I would submit that it can be fairly inferred from our recent electoral results that our politics for the rest of this decade will be up for grabs. For liberals reassured by President-Elect Joe Biden’s 80 million votes and impressive-looking (projected) 306 projected Electoral College votes, I would observe that facing our most despicable and undemocratic President in at least 120 years, Mr. Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and Arizona by about 10,000 votes. For those sources – including these pages – that have spent the last four years bemoaning Mr. Trump’s narrow 2016 victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin over Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, it should be noted that Mr. Trump carried those three Upper Midwest states by a combined total of about 77,000 votes – approaching twice the combined margin by which Mr. Biden carried Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. If Mr. Trump had won Wisconsin’s, Arizona’s, and Georgia’s combined 37 Electoral College votes, the presidential race would have ended in an Electoral College tie. Congressional results – again, in a year in which Mr. Trump’s conduct of the presidency drove the highest percentage of voter turnout in about a century — yielded not a blue wave but a vaguely pink backdraft.
And more: liberals should not be overly heartened by pundits’ proclamations that Mr. Biden rebuilt the upper Midwest “Blue Wall” that President Trump successfully scaled in defeating Ms. Clinton. Mr. Biden may simply have been the perfect candidate to temporarily plug the “Wall’s” gaps. In Wisconsin, both Mr. Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump and Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers’ 2018 victory over former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker were exceedingly narrow – arguably achieved by inoffensive personalities because of the deep antipathy Messrs. Trump and Walker stirred in the voters opposing them. Mr. Biden’s Pennsylvania victory was likely a product of his Scranton roots, his staunch record of safeguarding union rights, and his undisputable lifelong support of black rights against the most unabashedly racist President in modern times. Ditto the President-Elect’s fortunes in Michigan, where he arguably received an additional boost from auto workers’ memory of his efforts to save the American auto industry during the Great Recession. These assets may not readily transfer to the next Democratic presidential candidate.
And yet more: can liberals still be certain that all demographic trends favor them? While the young seem to be generally more amenable to progressive than conservative views, the theory that our growing ethnic minorities will unite to provide an enduring multi-complexioned Democratic monolith seems to be springing leaks in practice. It turns out that our citizens of non-European ethnicities are beginning to manifest views … as diverse as those of European descent. Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans, given their experiences and those of their forebears in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, apparently don’t like anything that hints at socialism. Some Southwest Latino Americans seemingly disfavor policies designed to assist those from their former countries entering the U.S. illegally. Some Latino Americans working in the Texas oil fields were clearly more troubled by Mr. Biden’s expressed intent to transition the U.S. from the oil industry than they were by Mr. Trump’s blatantly anti-Brown rhetoric. Many Asian Americans don’t like racial preference policies, which in practice harm their prospects. Surveys reportedly indicate that many Black Americans, while united against racism, tend to be more traditional – indeed, conservative – on other issues.
The emerging disparate attitudes among our ethnic minorities is obviously a good thing. Our democracy becomes stronger the more all of our people think as individuals, not as herd members. That said, Democrats would appear to need to do a better job listening, and understanding and accommodating diverging views, or their anticipated demographic leviathan will become a mirage.
At the same time, Republicans have their own problems. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week, the panel was casting about for appropriate comparisons to Mr. Trump’s presidency, and suggesting that one-term presidents are rarely remembered as notable figures unless they do something significant in their post presidencies. I think they were but half right. I predict that historians will conclude that Mr. Trump spread enough toxin in a single term to be marked as a unique blot upon the American Dream; but what Mr. Trump is likely to attempt in his post-presidency – to divide the nation for his own gratification – might indeed prove as significantly corrosive as his presidency. Even so, what seems to me to be the greater likelihood – and what I would assume is of immediate concern to Republican strategists – is that Mr. Trump’s narcissistic efforts will hopelessly divide the Republican Party. The parallel I see is not to any of our one-term presidents, but to one of our great two-term Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt.
The Republican Mr. Roosevelt, the youngest person to serve as president in our history, bowed to the two-term tradition later discarded by his cousin and left office in 1909, still vital at the age of 50. His anointed successor, Republican William Howard Taft, was an uninspiring conservative who soon disappointed him. By 1912, Mr. Roosevelt sought to reclaim the presidency. The majority of party regulars – who had benefited from Mr. Roosevelt’s electoral success, but were more conservative than he, and didn’t want him back – awarded Mr. Taft the nomination. Mr. Roosevelt responded by running under his own banner (literally named, the “Progressive Party,” although commonly known as the Bull Moose Party). Messrs. Roosevelt and Taft split 50% of the 1912 presidential vote, handing the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who polled but 42%.
Although this observation hints at my notions regarding the future of the American political process, I would submit that it defies belief that a bunch of ambitious Republicans are going to let Mr. Trump hold their party hostage – as he clearly intends – for much of the coming decade. They refused to stand up to Mr. Trump during the last four years specifically because they were ambitious – placing a higher priority on their own careers than on what was good for the nation. While they’ve ridden the Trump wave, traditional Republicans don’t agree with Mr. Trump on a number of core issues. I think they’ll want their party back, setting up a clash with Mr. Trump, who will maintain a cult-like hold on a segment of our electorate and is manifestly psychologically incapable of abandoning the spotlight. This confrontation has, as was the case in 1912, the prospect of cleaving those currently sharing the Republican mantle. We’re seeing the earliest indications of the potential rift in the current feud among Georgia Republicans. The beneficiaries of such a GOP schism will obviously be Democrats.
So — to borrow a phrase from Mr. Trump — we’ll see what happens …