Four years ago, in the final weeks of the election, I was too quick to write Donald Trump’s political obituary. I was sure, like many others (including Trump himself), that he would lose.
My mistakes included underestimating people’s general disdain for Hillary Clinton, and believing that the national sentiment toward Trump (as reflected in the national polls) would be indicative of what we would see in key swing states. I was wrong, and I was immediately upfront about that.
This year, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. While I believed Biden would win, again based in part on what we were seeing from the pollsters (including in individual states, where the bugs were supposed to have been worked out), I was careful not to present my belief on the election’s outcome as an inevitability. And I’m glad I made that decision.
At this point, major decision desks have assessed the vote counts, trajectory, and regional considerations, and declared Joe Biden to be our next president. I don’t expect President Trump (nor his most loyal supporters) to concede defeat between now and Biden’s swearing in. Heck, I don’t expect them to ever truly concede it. Nonetheless, it’s our reality.
There were several surprises in this election. Turnout was one of them — the largest we’ve ever seen. Another was how close the presidential race was. And practically no one expected Republicans to retain a majority in the Senate and actually add House seats. But in hindsight, it all seems to make some sense.
Hear me out.
Donald Trump is of course an incredibly polarizing figure. He’s the reason voter turnout was as strong as it was, and he’s the reason a candidate as unimpressive as Joe Biden has now achieved the largest popular vote in American history (over 75 million and counting).
A lot of Trump supporters are committed to the fable that the president’s unpopularity is due to the media’s portrayal of him… and not what regular Americans have seen with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears, since the day he entered politics. To be clear, the mainstream media is indeed largely biased against Trump, and for that matter the entire political right. I’ve been saying this (including on this website) for years.
But at no point have those biases made the president any more fit for the office he holds. His breathtaking lack of character, his profound ignorance, his disinterest in ever learning the job (or even the basics of government), his admiration for (and condoning of) bad actors around the world, his chronic dishonesty, and his immense pettiness and cruelty are not media fabrications. They’re who he is.
If the insistence is that the media ended Trump’s presidency, and not Trump himself, a logical question must be asked: Why did other Republicans do surprisingly well in this election?
You may recall that the Democrats were pretty confident about picking up congressional seats (as many as 15), but the party actually ended up with a net loss. Cory Gardner of Colorado was the only GOP Senator (not appointed to a seat) who lost his race, leaving the Republicans with a majority in the Senate; a couple run-off contests in Georgia should solidify that majority. Also, the GOP gained two state legislatures.
These Republican wins came despite huge cash and media advantages for the Democrats. They came despite the party’s leader never achieving above-water public approval. They also came despite Trump (who had the very real advantage of incumbency) losing states he won four years ago, and losing a larger portion of the popular vote than four years ago.
So what gives?
Despite the Democrats’ unexpected congressional losses, Nancy Pelosi is insisting that her party has a received a “mandate” from voters. Joe Biden said the same thing in a speech Friday night. I think the opposite is true. I think this election was about repudiation.
In my view, the two most repulsive forces in today’s politics are the cult of Trumpism and the extreme views of the progressive movement. People who aren’t caught up in either have been told for years that they must choose a side in order to save the republic, and I think enough of them have just grown plain sick of it all.
On one side, they see a snarling demagogue whose constant need for attention, controversy, and self-celebration reliably outweighs his responsibility to lead the nation, even during a global pandemic that has killed over a quarter of a million Americans. On the other side, you see leaders making excuses for violence in the name of social justice, and proposing all kinds of societally damaging ideas, from “defunding the police,” to ethnic reparations, to student loan forgiveness, to the “Green New Deal.”
In other words, Biden was a repudiation of Trump, and Republicans not named Trump were a repudiation of radical leftism.
Sure, this is a pretty broad assessment, with plenty of room for debate as more electoral data comes in. Regardless, a Democratic president who’s to the right of his base, kept in check by a Republican Senate no longer beholden to Trump, may just prove to be the best possible outcome.