Joe Biden has been elected as President and we made history electing the first female President or Vice President in Kamala Harris. But when you get beyond the top-of-the-ticket, November 3 was a pretty bad day for Democrats.
This may prove tough reading for some with a narrative, but let’s get down to the brass tax.
If this post seems wishy-washy and in some cases I am defending the Democrats and in other I am ripping them, that’s the point. I’m trying to take the lazy narratives out of this analysis and just be objective about every critique we are seeing right now.
Biden was absolutely the right candidate – it is possible, perhaps even likely any other Democrat would have lost
For all the hand-wringing among elites in our party the last several weeks of the campaign that Biden was too old, not feisty enough anymore (laughable when you consider in the 1990’s Biden was probably the feistiest defender of liberalism in the Senate not named Ted Kennedy or Howard Metzenbaum), too unwilling to barnstorm the country, too liberal, too moderate, too nice, too whatever. Well guess what? HE WON. And it really wasn’t that close in the end.
For those advocating another candidate, would they have flipped enough smaller town votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to win? Almost certainly not. Democratic bleed in big cities (Biden did worse in Philadelphia and Detroit than Hillary Clinton did and as we know he did TEN POINTS worse in Miami-Dade County than Clinton did) meant we actually had to make up more votes outside the cities than in 2016, starting the most critical states at a larger defect than four years ago. And yet, Biden overcame this daunting math and won!
Even here in Florida, if you take out the bleed from Miami-Dade, Broward and Osceola, we’re talking a razor-thin margin of defeat.
Biden did better than Democratic House candidates in several pivotal states and ran double-digits ahead of the much-touted Democratic Senate nominee Sara Gideon in Maine. He was the right nominee in a tough environment for Democrats otherwise, period. End of story, end of discussion.
Being a Catholic with a degree of empathy of working class voters helped. Winning in this era is all about small margins, micro-targeting, etc. Biden gave Democrats and Never Trump Republicans more ability to micro-target and persuade on the margins than other candidates would have.
I do think a case can be made that in some places like Iowa and Ohio, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren may have lost by less. Both may have carried Michigan or even Wisconsin. I do also think it is every unlikely any other Democrat carries Pennsylvania or Arizona. So unlikely, if Biden isn’t going to run again in 2024, I’d automatically default those states back to the GOP column to start, meaning Georgia and Wisconsin must be held to win.
Over-Reliance on the Democratic Party Apparatus
Democrats reliance this cycle on state parties (as compared to 2016 and the OFA-heavy 2012 cycle) was a mixed bag. It worked in Wisconsin where the state party got more and more organized in the Scott Walker era. It failed in places like Florida where the state party’s 20 years malaise has only intensified recently.
In the future, states like Florida must have a viable campaign apparatus to either supplement the party on a semi-permanent bases or in fact replace it in the critical months before an election. Candidate-driven campaign AND Independent groups can do this job.
Georgia Georgia Georgia!
Florida, Florida, Florida is now Georgia, Georgia, Georgia for the foreseeable future. The net impact of the Rick Scott-ification of Florida’s urban and mid-sized cities is a less educated, less professional work force. Georgia, also run by Republicans for the better part of two decades (Georgia’s governorship flipped in 2002, four years after Florida and the legislature flipped completely in 2004, eight years after Florida) has been more willing to invest in education, attracting professionals to the state, cultural experiences and the like than Florida Republicans.
Atlanta’s suburbs are unlike any place in Florida currently in terms of the types of people the attract and the urban synergies. The result is a more professional state, a more culturally appreciative one and a better target for Democrats going forward.
Additionally, Georgia Democrats had an incremental approach to flipping the state and now that patient, build-from-the-bottom strategy is reaping dividends. Much of this success is down to outside groups that were well-funded and purposely focused on long-term goals. Much of this also relied on Georgia Democrats treating the base as a persuadables and always communicating with them, not just for money but for canvassing purposes.
The Democrats are even more exclusive and in some ways angry in their identity politics message than the Republicans. The Republicans version is nastier in that they use veiled racism as part of their version of it but Democrats also come across as angry and aggrieved in discussing it. The Democrats version of it is to identify with subgroups in the population and exclude major key demographics especially white Catholics.
Many Democrats aka mainstream liberals delude themselves into thinking they have the high ground with identify politics. But they don’t and that showed Tuesday as masses of Latinos sunk Joe Biden in Florida and Texas and tightened Nevada. They are just as bad as Republicans on that front, its just a different version of bad. They are basically begging white Catholic voters to vote Republican, a pet peeve of mine many long-time readers know I tend to obsess about. That now has extended to Latino Catholics who don’t fit a certain Democratic stereotype of the Latino population.
House Democrats messaging on Stimulus
Congressional Democrats inability to properly define stimulus issues and Coronavirus relief was a disaster. Many voters in post-election interviews credited Donald Trump for sending them personal checks or their businesses PPP loans. But Democrats had as much to do with that as anyone.
Not only did House Democrats lose seats, but I got quesy last night looking at all the potential targets after 2018 that saw increased GOP margins in 2020. How does that happen? Why does that happen?
I have long supported Nancy Pelosi, but after this debacle, time is up. We need leadership that can do a better job of messaging but I do worry no one can tactically push back on the GOP as well as Pelosi institutionally. But with a Democratic President that might be less important.
Democrats had a clear and decisive money advantage for the first time in memory in Senate races and yet performed worse than any cycle in memory when you consider the success of the Presidential ticket and national trends.
2020 felt like 1994 or 2014 in Senate races (even 2010 was better since we held a few seats that could have easily flipped), an incredible happening when we won the Presidency. I didn’t follow individual Senate races as closely as I would have liked so cannot offer any critiques as to messaging here.
#NeverTrump Republican groups made a positive difference and so did the left
It’s become fashionable among Democrats since Election Day to attack The Lincoln Project and other Republican groups that backed Joe Biden. But in a deeply-polarized country elections are won on the margins and Biden’s win owes itself to just those margins. Democrats messaging for all the money they spent this cycle was wishy-washy. It’s anecdotal, I know but I can point to multiple people in my circle hesitant to cross-over and support Biden that did so with gusto thanks to the Lincoln Project’s very direct and effective messaging.
It’s also become fashionable to blame Bernie Sanders supporters. But do you think Biden gets a record turnout in Dane County, Wisconsin (which effectively won him the state) without them? Sure they can be annoying on Twitter, but in the place they were needed to deliver, they did.
My take is they are belligerent online, and often too self-riotous and non-self critical for my tastes in general, but they are also are more in-tune to politics than most and if they were in a swing state, they voted Biden. I still resent the misrepresentation some Sanders-backers made toward Joe Biden’s Senate record, but in the end most came home and the establishment should be thanking them accordingly.
All too often the establishment of the party, too tuned to donor class concerns or trying to protect whatever power they have, hold both leftists and centrists at bay to promote some sort of governing identity-driven liberalism. Alienating both the left in the middle isn’t a good idea.
Once the unifying principle of Donald Trump is off the scene, how exactly do establishment Democrats propose to hold either left or center? How will they win elections in this era of massive polarization?
Let’s hope we get a new strategy from the party in terms of messaging.
Can voters trust Democrats?
This is what happens when you aren’t trusted by either the left or the middle. Republicans deliver on what they claim they will even if it is a law-breaking, autocratic style of governance. How much in the past have Democrats delivered on education, heath care or the environment? I’d argue they have more than most think, but I’m a geek who follows Congress and State Legislatures.
To most voters they have not delivered and the boiler-plate messaging remains the same every cycle, eventually leading to a point of diminishing returns.