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“It All Burns”: Cornell Belcher on What Happens if the GOP Takes the House

TNR editor Michael Tomasky talks with Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher about Virginia, race, and whether Democrats can change the dynamic heading into 2022.

Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster and strategist and the founder and president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies in Washington, D.C. He helped Howard Dean on the “50-state strategy” when Dean was chair of the Democratic National Committee, and he polled for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. He’s also regularly seen on MSNBC.

In a New Republic story by Daniel Strauss that ran the morning of Election Day last Tuesday, Belcher was quoted as saying, with respect to the possibility of a Terry McAuliffe loss in the Virginia governor’s race, “Hit the fucking panic button, because all hell’s going to break loose.” I began by asking him about that quote and whether, with a week’s hindsight, panic is still the order of the day. Belcher walks through McAuliffe’s mistakes, Glenn Youngkin’s savvier moves, the role of critical race theory, the role of the pandemic, and more.

Then the conversation broadens out and turns forward-looking as we discuss the coming midterms. The Democrats, says Belcher, have to find a way to counter the dominant narrative that they are doomed next year. Saying “what we did for you,” argues Belcher, won’t be enough. Democrats have to pass bills like the infrastructure bill while also finding ideas that will stir passion in their base voters: “How about let’s build more bridges and save democracy?”

And if Democrats can’t change the dynamic, and the Republicans recapture the House next year? Well, it’s summed up in the three words that open the headline above. It is, to put it mildly, not typical political-consultant speak.