As a longtime poultry fancier, I thought I would try my hand at counting some chickens before they are hatched. As I see it, there are three likely alternative outcomes to the election that is now only two weeks away: first, that the Democrats elect Biden but the Republicans hold the Senate; second, that the Democrats elect Biden and just manage barely to take the Senate with 50 or 51 senators; and third, that the Democrats elect Biden and emerge from the election with 52 senators or more.
The first alternative is so horrible that I shall not comment on it here unless and until it happens. The second alternative poses a serious problem because senators Joe Manchin and Diane Feinstein have said they will not vote to eliminate the filibuster. I can imagine some political horsetrading that would get them to come around but I don’t honestly know how likely that would be. The third alternative opens up great possibilities and also poses interesting problems. Let me talk about that one (when you are counting chickens before they hatch, you get to choose the most promising eggs.)
If the Democrats hold the House, take the Senate with 52 votes or more, and win the presidency what is likely to happen? When Biden takes office on January 20, he will face a double crisis that demands immediate action, namely the medical crisis and the economic crisis. Although his natural instinct, honed by a lifetime in politics, will be to reach across the aisle to his friends on the Republican side and work to form a bipartisan consensus, a process that would take 6 to 9 months and end in failure, he is not going to be able to take that route because the crises will be both immediate and overwhelming. Since he will get no cooperation from the Republicans, certainly not in the first month or two of his presidency, he will be compelled to push for an end to the filibuster and then for rapid passage of a series of measures designed to save the country. This will include some major revision of the Affordable Care Act well before the Supreme Court hands down the decision on its constitutionality and also an immediate multitrillion dollar stimulus package of the sort that the Congress has already passed once before.
On the basis of Biden’s rhetoric, which I tend to believe, he will also seek to pass major economic legislation including an infrastructure bill, and here the normal political negotiation and give-and-take will occur.
After the first several months of heady bill passing, with Democratic Party self-congratulation and mutual back slapping all around, the currently papered over deep splits between the progressive and centrist wings of the party will quite naturally reemerge and then the real long-term work of those of us on the left will begin. How that turns out in the end will depend not on the character of Joe Biden but on the energy we can generate, the organization we can maintain, and the number of votes we can draw in the midterm elections of 2022.
Meanwhile, something weird is going to be happening to the Republican Party and I really have difficulty figuring out even in a speculative mode what that is going to be. A great deal depends on whether Trump fades from view and ceases almost immediately to be an important factor in American politics, which I think is genuinely possible, or whether on the other hand he remains a force commanding as much as 20% of the voting public. I am absolutely convinced that when he loses (God, I hope I am not jinxing things by saying "when" rather than "if") he will turn his fury on those whom he thinks betrayed him, and that means not the Democrats – whom he views as enemies – but his fellow Republicans. Ben Sasse and Ted Cruz have already started positioning themselves for the 2024 presidential race but unless the Republican Party can keep together the 45% of the voting public that supports them, neither of them nor any other Republican candidate will have the slightest chance of winning a national election. I cannot at this point imagine a realignment of the parties that would make a place for the Trumpy 20%.
Well, I have broken enough eggs to make an omelette so perhaps it is time to stop.