The election had barely been called for Joe Biden when Democratic Party centrists began blaming the party’s Left for the underwhelming results of last week’s election, no matter every bit of proof to the contrary.
Joining the chorus was one of Biden’s Republican supporters, John Kasich, who lectured the Democrats that if they had more clearly “rejected the hard left,” they would have better appealed to the Americans, who “essentially live in the middle.” Again, the numbers point to the opposite: a growing polarization and a hollowing out of the center.
More important, the middle ground that does exist provides a terrain that should be more favorable to left ideas. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) rightly pointed out, “every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat.” And every single swing district Democrat that accepted AOC’s help with their election operation won, while those that refused lost.
In many states and counties that voted red, referenda passed overwhelmingly to increase the minimum wage, fund public education, decriminalize drugs, and implement rent control. In Mississippi, voters elected to replace their Confederate-era state flag. On economic issues, this pattern is even clearer. As the Huffington Post reported, according to polls, “one out of every five Republicans has economic views that align better with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.” This includes support for increasing the minimum wage, taxing the rich, and providing robust COVID-19 relief benefits.
While votes are still being tallied in a few states, the likely scenario is that Biden won the election with 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232, with a small but significant popular vote lead of 50.5 percent to 47.4 percent (some 4 million votes). It’s a fairly comfortable margin, after the drama of Election Night and the following few days. But these margins are nowhere near those we saw in 1992, the last time a Republican incumbent presiding over a recession was ousted. Bill Clinton won that election with 370 electoral votes to George H. W. Bush’s 168, and with 43 percent to 37 percent of the popular vote (Ross Perot took the remaining 19 percent). Barack Obama, too, though he didn’t run against an incumbent, benefited from the Republican Party having presided over a recession. In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral votes to John McCain’s 173, with 53 percent of the popular vote to McCain’s 46 percent.
As Eric Levitz recently commented:
Biden’s narrow margins in the Electoral College – in a contest against a Republican incumbent with historically high disapproval, high unemployment, a declining stock market on the eve of the election, and a pandemic that he spent the final weeks of the campaign conspicuously spreading and advertising his indifference about containing — can’t help but make Democrats nervous about their odds of retaining power in 2024.
Even more devastating to the Democratic Party leadership were the down-ballot disappointments. Despite grand predictions, and despite being awash in hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, Democrats lost seats in the House, may have failed to flip the Senate, and didn’t flip state legislatures. The result will be a congressional dead end for progressive policies, in what will likely be a Biden-McConnell coalition government.
At minimum, the Democrats’ flimsy showing during a period of unprecedented crisis points to a party out of step with its constituents, a party unable to pose an alternative to Trump’s unique style of demagoguery and corporate giveaways. Worse still, the results reveal the failure of the Democratic Party to be an effective “opposition party” for the past four years, wasting their time with dead-end attempts at impeachment theatrics instead of focusing on improving the material conditions of people’s lives.