Former Vice President Joe Biden will assume office as the nation’s 46th president in January. But he will do so in a political environment that few predicted in advance of last Tuesday’s election. Buoyed by inaccurate polls and misreading of the electorate’s mood, Democrats giddily predicted that they would retake the Senate and bolster their majority in the House. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeatedly said that in a Democratic Senate “nothing is off the table. Keeping all options open, of course, being a euphemism for eliminating the legislative filibuster in order to pack the Supreme Court, add new states for political gain and pass the most left-wing agenda in American history.
These progressive dreams will, fortunately, remain dreams. Mitch McConnell will likely remain Senate majority leader in the next Congress, pending the outcome of the two runoff elections in Georgia. After the Democrats’ obstructionist tactics in the minority over the duration of the Trump presidency, it’s hard to imagine McConnell will be in a particularly cooperative mood. (Even if the Democrats were to win both Georgia seats, they’d likely find it difficult to get much done in a 50-50 Senate.) Republicans also are looking at a surprising gain of 8-10 seats in the House, setting them up to retake the chamber in 2022.
Losing a presidential election is never good, but staring down the barrel of united Democratic control in Washington, Republicans will feel pretty relieved to have avoided the worst case scenario. They enter the opposition with momentum and the ability to thwart the Democratic agenda.
Crucially, Republicans retained their majorities in all of legislatures they currently control, often expanding their majorities. This will set them up well for the post-2020 redistricting.
And though the president lost his bid for reelection, the inroads he and other Republicans made with nonwhite voters provide a roadmap for expanding the Republican coalition. In Miami-Dade County in Florida, President Trump improved from a 30 point loss in 2016 to a 7 point loss and Republicans flipped two heavily Hispanic House seats they had lost in 2018. The president also improved his margins in Osceola County, which is just south of Orlando and home to a large and growing Puerto Rican population. Republicans repeatedly sold a message that the Democrats had embraced socialism and the far left, and it’s clear that message resonated in Florida.
Democrats’ struggles with Hispanic voters weren’t just limited to Florida, though. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Biden campaign dispatched Kamala Harris to Rio Grande Valley to gin up turnout in the heavily Democratic, but historically low-turnout, region. But, in a twist, it was President Trump who dramatically improved in South Texas. In Starr County, which is 95 percent Hispanic, President Trump improved from a 79-19 percent loss in 2016, to a 5 point loss this year. Republicans also unexpectedly held Texas’s 23rd Congressional district which was largely written off for them after Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) announced his retirement. Democrats had also made flipping the Texas House of Representatives a major priority, investing millions of dollars. In the end, Democrats failed to net any seats.
A similar story played out across the nation as vulnerable Republicans showed surprising strength. Most Republicans, from senators to state legislators, outran the president and it is difficult to see this strength as anything other than a repudiation of the progressive agenda. Many voters wished to get rid of the president, but they did not support the Democratic agenda. They were not on board with packing the Court, defunding law enforcement, or eliminating private health insurance. This was a loss for Trump, the personality, not a win for the progressive agenda.
Fairly soon, the five and half year long Trump show will end, and the Republican Party will have to define itself beyond support for the president. In my mind, the way forward is clear. If President Trump did one thing successfully, it was to reveal how antiquated and out of touch the previous Republican agenda was. Instead of preaching tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle down economics, Republicans must stand for ordinary workers and their interests. This means opposing corporate handouts and trade deals that negatively affect the American worker. Abroad, The G.O.P. must be skeptical of endless foreign entanglements and ensure that American foreign policy is calibrated to actually advance American interests. At home, conservatism should be a bulwark against the cultural leftism that has consumed the Democratic Party. Republicans must stand for tradition, our constitutional liberties, and a positive narrative of the American project. This country yearns for decent, patriotic leadership, and if the G.O.P. stands for that, it will no doubt have a bright future.
In the end, it’s important to remember that this was a brutal and divisive election and tens of millions of Americans are disappointed by the results. We nonetheless owe President-elect Biden that which was denied to President Trump: An honest chance to lead. President Trump must ensure a smooth transition and the Senate G.O.P. must stand for more than mere obstructionism. Ultimately, as President Obama said in the aftermath of the 2016 race, elections are “intramural” sports. “We’re all of the same team” and, most importantly, “we are Americans first.” As a new administration takes office, both sides would do well to remember that.
Matthew Samilow is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Malott’s Front Steps runs every other Friday this semester