Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the race for the Virginia governorship is a story as old as the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet it isn’t specifically a Virginia story, a Terry McAuliffe story, or even a Joe Biden story. It’s a story about the Democratic Party and its habitual naivety when it comes to playing politics in ways ugly enough to win.

There’ll be a lot of talk now about the “Biden slump” and some of that is well deserved. Biden keeps playing to his weaknesses, ignoring his strengths (he needs fitting with a shock collar to ensure he isn’t allowed to sit with his eyes closed when the cameras are on him). When the President went in front of the nation last Thursday to announce the infrastructure bill, he chose to do it early in the day when most Americans would have been at work. He also compounded the error by announcing a bill that wasn’t entirely nailed down, handing even more power to the two recalcitrant “Democrats”, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who increasingly look like sleeper agents working on behalf of the GOP. The result is an administration whose wins are tainted by doubt and failure. Donald Trump would have gone live at primetime backed by a line of leggy Las Vegas dancers. He knew how to sell, even when he had nothing to sell. He spent four years making stalemate look like a succession of resounding victories. Biden needs to take a page out of the Populist Playbook and try to be popular.