It was gone.
There were sugarplum dreams of eliminating the Senate filibuster. Packing the court. Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Green New Deal. And a $3.4 trillion coronavirus package.
You rarely get everything you want in politics – or life. And Democrats may survive the election of 2020 with narrow control of the House, President Joe Biden and a lost opportunity in the Senate.
It may be that the outcome of the 2020 election chaperoned the country to exactly where the nation falls politically.
Let’s start with the House of Representatives and the consequences of the Democrats’ looming “slim” majority” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
House Democrats approached election night confident they would swell their majority. Democrats suspected they would add around five seats on a “bad” night. Perhaps they’d approach 12-15 seats on a “good” night. But the stark reality is that voters nearly erased all Democratic gains from when the party won the House in 2018.
Democrats repeatedly ceded turf in “oddball” seats they probably shouldn’t have held in the first place. Voters continued to re-elect House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., – even as President Trump carried the district by more than 30 points. But President Trump and Rep.-elect Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., finally sidelined Peterson this year. Democrats lost a number of seats they won in 2018, propelling them to the majority. Consider the fates of Reps. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., Xochitl Torres Small, D-Minn., and Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.
In some respects, this election constituted a “correction” for House races. Democrats surrendered their “reach” seats, gained in 2018.
But, Democrats also failed to flip seats held by otherwise vulnerable Republicans.
If Democrats were on their game, they likely would have seized seats held by Reps. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and retiring Reps. Pete Olson, R-Texas, and Susan Brooks, R-Ind. That never happened.
Few races broke in the direction of Democrats.
Republicans could emerge from this with 210-212 House seats. That means Democrats could be down to 225-223. Democrats can lose a couple of members on their side on any given roll call vote without having to turn to the GOP for help.
Moreover, the House Democratic Caucus will be more liberal in 2021 than before. That’s because they lost moderate Democrats. By the same token, liberal ranks swelled inside the House. Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., defeated House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in the Democratic primary this year. Rep.-elect Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., will succeed retiring Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.
Progressives will demand action. But political realities will temper that.
It looks like Republicans will narrowly cling to the Senate. And with a dwindling House majority, House Democrats can’t advance those bold, liberal ideals if they’re on the razor’s edge.
Call it the “Trump Effect?” Maybe. The president who campaigned against “extremist” and “socialist” ideas.
Such an approach certainly bolstered the fates of Reps.-elect Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., and Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla. They ousted freshman Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., and Donna Shalala, D-Fla., respectively. This worked in Miami-Dade County, Fla.
“My opponent was one of the most partisan members of Congress. Extremism,” said Gimenez on Fox of Mucarsel-Powell. “It was all a rejection of where she wanted to take our country. Way to the left.”
“I will do everything I can to stop the radical agenda from Nancy Pelosi’s House,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at his own victory speech.
But Graham may not have to.
Pelosi faces a management problem. Some Democrats wanted to show Pelosi the door after Democrats failed to retake the House in 2016. Pelosi redeemed herself to the Democratic Caucus by ushering in a new majority in 2018 and outplaying President Trump during the 2018-2019 government shutdown. But knives are out for someone in the Democratic Caucus after the party’s lackluster performance.
Moderate Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., are warring with progressives like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Spanberger accuses liberals of veering off into conversations about “socialism” and “defunding the police.” Spanberger’s criticism crystallizes the internal Democratic battle. Liberals have more control. But they don’t have the majority without moderates. And, even though the Democratic caucus veered to the left, it’s doubtful it will advance many liberal legislative items. With such a tight majority, Democrats can’t put progressive bills on the floor and expect them to pass when they can only lose a handful of votes on their side.
That calls into question exactly how much power liberals truly have, despite their own gains over the past few years.
In the Democrats’ defense, the party came close to maxing out the map in 2018. And, President Trump wasn’t on the ballot. In retrospect, that phenomenon seemed to help Democrats.
After losing the House in 2018, House and Senate Republicans were concerned for other reasons about their prospects this fall. They fretted that the president would be a drag for the GOP on races down-ballot. There was fear Trump’s toxicity could inhibit the GOP from holding the Senate and drive the party deeper into the minority in the House. Turns out the opposite was true. Mr. Trump’s presence on the ballot actually bolstered the electoral chances of Senate and House Republicans. Congressional Republicans were always a little reluctant to cozy up to the president. That evolved over time. Now there are key lawmakers ranging from Graham to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who are alleging voter fraud and questioning – to varying degrees – the legitimacy of the outcome.
The political capital of vanquished, first-term presidents usually evaporates immediately. But not with President Trump. This is why lots of House and Senate Republicans are questioning the legitimacy of “calling” the election and electoral tallies. GOPs know they run the risk of alienating the 70 million-plus voters who supported the president. They don’t believe that message is going away.
At this point, “Trumpism” appears to be an effective political message – despite it apparently costing the chief executive himself the White House. It boosted Republicans in House and Senate contests. And the Senate races aren’t over. So, this remains the drum the GOP will beat now.
This also explains why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., played both sides of Broadway in his remarks this week as the Senate reconvened for the first time since the election.
“No states have yet certified their election results,” said McConnell. “The Constitution gives no role in this process to wealthy media corporations. The projections and commentary of the press do not get veto power over the legal rights of any citizens, including the President of the United States.”
McConnell has a host of GOP senators who are willing to stoke the embers of election fraud, questioning whether President-elect Biden really won. That shores up the base in the near term. McConnell honed in on a target of conservatives: the press corps. Such talk also helps keep Republicans fired up as the GOP tries to win two special elections in Georgia in January to avoid a 50-50 Senate.
Like it or not, the “Trump Effect” may continue to boost Republicans, even after he leaves office. The “Trump Effect” wasn’t what Republicans expected. And certainly not what Democrats anticipated. Pollsters missed it completely.
Graham told Fox News Radio that he “would encourage President Trump” to run in 2024 if “he does fall short.” Graham added that the GOP couldn’t “let this movement die.”
And that brings us to today’s crossroads in American politics.
Democrats are struggling to extinguish the “Trump Effect” once and for all. And Republicans hope to keep it going.