02 Abigail Spanberger FILE
CNN  — 

On a call with her colleagues Thursday – less than 48 hours after House Democrats failed to gain the seats that their leaders and political prognosticators predicted they would – Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) stopped being polite, and started being real.

“If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we will get [expletive] torn apart in 2022,” Spanberger said bluntly. “That’s the reality.”

She went on to highlight two main reasons for Democrats ” los[ing] members who shouldn’t have lost”:

1) The pervasiveness of the “defund the police” message

As Spanberger put it:

“The number one concern in things that people brought to me in my [district] that I barely re-won, was defunding the police. And I’ve heard from colleagues who have said ‘Oh, it’s the language of the streets. We should respect that.’ We’re in Congress. We are professionals. We are supposed to talk about things in the way where we mean what we’re talking about. If we don’t mean we should defund the police, we shouldn’t say that.”

2) The talk of socialism

Again, Spanberger:

“We want to talk about funding social services, and ensuring good engagement in community policing, let’s talk about what we are for. And we need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again. Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.”

Spanberger knows of what she speaks. She represents a central Virginia seat that went for President Donald Trump by 6 points in 2016 – and where she appears to have barely eked out a victory by less than 5,000 votes on Tuesday. Her race, like that of many House Democrats representing suburban areas – Spanberger’s seat includes the western suburbs of Richmond – was far closer than most pre-election predictions suggested. The Cook Political Report, for example, rated Spanberger’s seat as “lean Democratic.”

Broadly understood, Spanberger was blasting liberals in the House Democratic conference for advocating policies and views that might be popular in their overwhelmingly Democratic districts but that endangered their colleagues in swing seats, where the majority is typically won and lost.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most visible liberals in the party, immediately pushed back on the notion that liberals hurt swing district Democrats in 2020.

“You can’t just tell the Black, Brown, & youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us,” she tweeted. “Or wonder why they don’t show up for midterms when they’re scolded for existing. Esp when they’re delivering victories.”

Added AOC: “And btw I’m happy to cede ground on things that aren’t working in some areas! But finger pointing is not gonna help. There’s real workable & productive paths here if the party is open to us.”

What’s beyond debate is that Republican strategists took comments made by liberals within the Democratic Party and used them to blast everyone from Spanberger on down. As Parker Poling, the lead staffer at the House Republican campaign arm, told me on Thursday about the messaging that worked for her side in the election:

“If you put all of the messages into a single broad category, it would be the extreme leftward lurch of the Democrat Party. That was messaged in different ways in different districts. In New York state, bail reform was extremely unpopular and meshed well with defund the police, so a public safety angle was the most effective. In some districts, it was ‘Medicare for All’ and the loss of private health insurance. In a number of suburban districts, we talked about pocketbook issues like higher taxes under Biden. And in other districts, we focused on the extremism of the ‘Green New Deal.’ And in south Florida especially, it was socialism more broadly. All of those messages fit within the rubric of extremism.”

The question is whether the party – almost certain now to have a professed moderate in Joe Biden in the White House – will listen to the likes of Spanberger or continue to move leftward, driven in that direction by AOC and other high-profile liberals. Will they seek to pass centrist legislation that has a chance of passing in what will likely be a Republican-controlled Senate and being signed by Biden? Or does the left push for the boldest possible progressive legislation – and let the chips fall where they may in the Senate?

Which way Democrats go strategically will have a real effect on their fate in the 2022 midterms – not to mention the 2024 election.

CNN’s Allison Gordon contributed to this report.