A Look Into the Future

Tuesday I looked back. Today I look forward. Not as far forward as the end of the universe, but pretty far forward. Let’s divide my political expectations into short, middle, and long term.

Short Term

Like Ray Charles, we should all have Georgia on our minds.

Georgia has double — nay, triple! — importance. Most relevantly to the stability of our country, Georgia is the last state standing between me and a perfectly predicted electoral map; a red North Carolina and blue Arizona will join 47 other correctly forecasted states in addition to the District of Columbia and all of Marine and Nebraska’s Congressional districts. Georgia, however, will go to Biden despite my having predicted it for Trump. Therefore, Mr. President, I urge you: don’t take this loss sitting down. I want one recount after another until we get the result we want. If we don’t get this result, you must go to Georgia and sue its peaches off.

That connects to the second reason to watch Georgia: the President’s multi-pronged approach to reversing the apparent election result will certainly include Georgia as Biden’s likely closest margin of victory. We can expect Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin might be a part of that as well. Nothing will come of it. Although worst case he’s positioning himself to push for electors to override states’ popular votes, it’s more likely he’s just keeping his supporters in a froth so they help him retire campaign debt by continuing to donate to a lost cause just so the billionaire doesn’t have to. Either way, come January 20, I expect we’ll be channeling another Ray Charles song.

Finally, Georgia will be scrutinized during its two runoff Senate elections, another prediction I had right (although I’m a Trumpian-level sore sport on my misses in Maine and North Carolina). The GOP will almost certainly have a 50-48 Senate lead heading into the new year, but since both Georgia Senate races failed to produce a majority winner, the state’s rules dictate a runoff between the top two candidates on January 5.

The stakes are obvious:

  • If Republican incumbents David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler prevail, the GOP will hold a 52-48 lead in the new Congress, shedding only one seat off of their outgoing majority.
  • If Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win the races, the result is a 50-50 Senate, with likely Vice President Kamala Harris breaking more ties than a first base umpire.
  • Or, fascinatingly, Georgia voters might thread a needle and somehow do enough split-ticket voting that each party takes one of the two seats, resulting in a narrow 51-49 GOP majority. For example, there may be some voters who trust the Purdue name — his cousin, Sonny, was a two-term Georgia governor — but think Loeffler’s efforts to out-conservative Doug Collins pushed her too far from the mainstream. Indeed, one early poll of the two races found Perdue up four points but Loeffler only up one.

What we do know for sure is that with the entire nation watching only two Senate races for two months, and with all ads in Georgia essentially impacting the race for two Senate seats instead of the usual one, we can expect it’ll be the most expensive and ad-heavy pair of Senate races in history. Poor Georgians.

Who will win? My instinct is that the Republicans take both seats. Senator Purdue has already “won” the not-quite-two-person race with Ossoff. (He currently leads 49.7% to 48%, with Libertarian Shane Hazel, currently the owner of several dozen large gift baskets care of the Democratic Party, checking in at 2.3%.) If Purdue can just pick up four-tenths of a percent in their actual-two-person-race, he’ll return to the Senate.

In the other race, though Warnock “won” his jungle primary against several Republicans, he did it with only one-third of the vote to Loeffler’s 26% and Doug Collins’s 20%. The Republican pair combined would easily eclipse Warnock’s total. Even if we added assorted vote totals for minor Democrats in the primary, Warnock doesn’t reach 50% of the vote.

What’s more, there’s the added motivation for Republican voters that denying Ossoff and Warnock translates to denying Democrats a House-Senate-Presidency trifecta. Even anti-Trump Republicans and right-leaning independents can realign behind that now that Trump himself won’t be in office anymore.

And yet, as I have to keep painfully reminding myself, Joe Biden, a Democrat, has likely won the state. This is not the Georgia of two decades ago; Sonny Perdue’s Georgia was 70% white, but that number in David Purdue’s Georgia has fallen to 53. Dems can send in Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris every day for the next two months to rally the state’s growing African American vote. Between the presence of Harris and work of Stacey Abrams, I wouldn’t be surprised to see black women turn out at the highest rates of any state’s history.

There’s also a good chance we’ll see the electorate grow, as Georgia’s voters have until December 7 to register for this next election. It’s reasonable that the added attention and importance of these elections will bring out new voters, which is a variable that may be to the Democrats’ advantage. A general maxim of modern politics is that higher turnout is good for the Democratic Party, as seen with their higher success in presidential elections compared to midterms; even the sky-high turnout of the 2018 midterms was an exception that proves the rule (an idiom that frequently stumps me but feels right). As the theory goes, younger voters and minorities — two of the electorate’s Democratic strongholds — are the least likely demographics to show up for an election, but in a high-attention election, when they do show up, that negates the Republican advantage with white and older voters, who show up either way.

Democrats probably have the high ground on the most pressing issue as well — the pandemic and its economic impacts. To win the state, the Democrats will probably do what Democrats do best: offer free money. With the government deadlocked on a new stimulus package, the Democratic candidates can promise that if they get the party to a Senate majority, one of their first orders of business will be a robust infusion of cash to businesses and citizens, which will sound like a pretty sweet deal to the average Georgian. The two Republican candidates might have to match that promise just to remain favorites, which then gives the 48 Democratic senators two additional votes anyway.

My point? Ossoff and Warnock are in the game, and we know they’ll be bankrolled. It’s possible.


Middle Term

Eventually, believe it or not, we’ll have a new cabinet (which I predict will be a balance of moderates and progressives with a Republican thrown in), a new Congress, and a new President. How will that go?

We’ll have one eye on Mitch McConnell, the favorite to be the Senate Majority Leader for at least another two years. Will he again start rejecting judicial nominees from a Democratic president? Will he continue to use his position to deny the Democratic House bills passed out of its chamber? Or will he play at least a little ball? We know he cherishes the Senate’s role as a check, so it’s no certainty he steps to the plate.

Meanwhile, we’ll have our other eye on President Biden. Earning what I expect will be 306 electoral votes and 51% of the vote should provide a mandate, but it’s not a particularly broad one. His party lost seats in the House and is unlikely to have a majority in the Senate. Even in his own election, my hope for a broad rejection of Trumpism didn’t manifest; the President has eclipsed 70 million votes, the second largest total in American history.

Hoping to force the mandate, some Democrats want President Biden to do an end-around Congress and start legislating through executive order to overcome probable gridlock. Selectively deploying EOs, particularly in certain areas of foreign policy, can be an acceptable execution of the office, but if overdone domestically Biden would run the risk of the same kind of authoritarianism Democrats feared from President Trump.

It should be no surprise that this radical moderate wants Democrats to not overplay their hand. Democrats who want to seek out revenge for the last four years, who seek out compromise only if it’s on their terms and it’s the other side that capitulates, just want to perpetuate the maddening downward spiral of recent years. Trump supporters motivated by wanting to “make liberals cry again” are no worse than Democrats enjoying the pain of their political enemies. To be clear, after years of absorbing Trump’s behavior a bit of private schadenfreude is understandable. If it comes from our leaders, however, it’s not productive, and it’s not good for the country.

Instead, the ideal scenario is that Biden and McConnell recognize the U.S. for the purple country that it is and start by cooperating on widely popular initiatives, particularly pandemic-related coordination and relief, regulation of big tech, and affordable health care. If McConnell doesn’t play ball, perhaps Biden can peel away the few remaining Republican moderates with offers they can’t refuse so they can actually start governing again. We may even see a Gang of Six resurrect, where Biden pulls together three moderate Senators from each party who can put partisanship aside and negotiate a deal that can find 51 votes and a Biden signature. Short of Amy Klobuchar, no current or former legislator feels more appropriate to this task than does Joe Biden.

It’s worth noting that if the Democrats had won convincing control of the Senate, I’m not entirely sure Biden would have had much agency in the new government. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer would have taken Biden’s mandate and run with it, and a Democratic overreach could have been used by Republicans in 2022 when anti-Trump Republicans eagerly returned to their party. As it is, however, Biden can act as last weekend’s speech implied he wanted to — not as a true blue progressive but a purple power broker sitting between unfortunate political enemies.

I sincerely hope back-channeling is already happening between Biden and McConnell — and between the Biden transition team and remaining professionals in the executive branch — because we know front-channeling isn’t.


Long Term

Finally, I of course want to talk about 2024, though I’m worried just mentioning the next election when you’re still catching your breath from this one might be a bridge too far, even for a loyal PPFA reader who made it through 13 posts in two weeks to arrive at the final one. I could legitimately start talking Iowa and New Hampshire tomorrow if I could justify doing that to me and to you.

For now, I’ll just agree with what most people think — that Biden is not going to run for re-election at 81. Although he’s never come out and said it, I’ve felt for some time that he saw himself as a hired gun, one uniquely capable of taking back enough Upper Midwest working class whites from Trump to send the outgoing President to an electoral loss.

If Biden stands down, that will then give us two competitive primaries. On the Democratic side, Vice President-elect Harris is of course the favorite, but far from a shoe-in. If she indeed does go into the 2024 cycle as the Democratic favorite, that will give her something in common with the 2020 primary. She was the favorite then, too, and that didn’t work out very well. I shouldn’t have to remind you of her terrible campaign. She squandered her good will and never came close to meeting expectations. Many Democrats will therefore see her as vulnerable, particularly if A) 2022 goes poorly for Democrats, B) Biden/Harris’s popularity suffers, or C) it’s clear that the party’s best chance is to nominate another moderate, not a left coast Senator.

On the Republican side, all the talk is of which person with the last name Trump makes a run, whether it’s the big guy again, son Donald Jr., or daughter Ivanka. My hunch is that the President will permanently return to private life and leverage his presidency into profit, and his kids will want anti-Trump sentiments to die down a bit then consider their options in 2028.

That leaves a slew of mercifully traditional candidates. Vice President Pence will of course be a big name; in the last seven decades, the only elected Vice President not forced to resign (I’m looking at you Spiro Agnew) who didn’t later run for president is Dick Cheney. (It’s true! And they all got nominated but one. Work backwards in your mind: Biden, Gore, Quayle for a month, Bush, Mondale, Humphrey, Johnson, and Nixon take care of all elected VPs since 1952.) We can expect Ted Cruz will give it another go after his impressive runner-up bid in 2016 seemed to catch everyone off guard except Presidential Politics for America. Nikki Haley and Tim Scott will hope to use their DNA and political skill to broaden the party’s support beyond white men. Senator Tom Cotton might be able to fuse Trumpism with experience and a more appropriate tone. And then there’s Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has become must-watch television for throngs of apoplectic Trump supporters seeking guidance through these difficult times.

We’d probably see a dozen or more candidates on each side make a run, giving us more narratives than even PPFA’s wordy posts could analyze. And that, as you know, is a lot of narratives.

These primaries are still far off, of course… but not as far off as you think.

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