the election occurred in South Florida, where Mr. Trump made significant inroads among Cuban Americans. Along with Ms. Mucarsel-Powell, Representative Donna E. Shalala, another first-term Democrat representing the Miami area, lost.
Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-tier Democrat, said the party needed to overcome racial animosity in the electorate and had to shy away from certain far-left policies that alienated key segments of voters if Democrats wanted to win a pair of Senate seats currently at stake in Georgia.
“These two seats give us the opportunity to change the dynamics in the Senate, but we are going to have to win these seats to do so,” he said. He cautioned against running for “Medicare for all or defeating the police or socialized medicine,” adding that if Democrats pursue such policies, “we’re not going to win.”
Texas Rep. Marc Veasey warned colleagues against anti-break-in speech, saying voters in South Texas did not want to say, “They hear, ‘Cut jobs.”
But some progressives have urged not to shy away from liberal policies they say galvanized the party’s main supporters.
Representative Pramila Jayapal from Washington, a leader of the Progressive Caucus, said that “the participation of our progressive base” would be the crucial factor in the election of Mr. Biden.
“It’s a huge victory,” Ms. Jayapal said. “We didn’t get the repudiation from Trump that we wanted, but we trained a lot of young people, brown and black. Don’t be so quick to blame the members who have been tasked with energizing these groups, who will ultimately save the day in the race for the White House.