I’m writing this the weekend before election day. Over 90 million citizens have already voted. I see now that Biden is going to win the presidency. Trump is doomed. When your popularity rating is down around 43%, millions of people are not voting early on your behalf. Besides, no-one who held their nose and voted for Hillary is going to vote for him now — new voters will be additive to that tally, and enough to put Biden over the top.
At this point last time around, support for Hillary in key midwestern states was crumbling so fast the polls couldn’t keep up. In desperation she flew to the once-solidly Democratic state of Wisconsin — for the first and only time in her campaign — but it was too late. Not so this time around. Certain races are tightening of course, and Pennsylvania is a worry, but Biden’s support is holding firm in key states and he has several paths to the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory. By comparison, Trump’s path is narrow, he needs to pull a straight to get there.
I’ll take those odds. Call me nuts, but for me the only question now is by how much will Biden win?
It’s a big question.
In the last century, just three presidents lost re-election bids for a second term: Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Each of these losses was different from the others.
Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated the Republican Hoover by a 17.7 percent margin in the popular vote. Republicans also lost 12 Senate seats and 97 House seats. It was a complete renunciation of Hoover’s America, and the consequences were enormous. FDR’s election led to the New Deal, which fundamentally transformed American society. And it led to Democratic control of the presidency for the next 20 years.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan by 9.7 percentage points. Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in a quarter century, picking up 12 Senate seats, along with 34 House seats. But, since the margin of Reagan’s win was half that of FDR’s, the rejection of Carter does not rise to the same level of defeat.
In 1992, George H.W. Bush lost by 5.6 percentage points to Bill Clinton. There was no change in the party composition of the Senate, and Republicans actually picked up nine House seats. After 12 years of Reagan-Bush, voters had decided it was time to move on to a new generation of leadership.
Is that going to be the outcome here? Does Biden win by Clinton’s margin? Or, will it be more than that, a Carter-like rejection of Trump? It’s already clear as I write this that voter turnout across the country will have broken all records. Does that mean Trump’s defeat will rise to the level of overwhelming repudiation on the order of FDR’s historic win?
I hope so. Only a Biden landslide will suffice. Sorry to rain on your parade, a win is a win even it’s a squeaker, but no matter what the margin of defeat turns out to be, no matter how many senators and congressmen-and-women Trump takes down with him, the same forces that got him to the White House will remain in place when’s he’s gone. Without a blue tsunami, we will not turn the page.
A narrow defeat will embolden the Republican opposition because it will penalize without inflicting the kind of electoral pain that forces a “come to Jesus,” mind-changing, intellectual alteration. Over the last four years they made a Faustian bargain with Trump, a man they originally despised. “A race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot who does not represent my party,” said Lindsay Graham, the senator from South Carolina who, after Trump’s improbable win, promptly turned on a dime and became his most fevered acolyte. If it’s close, then instead of soul-searching and policy overhaul and moving beyond the primitive call of Trumpism, Republicans will blame only external factors — the liberal media, Facebook bias, voting fraud — and resort, again, to the partisan obstruction that crippled the Obama presidency.
On the eve of Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Fred Luntz, a leading Republican strategist, convened a dinner for senior Republicans at the tony Caucus Room restaurant in Washington DC. Newt Gingrich was there of course, and Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and others from the House of Representatives. From the Senate were powerbrokers such as Jim DeMint, Jon Kyle, Tom Coburn, John Ensign and Bob Corker. “How do we make this community organizer a one-term president?” Luntz asked. Gingrich had the answer. “We say ‘no’ to everything he wants,” he said. And that became the plan. McConnell quickly signed on. Obama persevered, but in the end, after Democrats lost the midterms and the House, the legislative process was frozen solid. He became increasingly marginalized and incapable of delivering the change he had promised.
So if Trump loses narrowly, expect the Republican stonewall to start just a New York minute after he is sworn in on Wednesday, January 20.
There’s a second reason why nothing but a blue tsunami will do. Trump delivered nothing for his core constituency, the white, impoverished, long neglected working class. If Biden wins big and his coattails expand Democratic control of the House and even, perhaps, help win the Senate, Democrats have a chance to enact the kind of policies that will bring real, historic change to the United States, including to the lives of the dispossessed.
If Biden wins big, get ready for a new, New Deal that will transform America. If he does not win big, his win will be challenged over the next month or more, his mandate will be constrained, his running room circumscribed. My adopted country will still be stuck.
My brother-in-law was until recently the U.S. Congressman for Maine’s second district. Maine is a huge state but most people live in a small, urban pocket on the southern coast. My brother-in-law, a conservative Republican, represented the rest. It is the largest congressional district (by geographic size) east of the Mississippi. The guy regularly drove 200 miles to shake 50 hands. Sometimes I ventured up there with him, just to keep him company. It’s the heart of dystopic Trumplandia. There’s been no work up there since the timber companies figured out that pine trees grew faster down in the Carolinas and headed south, taking the mills with them. No education, no prospects, no shot at the fabled American dream, left out, disdained, and forgotten by a political system that has ceased to produce for them, some seek relief by sucking on opiates, others opt for evangelism, but mainly they looked for relief in the MAGA movement, in all its dark and vicious envies. At last, blame could be attached. We’re off the hook. It’s not our fault. No, an imagined elite is to blame, an elite comprised of uncaring establishment politicians and bureaucrats of the Deep State, together with their mouthpiece, the fake media.
Resentment is an awful force. “When you take the cork out of that bottle,” said Springsteen the day after Trump was elected, “you can never get it back in.” Trouble is, nobody has tried to put the cork back in. For the self-interested, resentment is too useful a political tool, and Republicans have been hell bent on exploiting it to preserve their political power.
Meanwhile the country festers. The very same argument of economic and social inequity that led to Trump’s improbable rise still resonates. We in America face three crises:
a crisis of opportunity as the digital economy takes hold and labor markets stagnate
a crisis of solidarity as the social fabric disintegrates
and a crisis of authority as distrust in major institutions climbs.
We need to get to work. But Trump has left us with historic levels of debt and deep partisan division. Only a total repudiation of all he stood for will give us a shot at slamming the door shut on his boorish and hateful reign, diminishing any continuing advocacy of what he offered, and moving on quickly with new ideas to the hard work of reformation and progress.
An overwhelming victory by Biden is the first step in putting the cork back in the bottle. Tell me that’s what’s going to happen Tuesday.