Call me skeptical, but something doesn’t make sense about President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election to Joe Biden by citing unsupported charges of vote fraud.
For one thing, he’d have a stronger case if he didn’t have a long record of raising allegations without evidence, beginning with his doubts about former President Barack Obama’s well-documented American birth certificate.
For another, what kind of vast liberal conspiracy would let Democrats win the White House while taking a thoroughly unexpected shellacking down the same ballot?
Instead of riding a “blue wave” takeover of Congress, Democrats lost seats in the House, did poorly in state-level races that will determine redistricting and now look to two runoffs in Georgia to maybe — just maybe — win Democratic control of the Senate.
What happened? That’s an excellent and inevitable question. Both parties have good reason to revive the sort of self-examining “autopsy” that Republican leaders convened after Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012.
The Grand Old Party was doing well at the gubernatorial level in those days but losing two important and growing demographics — younger voters and people of color — as well as voters outside of the business class.
But the Trump train derailed that broad outreach in 2016 by focusing on the party’s right-wing base and energizing the “forgotten Americans” on the losing end of globalism and others who had sat out earlier elections.
Democrats responded, after vigorous competition between old and new faces in the primaries, by nominating former Vice President Biden. He wasn’t as charismatic as Trump or Obama but, thanks to Trump’s excesses, his timing was right. After Trump’s unpredictable Twitter furies, voters were saying, dull never looked so good.
But what next? Trump may be on the way out, but what happens to “Trumpism,” the angry, anti-establishment, anti-intellectual and often conspiracy theory-fueled populism that energized a movement now in search of a new champion — or maybe the old champion, if he decides to run again?
Trumpism didn’t begin with Trump. Parallels with the reactionary 1960s conservatism of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace were obvious from the beginning of Trump’s rise, as well as his effective borrowing from Ronald Reagan’s campaigns, including Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
And, as much as the GOP is divided between its moderates and its conservative base, Democrats are no less divided on the left. “The Squad” of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were all reelected.
The Squad is expected to expand with at least three new progressives: New York’s Jamaal Bowman, Missouri’s Cori Bush and Illinois’ Marie Newman, who, in the primary, unseated U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress.
What does the yawning gap between the party of Trump and the party of the Squad mean for the next term?
“The pressure in the Democratic Party on the life issue has never been as great as it is now,” Lipinski lamented after his loss. I agree, but that’s only one of the hottest issues that polarizes Congress these days.
The immediate forecast, if the Republicans hold their Senate majority, is more gridlock, like that which stymied Obama’s agenda after Democrats lost their Senate majority in the 2010 midterms. Up against Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama was reduced to signing executive orders — his “pen and a phone” — instead of legislation to get much of anything done.
That’s what faces presumptive President-elect Joe Biden, if the Senate stays Republican. Meanwhile, both parties have their ideological purists who feel energized enough by Trump’s successes to lose their patience with cautious moderates.
But I am not alone in thinking that lurches toward the far right or left would be the wrong lesson to take away from this election. Black voters in South Carolina’s primary gave Biden a critical boost to the head of the pack, where he remained after Democrats let their pragmatism come out. Better to win with a moderate, it was reasoned, than risk losing with a left-winger.
Republicans stuck overwhelmingly with Trump, despite many having to hold their noses over his abrasive abuses of norms and a preference for Fox News over his better-informed experts, some of whom he denounced wildly as the “deep state.” As one who prefers the good old days when both parties actually worked together on most legislation, I was relieved by his defeat.
As many historical scholars say, the nation’s founders set up our three branches of government so occasional gridlock would force opposing sides to compromise. They did us a favor. Most voters in this very diverse nation have shown repeatedly that, as much as we may want to shake things up occasionally, we just as easily can swing back — and hope the losers are gracious enough to leave without a big fuss.
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