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?