It’s highly unlikely, however, that the former president will let other Republicans sidestep him in next year’s midterm elections the way Mr. Youngkin did. The party’s victory in Virginia may only lull Republicans into believing that Mr. Trump no longer poses a dilemma and can be indefinitely averted, the sort of thinking many party leaders have clung to for more than six years.
For now, though, it’s Democrats who will suffer the most as their moderate-versus-liberal intraparty tensions flare in Washington and beyond and officials blame one another for the defeat.
Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, was blunt in her criticism of national Democrats for their losses on Tuesday. “I would encourage those people across the river that could pass legislation to give relief to working families that maybe they better wake up and think about what next year is going to look like now,” Ms. Swecker said.
However, even before polls closed Tuesday, one senior adviser to Mr. Biden was fuming over talking points issued by the Democratic Governors Association, which pointed to the president’s dimming popularity. It was not Mr. Biden, this adviser said, but Mr. McAuliffe who handed Republicans a political weapon as they sought to tap into parents’ anger over local school boards.
The moment came in a September debate, when Mr. McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
For Democrats, part of the reason the loss was so painful was because it was so familiar.
The last time a Republican won the Virginia governorship, in 2009, the party’s nominee rode a backlash against President Barack Obama to a 17-point victory, carrying densely populated suburbs like Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. That victory presaged a Republican wave the following year that turned over control of the House to the G.O.P. and stymied Mr. Obama for the balance of his time in office.
It was a scenario that Democrats fear could come to pass again in 2022 unless Mr. Biden regains voter confidence.