The Democratic Party tipped the VA primary to Terry McAuliffe over two qualified female African-American VA legislators. That was a mistake.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, spoke to attendees about the necessity of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. Photo by Saffeya Ahmed. January 11, 2019. (photo: VCU Capital News Service)

“If we win, we win; if we lose, they cheated,” tweeted former journalist Dan Rather in the wake of Tuesday’s elections.

In fairness to the commenters expressing confusion, it wasn’t immediately clear to which party Rather was referring.

It isn’t as if Hillary Clinton’s five years of claiming the election was stolen from her in 2016 by Donald Trump can be erased from the public consciousness, an assertion that lost whatever shred of credibility remaining to it this week with the arrest of Steele Dossier source Igor Danchenko.

As a Democrat, if you’ve lost the New York Times, you’ve lost the plot.

Popular Democrat Stacey Abrams has insisted for even longer that Republicans somehow managed to steal the Georgia gubernatorial election from her. If Republicans could have done that, surely one of the two high-profile Senate races in the wake of 2020’s election might have gone their way.

In New York City, moderate Eric Adams- a former NYPD officer- ran on a tough-on-crime platform and won the Democratic primary in every borough but Manhattan, beating out all the other candidates to his left.

That is, Adams won after a discrepancy was noticed by sharp-eyed reporters and a recount revealed 120,000 “test” ballots counted by mistake.

Then there was the 2016 Democratic Party primary.

In all the hullabaloo that transpired in the wake of Donald Trump’s shocking election in 2016, not enough time was spent discussing why Clinton lost, or how Clinton became the nominee in the first place.

Donald Trump was a Russian agent, controlled by Melania, and the election was stolen for him by Vladimir Putin, the end. It was a good story, and commenters on the New York Times still like it, but it just isn’t true.

For Democrats to insist that U.S. elections were A.) so vulnerable to tampering in 2016 that Vladimir Putin was able to do it without leaving Moscow and B.) somehow also magically beyond reproach in 2020, is a bit rich, even for Independents.

Jill Stein, after all, has also been accused of being a Russian agent by Hillary Clinton, and on equally strong evidence as that presented against Donald Trump. That is to say, no evidence at all.

Clinton, Rachel Maddow, and the handful of Democratic stalwarts who still watch Maddow’s show, are the only ones who still believe the comforting fairy tale that Russians stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

But if Russia wasn’t the reason Hillary Clinton lost- and it wasn’t- why did Clinton lose the race she was only ever projected to win?

Well, first of all, after Tuesday’s debacle, there can be no doubt that polling has become about as useful at predicting the outcomes of elections as a Magic Eight Ball. Signs point to a massive string of failures on the part of pollsters, who are intentionally or unintentionally oversampling Democrats.

For proof, try to remember the last time a Republican was leading in the polls prior to election day- then went on to lose the election. It’s been a long time since Democrats managed an upset, though the opposite has happened more times than can be counted since 2016.

Like Terry McAuliffe recently in Virginia, or Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Clinton was never as strong a candidate as she appeared to be in the polls.

If she had been, she would have won by the landslide every pollster in America, and everywhere else, was predicting. No one, not even Donald Trump, thought Donald Trump would win in 2016.

Was Hillary Clinton really the strongest Democratic candidate in 2016? It was understood at the time that it was “her turn” after bowing out none too gracefully to newcomer Barack Obama in 2008. But that isn’t how the voters work, is it?

Joe Biden was supposed to perform better in 2020 than he did and down-ballot Democrats got an unexpected trouncing. Democrat candidates failed to prevail in 27 out of 27 toss-up House races they were favored to win.

If McAuliffe had been as strong as he looked in the polls, he would be Governor-elect today instead of Republican Glenn Youngkin. If Gov. Phil Murphy had really been ahead of his Republican challenger by double-digits the whole race, Murphy wouldn’t have come within 1,000 votes of losing the governorship in deep blue New Jersey.

The real problem isn’t polling, however; it isn’t wild-goose chases or debunked conspiracy theories about Russia.

What if the real problem is the Democratic primary process?

Terry McAuliffe didn’t lose because Republicans ran a better candidate; Terry McAuliffe lost because he wasn’t the Democratic Party’s best candidate in the first place.

He had the campaign dollars; he had the support of the Democratic Party proper due to his- to put it politely- Good Old Boys Network of Democratic Party connections.

The two highly-qualified female African-American candidates in the Democratic primary, current and former Virginia state elected officials both, did not have any such help.

Former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan had no national resources; no million dollar donors; no Clinton super-lawyers on speed dial; no Joe Biden, no Kamala Harris, no Barack Obama.

If the Democratic Party in Virginia, and elsewhere, didn’t think Virginia was ready to elect a Black female Governor, they were badly mistaken.

Jamaican-born Republican Winsome Sears made history when she was elected the state’s first Black female Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday.

Would Virginia Democrats have mobilized more, turned out in greater numbers, fought harder, knocked more doors to elect the state’s first Black woman governor?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

Just like we’ll never know if Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump in 2016. Lest anyone forgets, were it not for Democratic Party shenanigans during the 2016 primary, Sanders would have likely been the nominee.

After the Democratic Party coalesced around Joe Biden in 2020, edging out Bernie Sanders, it wasn’t so bad: Joe Biden was a popular moderate progressives felt they could push left, which they did.

Plus Sanders, it was presumed, benefitted from the same Good Old Boys Network, and was playing on a field reasonably level with Joe Biden.

Not so in the Virginia primary.

Part of the reason the Democratic Party pulled strings for Hillary Clinton in 2016- a political insider who certainly benefitted from the GOBN, if not by being a full member- was that they didn’t trust the Democratic electorate to make a good choice.

That is, a winning choice. One who can beat the Republican and be trusted to govern in accordance with Democratic Party principles. And certainly not anyone likely to embarrass the party.

The Democratic Party didn’t think Bernie Sanders fit that bill in 2016 as well as Hillary Clinton so they backed Clinton and sandbagged Sanders. In 2020, the same calculation was made with Joe Biden the winner.

In the Virginia primary for Governor, the Democratic Party was faced with the latter challenge concerning potential candidates: Embarrassment. What if the party didn’t get behind a safe bet like former-Governor Terry McAuliffe and Virginia voters selected their current Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax?

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been credibly accused of sexual assault by two women. Not only has he refused to resign, he has been quoted as saying the charges against him were good for his political career because they raised his public profile and increased his name recognition with voters.

It was with great trepidation that Democrats in leadership contemplated a nightmare scenario, the only thing worse than a Republican Governor in Virginia: A Democratic Governor elected on the notoriety of rape charges.

And so Terry McAuliffe became the nominee and went on to lose.

If the Democratic Party powers that be were really so concerned Fairfax would win in the primary, they should have backed McAuliffe and encouraged McAuliffe to step aside once selected.

An even better idea would have been to choose the strongest candidate in the race and get the Democratic Party Machine Inc. behind them.

If the outsize role of money is the problem, fix it; this isn’t overhauling the U.S. electoral system or eliminating the filibuster. This is the Democratic Primary process, which the Democratic Party fully controls.

Federally-funded political campaigns might be a progressive fantasy, but the Democratic Party could do something similar with a pool of DNC funds dispersed equitably to all candidates interested in running.

Progressive candidates keep getting shuffled to the back of the line, passed over for candidates seen as safer bets. But this isn’t a racetrack.

This is American Democracy.

Terry McAuliffe wasn’t the Democratic Party’s strongest candidate in Virginia. The Democratic Party establishment keeps backing moderate, safe candidates and they keep losing and/or underperforming on Election Day.

“Maybe now we stop clearing the primaries for Clintonite old white men?” an anonymous Democratic aide told the Daily Beast the day after the disastrous result in Virginia.

If Virginia Democrats had run Jennifer Carroll Foy or Jennifer McClellan, like they obviously should have, she would probably be Virginia’s new Governor-Elect today and Virginia could have become the first state in the union to elect a female African-American governor.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)