An essay about the upcoming conflict between an increasingly divided Democratic party pointing fingers for tremendous losses in the house and a potentially Republican-controlled senate — all of whom are dealing with a newly elected Democratic White House.
It was mere hours after the formal projection of former vice-president Joseph R. Biden and his historic running mate’s, former Senator Kamala Harris, electoral college victory that the deep-rooted division sown into the democratic banner began to rear its head once more. Despite a fairly impressive performance for Biden, flipping two predominantly red states (Georgia & Arizona), and rebuilding the Democratic wall across the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — leading in Pennsylvania by double the automatic recount margin, and having the same fortunes in Michigan — Democrat’s control of the house has diminished.
As it currently stands on Politico’s casting of the 2020 election, Democrats are projected to maintain a majority by 219 seats, currently already losing eight seats with the added potential to lose five more. Not to mention the added blow of some financially devastating losses in the Senate with the high profile races of Jaime Harrison in South Carolina and Amy McGrath in Kentucky raking in a combined $93 million only to lose both seats by double digits.
With the election still occurring in house districts and a runoff set for two key Georgia senate seats in January, Democrats could still potentially stave off a Republican majority for two more years. Tying the senate majorities in would probably be a politically dicey presentation, however, one in which Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris would dictate the course of the Senate’s agenda. President-Elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for him in Washington.
A majority-controlled Republican senate wouldn’t mean the end for Biden’s plan, however. Senators like Mitt Romney from Utah — the only Republican Senator to vote for former President Trump’s removal from office — and Senator Susan Collins from Maine — who has spoken about Biden’s potential legislation in the past in moderate tones — are likely to be patted on the shoulder by the President-elect if a republican senate is an eventual result.
Still, the once unified body of the Democratic party with the singular vision of unseating the former President is now reckoning with the ideological divide and the recent losses on the congressional level. And the bickering between the two sides has already begun.
Nearly two weeks ago, former freshman and now sophomore progressive congresswoman and outspoken democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the first to shift the blame on moderates electoral engineering. Telling the New York Times in an interview,
“I’ve looked through a lot of these campaigns that lost, and the fact of the matter is if you’re not spending $200,000 on Facebook with fund-raising, persuasion, volunteer recruitment, get-out-the-vote the week before the election, you are not firing on all cylinders. And not a single one of these campaigns were firing on all cylinders.”
In the same interview, she would also chalk up some of the losses to the deeply-rooted issue of racism and the lack of hurt caused by progressive policies, pointing to the successes of Mike Levin in California’s 49th House District, who held onto his seat by almost double digits.
Similarly, the next day, a moderate democratic congressman who also held onto his seat against a Republican challenger in Pennsylvania, Conner Lamb, spoke with the New York Times about the party’s recent losses. When asked about what went wrong, he answered,
“I’m giving you an honest account of what I’m hearing from my own constituents, which is that they are extremely frustrated by the message of defunding the police and banning fracking. And I, as a Democrat, am just as frustrated. Because those things aren’t just unpopular, they’re completely unrealistic, and they aren’t going to happen.”
He would also mention his growing frustrations with the party’s progressive wing and his continued admiration for their resiliency when pressed beneath such intense scrutiny and racist attacks by both the former President and his base.
But when asked specifically about the policies on the progressive agenda — single-payer health insurance or the Green New Deal (legislation sponsored by AOC herself) — he said,
“I’ve now been through three very difficult elections in a Republican-leaning district, with the president personally campaigning against me. And I can tell you that people are not clamoring for the two policies that you just asked about. So, that’s just what probably separates a winner from a loser in a district like mine.”
And perhaps Congressman Lamb points to a good refutation of the New York Congresswoman’s criticisms, as most candidates who were unable to retain their seats dwelled in deep-red states like South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Florida. And with state legislators remaining predominantly Republican, redistricting will make those seats even harder to retake.
Florida provides critical insight into the increasingly unpredictable world of American politics, as it was not the white voting bloc of racism that progressives might claim as around 55% of Florida’s Cuban-American vote went to Trump, along with 30% of Puerto Ricans and 48% of other Latino groups. After a significant push to micro-target these minority groups with recalls to their descendancy from countries ruled by left-wing dictators like Cuba’s Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. Republicans hammered this theme of Democratic socialism, with the Trump campaign running relentless Youtube ads falsely claiming that the Maduro regime back Biden.
Florida’s key example is that growing diversity in historically red-states may not equal Democratic strongholds. It’s also vital that democratic electoral strategists begin to wrestle with the ever-growing reality that no minority group is a monolith of ideologies or a homogenous voting bloc.
However, to Ocasio-Cortez’s point, Trump still received overwhelming support from white women and uneducated white men. Also, it’s become evident that Biden’s successes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona arrive at the increasing help of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous voting blocs. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris pointed out as much in her victory speech, describing Black women as the “backbone of democracy.” Going further, she tweeted the next afternoon,
“Thank you. You are too often overlooked and yet are asked time and again to step up and be the backbone of our democracy. We could not have done this without you.”
However, most of these numbers may not mean much as of yet, as exit polls are generally misrepresentative and cumulative electoral data will take some time to be broken down. One thing worth noting is the potential damage committed to President-Elect Biden’s agenda with the continuing stalling by the former President, Donald Trump, who continues to wrongfully claim fraud and victory despite losing the election and fail to make any of his lawsuits stick.
And Biden’s Presidency arrives at a historic moment, with the tides of racial justice crashing against the pillars of white supremacy, climate change continuing to evolve and damage the coasts of America, and the on-going pandemic which could potentially take the lives of an additional 70,000 Americans before Biden’s inauguration in mid-January. Not to mention an economy that is in far worse damage than the economy his counterpart and former President Barack Obama oversaw in 2009, all of which amplifies the depths of division that exist between the differing wings.
As the path forward for moderates asks for incremental changes on specific issues, big pushes on others and the ambitious desire for bi-partisan support from the colleagues across the aisle may stress the uncompromising tendencies of progressives may need altering. However, the agenda of progressives has not changed according to most reports and could stall key legislation in arguing moderates aren’t going far enough. One progressive freshman from New York, Congressman-elect Jamall Bowman, described progressive priorities as the “demands of the American people” that Biden needs to respond to.
Moderates tend to focus more on upcoming elections and their potential lack of success in them if they fall in the same pitfalls as Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who led with big government legislation in his first two years as President. Only to find himself confronted by a Republican congress in 2010, something progressives claim is the fault of him not delivering on key promises made to diverse voting blocs.
But for some on the left, the pandemic and on-going economic crisis — which won’t have the answers as usual recessions according to Opportunity Insights, a relatively new academic group of economists at Harvard — provide a reason to press the administration further than Obama’s back in 2009, despite many believing the progressive wing was far too detrimental to Obama at a moment of economic crisis.
Nevertheless, the impending conflict between the two wings will have to be captained by Biden in a way that will not be easy to misinterpret as him being the exact thing Trump predicted, a “trojan horse for the radical left.” Biden campaigned as a moderate Democrat, something that could be a key signal as to why he could overturn those red states. Or maybe it was the outpouring of support from voting blocs not relied upon in the traditional electioneering of presidential races, or perhaps it was merely a denouncing of the former President’s wicked and immoral actions amidst his one-term presidency.
Time and academia will answer these questions in the coming months, but Biden will arrive in office well before then, and he’ll have a heaping plate of issues to sift through with a democratic party in disagreement about the best course of action moving forward into solving not only the problems of today but maintaining electoral power in the impending elections of 2022 and 2024. Like it or not, America is in Joe Biden’s hands now, and time will tell how his governance will shape the future of not only America but the Democratic party itself.