West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's rejection of the Build Back Better spending bill was not a surprise given how frequently he reiterated his opposition to large elements of the bill. But Democrats allowed the delusions of their own popularity to guide them after taking control of Congress and the White House.
In November 2020, President Joe Biden won the presidency in an election that was closer than the final Electoral College count indicated. Democrats held on to the House of Representatives but lost seats en route to a narrow majority. When they pulled off the upset in the Georgia Senate runoffs, they took a 50-50 majority in the upper chamber by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker.
Democrats had won unified control of the federal government, but it was by the slimmest possible margins. Nevertheless, they assumed they could do whatever they want because they are always certain that their policies are wildly popular and that, deep down, everyone agrees with them.
It’s a tendency best illustrated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Were you to listen to Sanders, the bill is “supported overwhelmingly by the American people.” He has repeatedly condemned the idea that a bill this popular could be thwarted by one or two senators, ignoring the 50 Republican senators who also oppose the bill. Sanders has gone as far as to say that Manchin will need to answer to his constituents in ruby-red West Virginia over his opposition to the bill.
If you believe statements such as "polls show BBB is super popular in West Virigina!" then I have a bridge over the Monongahela River to sell you. BBB polls just barely better than breakeven nationally. It is not going to be popular in a state Biden lost by 39 points.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 20, 2021
This is the delusion Democrats in the House, Senate, and Biden administration have bought into, but it is not reality. According to a Morning Consult/Politico poll, 49% of people support the Build Back Better bill (which is not a majority, let alone “overwhelming”). That same poll showed that 43% of people think it will make inflation worse. Meanwhile, a more recent NPR/Marist poll put support for the bill at 41%, which is far less than the 51% who voted for Biden in 2020.
Democrats think that everyone supports them and their policies deep down. This is why they focus on boosting turnout (which did not work as well as they thought last November) and blame their failures on miscommunication rather than voters rejecting their policies. Voters who oppose them are voting “against their own interests.” When they lose elections, it’s because of gerrymandering, or voter suppression, or racism.
When you think like that, you think you can pass a very liberal wish list with the narrowest of margins because of public pressure that does not exist. The fact is that it’s not even clear that Manchin is the only senator opposed to the bill. Manchin has been a human shield for more vulnerable Democrats, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has been telling people other Democrats aren’t on board.
Democrats will not get the message here. Republicans are on track to take the House and potentially the Senate, while Biden’s approval rating has been underwater for months. That will be blamed on Manchin and voter suppression because Democrats think they can never really lose. After all, everyone loves their policies — so much so that they can’t wait to vote the Democratic Party out of power as soon as possible.