Checks and Balances Strike Again
Biden won, but the Democrats fell flat down-ballot. The Republicans will actually have a stronger hand in both Congress and the states, even as they lost the White House.
The consequence is that both parties’ bases will be severely limited in what they can accomplish. The hard-right Republican base, circled around Donald Trump, depended on him for the radical executive actions that defined his presidency. As of January 20, they won’t have that: they’ll be thrown back to the oppositional role they had under Obama.
The Democratic base, more to the left than Biden (but not as far left as the GOP base is right), will now confront a continuation of the legislative impasse between a Republican Senate and a Democratic House. Even a Democratic president won’t help that much because he’ll have to negotiate everything with Mitch McConnell. Where there were hopes to expand the House majority and take the Senate, in fact the House majority has shrunk and control of the Senate depends on the Hail Mary play of winning both the Georgia runoffs in January. Failing that, without Trump in the White House, McConnell will hold the trump cards.
The two parties are not mirror images. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is so complete the the hard-right base IS the party. Anybody who could not live with that has either left or been expelled. That’s the fundamental reason why Trump, in spite of remarkable success in finding new voters, could not win the election. There are just too many moderates who couldn’t stomach Trump.
The Republican base is done with setting the agenda: they are on defense now. The Democratic base, by failing down-ballot, has forfeited its chance to set the agenda.
The Democratic base is not synonymous with the party. In fact, there are two blocs in the Democratic base: African Americans and the mostly white, educated, affluent left-wingers who backed Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. African Americans tend not to be as far left as Sanders: they got behind Biden and enabled him to win the nomination by beating out the other moderates. Then Biden could beat Bernie because the moderates outnumber the left-wingers. So whereas the Republicans have stopped appealing to moderates, the whole game for Democrats is to start with their twin bases and win over the White moderates. Biden did that; down-ballot Democrats did not.
The result: The Republican base is done with setting the agenda: they are on defense now. The Democratic base, by failing down-ballot, has forfeited its chance to set the agenda.
While Biden can still do a lot of good through executive action, any new policies requiring legislation will have to be negotiated with McConnell. Even Cabinet appointments will have to be filtered through McConnell, and he is more likely than not to just shut down any Biden judicial appointments. If Biden is the new captain, McConnell is the old pilot. The ship of state will make no major turns.
Meanwhile, the GOP has cemented its control of the majority of states, just in time for the next round of reapportionment after the census numbers come in. So we can be sure that the next decade will look a lot like the last one in terms of the party balance in the legislatures and Congress.
The Republican base wanted four more years to consolidate the restoration of what they consider the real America, a White Supremacist state. They failed. The Democratic base wanted full control of Congress as well as the presidency, to carry out a comprehensive reform program to move America toward its aspirations. They also failed.
The genius of our constitutional system of checks and balances thus assures that both bases will be gnashing their teeth for four years. But after four chaotic years of Trump, maybe a lot of people just want some stability.