Back in October, another blue wave was widely predicted by Democrats, pollsters and the pundits. I was one of many people who drew parallels between 2020 and 1980 and 1932. Many of us believed that a weak economy and a failed response to the pandemic would doom Republicans up and down the ballot.
As it turned out, Joe Biden did win a decisive victory. Biden won a majority (51 percent) and lays claim to the highest percentage of the vote for any challenger to an incumbent president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Biden’s national popular vote lead has now passed 6 million votes. The President-elect has now won 10 million more votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history.
Biden’s percentage of the national popular vote is also higher than that of any Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Moreover, the Biden-Harris ticket’s 306 electoral votes equals or exceeds every GOP presidential nominee in the last 32 years. The presidential election wasn’t particularly close.
On the other hand, the Democrats fared poorly in many of the down ballot races. Democratic candidates fell short in most of the key U.S. Senate races and lost seats in the U.S. House. We also experienced losses in the elections for state legislative seats.
Due to the down ballot disappointments, Democrats have engaged in a blame game for these setbacks. Moderates and progressives have blamed each other for the down ballot setbacks. In my opinion, that debate is about a false choice more than anything. The explanation can be found in James Carville’s slogan from the successful Clinton campaign of 1992: It’s the economy stupid!
A very perceptive article from The Atlantic on November 7 gave an economic explanation for the election results: “Voters, as a general point, care a lot about the direction of the economy: They are more prone to punish a ruling party if the unemployment rate is low but rising than if it is high but falling.”
In the last few months before the 2020 election the economy created 11 million jobs. Yes, we are still down approximately 9 million jobs but many voters probably felt positive about the upward trend. In contrast, in 1932, 1980 and 2008, the economy was shedding huge numbers of jobs in the run up to the general election. In those years, the incumbent party suffered huge losses up and down the ticket.
Jamelle Bouie of the NY Times pointed out that the money injected into the economy by the CARES Act probably prevented a Republican rout: “At the end of March, President Trump signed the Cares Act, which distributed more than half a trillion dollars in direct aid to more than 150 million Americans, from stimulus checks ($1,200 per adult and $500 per child for households below a certain income threshold) to $600 per week in additional unemployment benefits. These programs were not perfect — the supplement unemployment insurance, in particular, depended on ramshackle state systems, forcing many applicants to wait weeks or even months before they received assistance — but they made an impact regardless. Personal income went up and poverty went down, even as the United States reported its steepest ever quarterly drop in economic output.”
What this means is that the Congressional Democrats acted responsibly earlier this year. They diminished the chances of a Democratic sweep rather than allow the American people to suffer. In contrast, during the deep recession during President Obama’s first term, the Republicans in Congress opposed all stimulus and tried to sabotage the economy and the Obama presidency.
You can be sure that if the GOP maintains control of the Senate after the Georgia run off elections, Mitch McConnell won’t approve a nickel of stimulus in the hopes of destroying the Biden presidency. What’s more, most D.C. Republicans were complicit in Trump’s refusal to participate in the transition process, which potentially could cost thousands of lives. The former TV reality star’s refusal to concede is sabotage on steroids.
We won a big victory in 2020 by knocking off Trump but our work isn’t done. We simply can’t afford to take a day off. We must remain united and continue to work for Democratic candidates. There are important city elections in Omaha and Lincoln in 2021. If we get a good result in these contests, we will lay the foundation for more success in 2022. Let’s get it done!