Joe Biden will win the Electoral College, and will win the popular vote by over 4 million votes, with the most votes ever cast for a presidential candidate. It will end the four years of Trump’s lies, incompetence and abuse. But he will take office facing a daunting array of obstacles.
We live in a federal republic, not a pure democracy. The Electoral College and the Senate both systematically overrepresent smaller states (which currently are mostly Republican). The Constitution protects the Senate from any amendment that would eliminate the equal representation of states. Getting rid of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment. Good luck with that!
Trump did not take any states that were won by Hillary Clinton, but, contrary to many state polls, he did hold several states that polls suggested could flip. That included, most importantly, Florida and Texas. Biden won by flipping several other Trump states, including Wisconsin and Michigan, two of the three Rust Belt states that gave his victory in 2016.
The House will remain in Democratic control, but with a reduced majority. The hope to actually increase the Democratic majority was dashed, as many Democrats in districts that were won by Trump in 2016 went down to defeat.
Having blown up the deficit in the last four years, we can expect the Republicans to rediscover their inner fiscal conservative in order to block Biden’s plans.
The Senate majority will be smaller than the 53-47 split we currently have, but it will likely be Republican. Biden won’t be able to legislate to reverse the damage Trump has done, and to begin to “build back better” across the ambitious scope of his program. The Republicans will certainly not agree to raise taxes on the rich in order to finance the many initiatives Biden discusses in his platform. Indeed, having blown up the deficit in the last four years, we can expect the Republicans to rediscover their inner fiscal conservative in order to block Biden’s plans.
This is actually an optimal outcome for the congressional GOP. They no longer have to defend an erratic, malicious nut case president; they can just go on doing what they do best, which is nothing. Even Trump himself (he can't see past the humiliation of losing now, but he will) can go back to doing what he does best, which is wrecking stuff. He was never any good at governing. As president he was constantly undermining his own government. He likes being an insurgent: now he can go back to doing that without the distraction of being president.
What will happen if the Supreme Court, at the behest of Republicans (who have no alternative plan), decides to throw out the Affordable Care Act? Are we to be left at the mercy of the big insurers?
As the Senate stays Republican, it is likely that we will see a continued legislative impasse. Trump’s all-out mobilization of his base may not have sufficed to win reelection, but it seems to have enabled Republicans to blunt the Democrats’ charge down-ballot. The Democrats’ down-ballot debacle will have lasting, unfortunate consequences for them.
Biden, to get anything at all out of Congress, will have to deal with Mitch McConnell. It will demand all of Biden’s talents for reaching across the aisle.
What will happen with judicial appointments, including Supreme Court vacancies? Justice Breyer (a Democrat) might have been likely to retire if Biden could name a replacement. Will Mitch McConnell systematically block all judicial appointments? Or will Biden have to negotiate acceptably conservative nominees?
Indeed, will McConnell even allow the Senate to confirm Biden’s nominees to his own cabinet?
Biden will, to be sure, stop the damage Trump has done in many areas, from race relations to immigration to environmental and energy policy, but only through executive orders that can be reversed by the next president, just as Trump reversed hundreds of Obama orders.
Every government agency will have dozens of these orders, because Trump largely failed as a legislator. Even when he had control of both houses of Congress in his first two years, his legislative accomplishments were sparse. For example, he and his congressional troops signally failed to agree on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act when they had the votes to pass it.
So Trump early on showed a preference for executive orders, even though he condemned Obama for using them. Obama, of course, confronted a Republican Congress his last six years; as Biden will now find, Obama could not get anything through Congress.
So the Democrats can rightly celebrate, but must also mourn their lost opportunities.