There is quite some consternation about how 73 million people could actually have voted for Trump. What does that say about the electorate? Has half the country gone mad?
There have been many answers to that question, but I’m going to propose something simple. We just need to recognize that without Covid19 we would have had no chance of defeating Trump. The strength of the economy would have reelected him. In fact that almost did happen, and it’s why the polls were wrong.
Trump almost had his November surprise. In the debates we were able to lead with Covid19, because we could point out how Trump’s botched non-leadership compared with other countries. That argument collapsed at the last minute, when Europe entered a new Covid crisis not yet shared by the US. Normally international developments don’t affect domestic opinion much, but this effectively exonerated Trump. Our election day fit neatly into that short period where Europe was reeling with a second Covid wave, but the US looked better.
With that, the economy returned as primary issue. Biden was going to turn things upside down—as an overreaction to Covid and to deal with nonsense such as climate change. It wasn’t just a matter of socialism-mongering. We had invested so much in Covid as evidence of Trump’s dangers, that people had to think themselves about the rest. Trump, shockingly, had his reelection turned into the safe choice!
What does that say about Trump voters? There were of course whole blocs of true-believers such as the Evangelicals, but the rest of the group was familiar: they’re the same ones who would have elected Trump without Covid. With Covid off the table, the Trump time had been okay, and the rest was electoral noise.
That’s the level at which the election was fought. We shouldn’t delude ourselves that the electorate was as excited about all our issues as we are. Maybe I’m pushing things, but I’m going to draw a parallel with the last British election. In that election the primary issue for the voters was Brexit, but the Labor leader Corbin was only interested in promoting his classically socialist programs. Those programs were actually popular, but they were irrelevant for that election, and the population judged Labor irrelevant too. We’ve won the election on Trump and Covid, but we shouldn’t think we’ve finished the job of making our other issues relevant.
If we can’t make progress on the Covid recovery, healthcare, and climate, we will be judged irrelevant. Internal fighting only hurts. I’d even say that so much needs doing for climate and the Covid recovery that the remaining divisions are less important.
We may of course be in a real battle to be able to govern at all. There’s a fair chance that after January 20th Trump will still be talking about a stolen election, and—if we can’t pull off a Senate win in Georgia—Mitch McConnell could be back with the same scorched-earth used with Obama.
The Republicans got off scott-free for six years spent deliberately prolonging the 2008 recession. After the abject hypocrisy of the “balanced budget amendment” followed by Trump’s deficit-funded tax cuts, we can’t let that happen again.
That’s a worthy battle. But as with the election itself, we’ll need everyone or we’ll all lose.