How strong is the Democratic mandate to run the country? The closer I look at the 2020 election results, the more delicate the Democrats’ victory looks.
Democrats can revel in winning the presidency and defeating the hated Donald Trump. Joe Biden won the White House. But if he doesn’t govern in a centrist way, he will certainly not be listening to what the voters said.
There’s a reasonable chance that Biden does want to be a centrist president. If so, he might be successful. But he’ll have to fight the left wing of his own party.
Here’s evidence of the weak election performance, overall, of the Democrats. First, Biden narrowly defeated a deeply flawed and extremely divisive president badly damaged by a devastating pandemic and the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Trump enjoyed an ardent base, but had anemic support among mainstream and moderate Republicans. By historical standards, it should have been an easy victory for the Democrats.
Second, Democrats did not fare well down-ballot in close contests. Republicans are almost certain to retain the Senate, and they picked up around 10 seats in the House. That’s quite remarkable. Republicans also picked up a governorship, and more than held their own in state legislatures. Republicans will control the redistricting process in many states.
The Washington Post’s James Hohmann noted that Biden won with the weakest coattails in 60 years – since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Speaker Pelosi will preside over the narrowest House majority of any leader in either party in 18 years. He quoted a respected Democratic strategist who said Trump’s win in 2016, and narrow defeat in 2020, were not flukes, “but rather a reflection of where we are as a country at this time.”
These election realities should give pause to any thought that the Biden administration can move the country very far to the left. If he gives in to the arch-liberal wing of his party, we can expect Democrats to be punished in 2022.
If Biden realizes the country wants mainstream, centrist policies with a focus on practical problem-solving, he might be able to get Senate support and accomplish some significant things. That would be a welcome development.