For NeverTrump, this is not the end—but it’s a great beginning.
I was a small-government Never Trumper. I regarded Donald Trump as unfit for office and wanted him out, but I didn’t want to sign on for the full Democratic party agenda.
Which means that I’m part of a small sliver of the country who got precisely what we wanted from this election: a victory for Joe Biden, but a narrow one that didn’t extend down the ballot and will almost certainly leave him without a Democratic Senate majority to work with.
Finally, 2020 paid out for someone.
I had intended to write something after the election about the specifics of the Biden agenda—but the voters have saved me a lot of work, because without Democratic control of the Senate, whole sections of a potential Biden agenda just disappear. The Manchin-Toomey gun control bill? Forget about it. Tax increases? Probably not. A Biden version of Green New Deal Lite? A public option added to Obamacare? It’s hard to see how these happen now.
We will get some pernicious executive orders here and there, but maybe that will create some bipartisan interest in reining in executive authority and limiting the president’s emergency powers—something Congress should have done decades ago.
Joe Biden pretty openly campaigned as a caretaker president, and it looks like the American people took him up on the offer. His main job will be to sit in the Oval Office and act like a responsible adult. If he manages to accomplish this even half the time, it will be an improvement.
Over the final weeks of the election, there were a lot of people on the internet angry that I wasn’t supporting Trump. They insisted that I must be in favor of the Democrats’ “socialist” agenda that was going to “destroy America.” But it turned out that the joke was on them: We actually managed to withdraw support from Donald Trump without getting the Democrats’ whole agenda, much less some kind of Venezuelan-style socialism.
In the end, people like me got pretty much what we wanted out of the Never Trump movement.
How the hell did that happen?
What happened is this: Voters across the country showed a decided tendency to split their votes, supporting Republican candidates down the ballot even while they voted against Trump.
In my neck of the woods, Abigail Spanberger very narrowly won re-election in a strongly Republican-leaning congressional district (VA-07) where she had carried off a surprise victory in 2018’s big Democratic wave. A Washington Post reporter live-tweeted Spanberger’s reaction in a post-election conference call with other Democrats. I love the way it’s transcribed here.
I did not vote for Spanberger, but I can’t say I’m entirely disappointed she won.
I was waiting all summer for evidence that the violent protests–not just in Portland, where we’re used to it, but in places like Minneapolis and Kenosha, for crying out loud—would finally show up in the polls as a backlash against the left. It never really did, not in the presidential race. It proved too difficult to tie lifelong moderate Joe Biden to the violence, for the same reason it was hard to tie him to radical socialism. Yet that was the only strategy the Trump campaign really had.
But the poor performance of Democrats down the ballot? I suspect this is the backlash against violent protests showing up in the polls. Moderate Democrats who swept suburban districts in 2018 thanks to disgust with Trump suddenly found those districts less welcoming when they were associated with dismantling the police.
The biggest surprise in the polls is that Trump did relatively well among black and Hispanic voters. I say “relatively” because winning 18% of the votes of black males may be higher than is normal for a Republican candidate, but it’s not exactly changing the game. Yet for people who had not been paying close attention to the polls, this result came as a surprise.
Part of the explanation is that ordinary black and Hispanic voters are not as interested in identity politics as the leadership of the Democratic party. Ruy Teixeira, who co-wrote the book arguing that Democrats could rely on the minority vote to become a majority party, explains why it’s not working:
I don’t think there’s any doubt that wokeness, and the issues around that, helped brand the Democratic party. The Democrats spent three months with a discourse dominated by the protests around George Floyd, racial justice, and so on, culminating in the defund-and-abolish-the-police movement, which was basically of very little interest to the median voter. To the extent that the Democrats are identified with that rhetoric—from language-policing to terming the US a white-supremacist society—the less able the party is to appeal to working-class voters of all races and moderate voters in general….
[Democrats] need to put a lid on the culture-war stuff, and emphasize issues that are of broad concern to working- and middle-class people of all races.
In related news, the Biden campaign is attributing their success to one thing: “We turned off Twitter. We stayed away from it. We knew that the country was in a different headspace than social media would suggest.” And they were right.
The best proof that Trump’s loss is not the far left’s gain is what happened in state and local referendums:
California voters passed Proposition 22, partially undoing Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which put thousands of independent contractors out of work right when the pandemic hit. The bill was originally intended to encourage gig workers to unionize by requiring ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees, not independent contractors. But AB5 overshot its mark and put thousands of other independent contractors out of work, including journalists, translators, office workers, actors, musicians, and production crews.
This pretty much sinks the prospects for a federal version of AB5, which Biden had endorsed.
While they were at it, California voters also said no to expanding rent controls, finally heeding the warnings economists have been shouting since the 1940s.
Illinois voters said no to giving their legislature the ability to raise taxes more easily. The Illinois state constitution requires a flat income tax. The Fair Tax Amendment would have changed that to allow a progressive tax and would have made tax increases easier….
Oregon decriminalized possession of hard drugs. Five other states legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, including socially conservative Mississippi. Oregon and the District of Columbia also decriminalized hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Voters may have gone for the Democrat for president, but they went libertarian on referendums.
From the moment Donald Trump got elected in 2016, there were two schools of thought on the left about what to do. One was that Trump was so awful that he needed to be removed from office, and Democrats should focus like a laser on that, working to appeal to moderate voters and seeking out allies they wouldn’t usually agree with, such as disaffected Republicans.
The other school of thought was that Donald Trump was so obviously vile and off-putting that the American people were bound to reject him—so Democrats should nominate the most radical candidates possible, taking advantage of this opportunity to get the far left’s entire fantasy agenda.
The voters have just settled that question, and the Revolution has once again been put on hold. No wonder Democrats, despite Biden’s victory, are viewing this election as a failure and planning a post-mortem. The last time a political party held a widely publicized election post-mortem was in 2012, when their candidate lost.
The only thing that’s missing is the reckoning some of us were looking for. If Trump had lost in a landslide, with Republicans in Congress punished for his misdeeds, it would have been clear that Trump and Trumpism have been an unmitigated disaster for the right.
I was skeptical that this would happen. In my experience, the last thing people will forgive you for is being right while they were wrong. This election result was just narrow enough that it’s clear a reckoning is not going to happen. Instead, conservatives are going to be tempted by the idea that the real ticket to winning is Trumpism without Trump—all the illiberal nationalism, but without the crazy tweeting.
In other words, Josh Hawley.
I think this is an illusion. The crazy tweets, the conspiracy theories, the blustering megalomania—those were the keys to Trump’s political success. His reliance on personal celebrity, combined with a basic indifference toward policy and ideas, is the essence of Trumpism. Nationalist intellectuals are just trying to backfill their ideology into this void.
I doubt it’s going to work, but that is the big ideological question that didn’t get settled in this election.
This indicates the future direction for advocates of liberty: We can expect to spend less time than we might have feared fighting against Biden administration assaults on individual liberty—simply because Democrats won’t be able to do all that much—and more time fighting the intellectual battle for freedom against the nationalist wing of conservatism.
For those of us who wanted to rescue the political right from its illiberal and authoritarian wing, this is not the end. But it’s a great beginning.