A Democrat was elected president, ending a time of Republican dominance and activism. A counter-revolution threatened, with Democrats controlling Congress as well. Then came Georgia’s run-off for the U.S. Senate.
The year was 1992, when Paul Coverdell improbably helped redress the balance with a narrow win after George H. W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. In the November 3 tally, Coverdell trailed incumbent Wyche Fowler, who nevertheless failed to win a majority; about 3 percent of the ballots went to Libertarian Party candidate. With the latter’s endorsement — the desire to restrain the incoming Clinton administration united otherwise disputatious parties — Coverdell was elected and presaged the GOP surge two years later in which Republicans took control of both houses of Congress.
Given the heavy Democratic lean of absentee and mail ballots now being counted, Joe Biden has an edge to win the presidency. But Democrats’ hoped-for “blue wave” that would deliver a presidential landslide and sweep over the Senate as well proved to be little more than a ripple. The GOP lost seats in Arizona and Colorado but won one in Alabama, all of which were long expected. (Whatever prompted Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint Martha McSally to follow Jon Kyl in filling John McCain’s unexpired term after her loss in the 2018 election?) Republicans lost a very close contest to flip a Democratic seat in Michigan.
All of which leaves the GOP with a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Admittedly, the game is not yet over. But the betting is that Republicans will remain in charge. For instance, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis is in the lead, though the result hasn’t yet been certified.
Georgia has two seats in play. David Perdue leads his race but has fallen under a bare majority, with votes still being counted. He will be forced into a January run-off if he ends up below 50 percent. The Libertarian Party nominee received the balance of votes. Perdue would be the favorite in another round, but nothing is assured.
Kelly Loeffler, appointed after Johnny Isakson resigned for reasons of ill-health, faces a run-off. With 20 candidates running in an open ballot, she and the lead Democrat together garnered less than 60 percent of the vote. The two-way face-off likely will be close. Republicans have recently ruled politics in the Peach State, but this year proved close for the presidential race as well. (Trump’s lead has consistently fallen, with more votes being counted.)
Assuming a Biden victory, the Senate will take on an outsize importance. For it will be key to constraining the Left. Holding that body will give life to the Founders’ vision of republican governance: separation of powers and checks and balances.
Unsurprisingly, progressives, who turned kvetching into an art form when they suddenly realized that jurists could restrain them as well as conservatives, are well aware of the possibilities. Already lefties are whining that they won’t be able to fulfill their glorious progressive dreams by reordering America and running Americans’ lives if they don’t control the Senate.
For instance, Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman complained: “It now looks likely that on Jan. 20 of next year, Joe Biden will become president of the United States. And after the inaugural balls are over that evening, he will take off his tuxedo, put on a scratchy jumpsuit and check into a prison cell whose keys are held by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).”
Interestingly, Waldman doesn’t indicate that he was bothered about the possibility of Biden ending up in a prison cell. That would have the happy liberal effect of elevating Harris to the presidency. (If Biden is inaugurated, don’t be surprised if the House, where Democrats maintained their majority, decides to investigate Hunter Biden’s activities, finding Biden père to be unfit for the presidency!)
Rather, Waldman was mourning the destruction of his fantasy policy agenda. He explained, “For months, we’ve been contemplating a world in which Biden wins the White House and Democrats narrowly take control of the Senate. We asked ourselves if they should get rid of the filibuster (yes, they should) or grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico (also yes).” And do who knows what else, perhaps with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Socialist Workers Party emeritus, acting as informal domestic policy czar.
Similar was the doleful take by Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, in an article entitled “Without the Senate, a Biden Presidency Will Be Crippled Before It Begins.” Weissmann wailed, “It is a devastating turn both for the prospects of a successful Biden presidency, which will be crippled day one, and the country’s wider well-being.” So long as the unenlightened masses get to vote, it appears that the glorious progressive revolution will have to wait.
Of course, election to the presidency rarely guarantees a smooth ride. President Barack Obama suffered similar problems when the House and then the Senate flipped under him. But, Weissmann noted, at least Obama had gotten his administration in place and was able to push through a signature health-care bill before Mitch McConnell — for whom the Left believes no epithet is too strong — got in the way.
In Biden’s case, observed Weissmann: “Unlike second-term Obama, he won’t have a Cabinet in place, or an opportunity to pass any of the marquee legislation he campaigned on. Instead, he will likely start his term facing down McConnell and an obstructionist Republican Party with the power to stiff-arm his appointments and most of his agenda.” Although there are issues upon which the GOP might be willing to cooperate, observed Weissmann, “Biden might as well forget the main progressive planks of his platform. Those white papers can go straight to the shredder.” Tragic. Just tragic. All that detailed planning for a socialist rebirth of America gone to waste.
Cultural critic Noah Berlatsky wrote for Think: “assuming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does maintain control of the Senate, a lot of progressive dreams go out the window.” He offered a long list of legislative dead-ends. Election reform, Voting Rights Act amendments, and court-packing. More Obamacare, abortions, gun control, and COVID-19 spending. New states with Democratic senators dedicated to turning Uncle Sam into Santa Claus in time for Christmas. All now out of reach. What were the American people thinking?
Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times noted that even Biden’s ability to appoint the usual suspects will likely to be affected: “In all likelihood, a Democratic White House would have to scale back any proposals to get buy-in from Republicans. Progressives once under consideration to be Cabinet appointees could well be passed over for more moderate nominees.” No giving Elizabeth Warren the keys to the Treasury. No Bernie Sanders, the bare-chested socialist troubadour, as Labor Secretary. (Actually, since their replacements would be chosen by Republican governors, McConnell might be more favorably inclined to these selections than commonly thought.)
Still, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), mentioned as a possible secretary of state, worried that “Mitch McConnell will force Joe Biden to negotiate every single cabinet secretary, every single district court judge, every single U.S. attorney with him.” Murphy predicted, “we’ll have a constitutional crisis pretty immediately.” More likely, Biden would simply put out a no vacancy sign for lefties who imagined their time in Washington had arrived.
In fact, it was never clear that even a moderately augmented Democratic caucus would be prepared to eliminate all checks on the progressive warrior class determined to remake America into its image. Imagine Sen. Joe Manchin explaining to citizens of the Mountain State why he decided to allow Bernie Bros & Friends to add states, judges, and programs with wild abandon. The bigger the Democratic majority, the more likely the new Democratic lawmakers would hail from Republican-leaning states and thus face tough reelection battles. Welcoming the revolution that Comrade Bernie was dreaming about on his fabled trip to the Soviet Union in 1988 would not be a particularly positive path forward for their political ambitions.
So even if Democrats do scrounge up another couple Senate seats, the future is less likely to be Red in the sense that Bernie’s Chinese and Russian comrades would understand. The problem is simple. After dreaming of routing Donald Trump and what was assumed to be his rapidly dwindling not-so-merry band, Democrats discovered that the American people remained sharply divided. Not quite 50/50, but close enough that few suburban representatives are going to want to jump onto a neo-socialist bandwagon. Indeed, Trump shocked the assembled PC elites by broadening his appeal in almost every demographic category except white men.
As a result, at least six House Democratic incumbents went down, with more trailing in the current count. Even Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, supposedly headed to an easy reelection, won with just 51.9 percent. Not one GOP representative went down. And the newly elected Republicans are a demographically variable mix. The GOP also did well at the state level, rebuffing what Democrats expected to be a tsunami that would shift legislative control and give the Left greater control over redistricting. It appears that the only chambers to flip will be in New Hampshire, where both House and Senate went back to Republican leadership.
Indeed, Democrats already are diverting their energies to blaming intra-party enemies and plotting revenge. Reported the Washington Post:
Beyond that angst among the strategist class, elected Democrats began a predictable circular firing squad. Centrists blamed their far-left colleagues who have promoted “revolution” and ambitious policies such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, while those liberals punched back at the establishment for embracing a tepid agenda that did little to inspire the activist class. “Democrats need to do some soul-searching here,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a veteran centrist. “We’re way out in left field, and the inner core of the American voter kind of knows that.”
In fact, Virginia’s Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who barely fended off a challenge from State Delegate Nick Freitas, was unhappy with her close call. On a Democratic caucus call she reportedly complained: “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. Defund police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again. Need to get back to basics.”
And she was not the only unhappy camper. Apparently the three-hour discussion featured wailing and gnashing of teeth in Biblical proportions. Reported the Post: “An angry dispute erupted among House Democrats on Thursday, with centrist members blasting their liberal colleagues during a private conference call for pushing far-left views that cost the party seats in Tuesday’s election that they had worked hard to win two years ago.”
Actually, the New York Times made the dispute sound even more exciting. Explained the so-called Gray Lady, despite being a long-time aficionado of the Left:
Democrats wept, cursed and traded blame on Thursday during an extraordinary party confab to dissect the disappointing results of this week’s elections, agreeing on little except that they needed a “deep dive” into how they had ended up with painful losses that weakened their House majority instead of the big gains they had boldly predicted.
I’m sad I missed the chance to attend!
Of course, there’s no reason to expect much adherence to principle from Republicans who’ve ended up mostly devotees of the welfare/warfare state, at least as long as there is a GOP president. But for reasons of partisanship, opposition to a Biden presidency will be strong. Contra expectations, the stars did not align for a broad, even historic Democratic victory. Observed the Post’s Ruth Marcus: “assuming that Biden manages to eke out an electoral college victory, the path ahead of him is daunting: an electorate divided; a likely Republican Senate disinclined to compromise; and a Trump-enhanced Supreme Court poised to frustrate him at every turn.”
The primary obstacle for Biden is likely to be a solid if small Republican Senate majority, solidified by the upcoming Georgia contests. Jennifer Rubin, a onetime officially conservative columnist for the Post now writing as a progressive reborn, made a similar point. She considered the possibility of a handful of Republicans joining to pass the usual liberal panaceas, such as minimum wage increases (if Washington orders a salary increase we all can be rich!), but allowed that “Democrats will lack the numbers for their more ambitious goals (certainly, doing away with the filibuster as a prelude to a progressive legislative to-do list).” Congress won’t reward American lefties who dream marching toward the bright collectivist future that was abandoned when China and Russia dropped real communism!
Biden’s likely victory is why America’s Founders created a system that divided power. They also allowed states to set their own rules, such as mandating a run-off if no candidate secures a majority. Hence two upcoming Georgia Senate contests in January.
In a similar circumstance nearly three decades ago Republicans were joined by other opponents of an expansive liberal agenda, electing Paul Coverdell to help impede and ultimately thwart the Clinton political machine. Georgia’s Loeffler and Perdue could perform the same role in another critical special election in two months. Just as those who shaped America at its birth intended.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he is a member of the California and D.C. bars. He is the author of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington and The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology.