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As Dems take stock after losses, party is left to wonder, 'What if?'

Imagine an alternate timeline in which Democrats spent the last several months actually passing popular legislation and proving they could get things done.

Less than a week after Inauguration Day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and made the case that Democrats understood exactly what they had to do to succeed. The New York Democrat specifically emphasized the need for efficient policymaking: Spending months on bills that require weeks wouldn't work.

"Look at 2009, where we spent a year and a half trying to get something good done, ACA, Obamacare, and we didn't do all the other things that had to be done," Schumer said in January. "We will not repeat that mistake. We will not repeat that mistake."

The Democratic leader added, "[I]f we don't make progress, bad, bad, bad. We can have ... really bad outcomes."

In the months that followed, the party didn't make progress. The "really bad outcomes" were evident at the ballot box.

While election results are still being tallied, and we don't yet have answers about every race, Republicans clearly excelled in Virginia and ran much stronger than expected in New Jersey. And while local issues always play an important role in races like these, the national landscape didn't do Democrats any favors: President Joe Biden is not popular. Neither is the Democratic Congress, which hasn't advanced any major legislation in quite a while.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank summarized matters in a persuasive way:

Democrats in Congress had months to prove that they could legislate, to demonstrate that a government of the people, by the people and for the people could still function despite the creeping authoritarianism, the daily assaults on truth and the conspiracy-minded paranoia. They let President Biden down. They let the country down. And on Tuesday night, Terry McAuliffe paid the price.

Imagine an alternate timeline. Picture a scenario in which the White House's infrastructure and Build Back Better initiative, which began in February, was finalized and signed into law in August. Then imagine the economic impact of the legislative package and the degree to which Democrats could've spent the months leading up to Election Day boasting about their handiwork.

In this alternate timeline, we can also envision a scenario in which the Democratic Congress also passed the Freedom to Vote Act, among other popular progressive priorities.

Would Biden have a higher approval rating and greater political capital in this alternate timeline? Almost certainly, yes. Would Democrats be in a better position to tell voters they know how to get things done? Obviously. Would yesterday's election results have been better for Democrats?

Probably.

The question then becomes what lessons Democrats take from their disappointments. If some in the party recommend curling up into a fetal position and failing to deliver on the party's agenda, it would be wise to ignore them.