Why Tossing Trump Didn’t Power a Blue Wave

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Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Bottom line for the election: Trump lost, Democrats lost. How can that be? I’ve got some theories.

1. Doorbelling Deficit. This is the theory propounded by Seattle’s David Domke, fresh off efforts he led for Common Power, a citizen effort to register voters in Democratic districts. Since Biden was a well-known politician, he didn’t have to introduce himself to the voters, Domke says, and Biden wanted to model coronavirus caution, so there was much less doorbelling for votes. Worked for Biden, but a disaster for those lower on the ballot. Republicans doorbelled like crazy.

2. No Center Right. Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of “How Democracies Die,” has studied the rise of right wing extremism in Europe and finds the key factor is the weakness of a center-right party, which can wall off extreme right-wing movements. Democrats have purged their moderates and Republicans have euthanized their liberals. Result: an epidemic of wackos on the right.

3. The Trump Subtext. People voted out Trump, a faded clown, but liked the subtext world he signaled: sending kids back to school (a relief for moms), opening businesses (relief for workers), military swaggering (signal to patriots), ditch those masks (catnip to macho males and libertarians), and pushing to appoint Justice Amy Coney Barrett (signal to the religious, and a special Catholic message to Hispanics). Liberals, focusing on the slippery slopes and science-hating in this Trump circus, missed the breadwinner messages.

4. Missing Biden Subtext. Biden, like Hilary Clinton in 2016, basically ran against the Crazy Orange Man, rather than proposing serious programs to help ordinary folk. He ran as a healer and a savior of the American soul, which evaded specifics and made voters worry that extreme proposals would be considered. (Big opportunity missed: Biden saying “Defund the Police” was a terrible slogan.) The image campaign as healer also risked discounting by cynical voters dubious about how well this hopey-feely thing would work out. (Yeah, sure! C’mon, man!)

5. Antidisestablishmentarianism. (Always wanted to use that word in print.) Trump and Trumpism are disruptive, poison to the establishment. That’s pretty much the mood of the country (Bernie, Black Lives Matter, Tea Party, AOC and socialism, Portland, FOX, Kshama Sawant) but Uncle Joe was having none of it. That made him look weak, nostalgic, out of it, tone-deaf. That mighty blah trickled down to the muted-for-now Democrats.

6. Too much money. Biden and the Democrats had tons more money for the campaign, outspending the Republicans overall by $3 billion. That often leads to wasted efforts and so many ads and phone calls that voters rebel. The money advantage and the blue-wave polls lulled some voters in key places like Philadelphia to thinking it was in the bag for Democrats and didn’t need them to vote. Trump voters sensed doomsday and surged to the polls at the end. Okay, good riddance for Trump! But can’t we continue to torment the coastal elites and their exploded cigars of neo-liberalism?

4 COMMENTS

  1. “The Exploded Cigars of Neo-Liberalism” has potential as a band name. Regarding your first point, doorbelling, I wonder if there’s any correlation between the extent of doorbelling Republicans did and the COVID surge in the reddest places? There’s a strong correlation between places badly hit by the virus and places which strongly favored Trump. I doubt if doorbelling is really the link, but I wonder just a bit. Regarding your fifth point, antidisestablishmentarianism, do you believe the Democrats would have done better with Bernie Sanders as their nominee? The progressive wing of the party believes so, but I suspect not. I agree, however, that a lot of people in this country are fed up with the establishment. As “experts” have become more completely members of the economic and social elite, people’s trust in their expertise has faded. Gone are the days when the professional class consisted of court astrologers and barber-surgeons, people who were in no way part of the nobility. Nowadays pundits and doctors make big bucks, live in nice houses, and send their kids to fancy colleges. For the 80% of the population for whom such bucks, houses, and schools are an iffy option at best, those are good reasons to be suspicious.

    • Don’t mean to suggest Bernie should have been the nominee. I wish Biden had plucked some of the bolder ideas from other primary candidates, such as Booker’s Baby Bonds or Yang’s minimum income support or Buttigieg’s model for a depoliticized Supreme Court. These all remained “in play,” but Biden never showed he would bravely advocate real change or defy the establishment wisdom.

  2. Harsh take on the Democrats. First time in memory, got act together (moderates/liberals/independents/Republicans….of course Trump helped the cause. Biden is beyond messenger….very substantive. Also when I served, the political spectrum in 1970s-89s was 60% moderates (Demos/GOP), 20% ultra right and 20% on far left. Today, 20% moderate – 40% ultra right, 40% Far Left. No space for compromise. Why Biden has huge challenge. Don

  3. Biden’s message was the same as Hillary’s “Not Him.” We will see if the “swamp” survives as the people get a taste of the alternative.

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