The Democrats have won a Pyrrhic victory with Joe Biden. They got rid of Trump, but in electing Joe Biden they may have set the Democratic Party on a death spiral that could culminate in four years.
One surprisingly disastrous aspect of the 2020 election is the poor performance of “down ticket” Democrats running for Congress and State legislatures. Democrats performed horribly: they lost 6–10 seats in the House and failed to take back the Senate.
In short, the “down ballot carnage” that Jim Clyburn warned would happen if Bernie Sanders were the nominee has come to pass — but with the nominee that Clyburn himself helped to capture the nomination.
Is the disastrous showing by the Democrats down-ballot this year a harbinger of losses to come?
One thing we must examine is the fact that there was a huge surge in voter turnout, but that surge failed to help the Democrats. Historically, such a jump in voter participation would have meant an advantage for Democrats. High turnout, traditionally, has helped Democrats because it meant that the multiracial working class and the young showed up.
Those cohorts showed up, alright. But a large and surprising share of them either voted for Trump or else voted only “against Trump” and left the down ballot races blank.
In hindsight, this should not be surprising. The one theme of Biden’s campaign, such as it was, was “orange man bad.” Biden never made the case for electing Democrats. He spent most of the race virtue signaling how Republicans were good folks and Trump was an aberration. Biden was openly courting Republicans, praised many Republicans that he had worked with, and openly vetted Republicans for his cabinet. Hell, he even suggested in one early interview that he would consider picking a Republican as his running mate.
The Democratic National Convention was essentially a cavalcade of “good” Republicans endorsing Biden as being, for all intents and purposes, another “good” Republican — one who had beaten the socialist and would go on to promote “common sense” moderate policies. One who would never let the Bernie wing “push him left.”
Exit polls from the Democratic Primaries showed that while voters preferred Bernie’s policies, they believed that Biden had a better chance to beat Trump. And so the idea of reinvigorating the Democratic Party and pursuing activist changes in policy, combating Trumpism with a Democratic political counter narrative, was lost, subsumed by the one sole Prime Directive of removing Trump from office.
In short, Biden’s one electoral mission was to achieve what 4 years of Russiagate and an impeachment trial could not do, and nothing more.
And that was how Biden campaigned. The Democratic strategy was to kick the socialist Left to the curb while “reaching out” to “Republicans of good faith” and other moderates to enlist them in the crusade to oust Trump.
In this they succeeded. Voters turned out in droves. But many of those new-found voters were Republican-leaning. And many others were casual voters who only wanted to vote against Trump.
Biden never really campaigned hard for “Democratic values”. He dared not, lest he alienate those suburban moderates and Republicans he was targeting.
And so the Biden campaign could not make the case to flip the Senate. They could not deliver a critique of the GOP in general; they could only criticize Trump.
And so a preponderance of those voters who did care about the Senate were Republicans, or else independents who dislike Democrats.
Another thing that we saw this year is that the realignment of the parties is almost complete. The GOP, especially under Trump, has now become the party of the working class, non-college educated whites and, increasingly, people of color. Trump actually increased his vote share among blacks, Latinos and women. Ironically, the only demographic in which Trump lost share was among white men. White women, like my sister, went for Trump by 54%. This was not hatred of Hillary. It was a rejection of the Democrats.
And as I mentioned up top, the expansion of voting options also helped the working class Trumpists make themselves heard.
I am looking at these down ballot races that the Democrats lost, and in every case there was a substantial number of blank ballots. Biden had zero coat tails. But then, that was never the point.
In Maine, for example, Biden won handily, but so did Susan Collins, a candidate all the polls had losing by double digits. Collins won by 55,000 votes. But 50,000 voters who voted for the top of the ticket failed to cast a vote in that Senate race. You can bet those voters were Biden voters. Or, more aptly put, they were “single issue” voters whose single issue was getting rid of Trump.
Let’s look at Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, which include Miami-Dade County. Although Biden lost Florida, he won BOTH these Districts comfortably with 54% of the vote in each. The Cook Political Index rates FL26 a D+6, and FL 27 a D+5. So you would think the Democrats should have won in these deep “blue” districts that went so heavily for the Democrats’ top of the ticket, right?
Wrong. The incumbent Democrat for FL26, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, lost by almost 12,000 votes. Likewise, the incumbent Democrat for FL27, Clinton retread Donna Shalala, also lost by almost 10,000 votes.
It could have gone differently. Both these losers were “moderates” who opposed Medicare For All and remained silent on Florida’s Amendment 2 to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (the amendment won with 62%). Both candidates had won primaries against progressives who did support Medicare For All as well as other progressive policies. Both were enthusiastically and publicly supported by Nancy Pelosi.
In Georgia, Jon Ossoff is down by 90,000 votes in his race against the Republican David Perdue. But 98,000 voters who voted for President failed to vote in this race. Republicans never neglect to vote. These blank ballots were from Biden voters.
I am angry because one of the main arguments against Bernie was that he would hurt down ballot Democratic candidates. Jim Clyburn dictated the results of the South Carolina race by saying that Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket would cause “carnage” down ballot.
Well, it turns out Biden did exactly that.
Joe Brunoli joined the podcast to discuss this and other election-related topics. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below:
Photo: Gage Skidmore