The temptations of Joe Biden

Dec. 7, 2020

This week:

  • Democrats’ divisions now rise to the surface
  • Dealmakers versus Radicals
  • Georgia Senate candidates debate


In the run up to the 2020 election, the media made as much as it could of divisions within the Republican Party. This despite the fact that the die-hard Never-Trump faction of the GOP is much louder than it is large — too tiny to be measured as a part of the electorate and disproportionately represented in the commentariat.

But as Joe Biden chooses his cabinet and prepares to steer his way through a divided Washington, the divisions among Democrats are rising to the surface once again — divisions that the media chose to minimize and ignore during the Trump era even under dramatic circumstances, as when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the first female speaker of the House a racist and sexist for criticizing her and fellow members of her socialist “Squad.” 

Given the mixed result in the election, Biden will have to navigate between a House that is almost evenly divided and a Senate in which Republicans either can block whatever they want or else control the agenda outright. This could give rise to one of two outcomes. One is that there will be a lot of dealmaking and “management” governance. Biden and his old pal Mitch McConnell will go back to making compromises along the model of the “fiscal cliff” deal of 2013. The other model, which the Radicals will favor, is the one that dominated most of the Obama era — governance by pen and phone.

Compromise, or ‘Phone and Pen’? Already, the Left is demanding that Biden forgive student loans via executive action. This would probably be illegal — after all, it represents an expenditure, and Congress must approve those — but the likelihood of success in such a measure isn’t as important as the question of whether Biden really wants to govern that way in the first place. 

He faces a big choice. Should he make all the big decisions — loan forgiveness, DACA, a halt to deportations, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Accord, etc. — and put them into effect by circumventing congressional authority, with the courts as the only check on his conduct? This is how most presidents behave, and that is how executive authority has come to be so overbearing within the American system.

So, which Biden shows up at the White House in late January? Surely, there will be a mix. During the election, he promised some of those executive actions. But he is also likely to begin his term in office seeking bipartisan approval of a COVID relief package, and to ease into office with a gentler, more consensus-oriented approach that the nation probably hasn’t seen since the era immediately following 9/11 and before the Iraq War had clearly gone sour. 

As with that period in the Bush era, any era of good feeling is unlikely to last long in the Biden era. This is why, especially deeper into his administration, Biden is likely to give in further to the radicals. 

Given historical trends and the party balance of control of redistricting, the midterm election of 2022 is likely to restore GOP control of the House. The picture in the Senate is less clear, as Republicans will be defending some difficult states and open Senate seats (this includes Pennsylvania, North Carolina and possibly Georgia) and have only a few serious pickup opportunities. Even so, a Democratic takeover of the Senate in Biden’s first midterm will be very difficult to pull off, as Senate Democrats’ surprising failures even in the more favorable years of 2018 and 2020 demonstrate. 

Assuming Republicans win one of the Georgia special elections on Jan. 5, Biden will become the first president since George H.W. Bush to take power without full party control of the elected branches of government. A Democratic failure to seize such control at any point during his first term will only increase the temptation he faces to give in to the Radicals and govern largely by executive action.

Senate 2021

Georgia: A poll of Georgia voters finds that most of them want to see Republicans control the U.S. Senate once the dust settles in the pair of Jan. 5 special elections that will decide the question. But Senate control, and the need to contain a nascent Biden administration, aren’t the main issues being discussed in Georgia right now. That needs to change if Republicans are to maximize their chances and protect Trump’s legacy in 2021 and beyond.

Republicans need to win only one of the two races in order to gain a 51-seat majority and Senate control. However, instead of arguing for placing appropriate checks on a Biden administration, some of President Trump’s supporters — Lin Wood in particular — have been in Georgia making the case that Republicans should not vote out of protest for the procedure used to count votes in the presidential race.

Trump himself has disavowed such nonsense and said exactly the opposite. But there is some danger that some Republican and/or Trump voters will listen.

There is also the vaguer danger that vain attempts to overturn the presidential result will distract from the main message of preventing Democrats from the full control of Washington they would need to undo Trump’s entire legacy. Meanwhile, even anti-Trump Republicans — the less unreasonable ones, anyway — side with Trump in voicing support for incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The debate in the special election, between Rev. Raphael Warnock, D, and Loeffler, points to a race in which Warnock recognizes he cannot sustain an out-and-proud left-wing campaign. His tactic of evading questions about many of his own positions and statements evinces a longstanding understanding that Democrats have had about Georgia, going back before its 21st Century realignment to the GOP. Too many of the voters are just too culturally conservative to run on wokeness or socialistic economic ideas. Democrats therefore have something to hide when they run for statewide office in Georgia — something that in another lifetime Democrats hid behind obvious, ugly, toxic appeals to racism, as Jimmy Carter did in his 1970 Democratic primary campaign for governor, even if those appeals were insincere.

Democrats don’t dare discuss their radicalism in public when running for statewide office in Georgia. But Warnock’s record is too littered with statements and commitments to socialism and socialistic ideas to keep the matter entirely under anyone’s hat. Of the four candidates in Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, this makes him by far the weakest link. 

Perdue, who actually topped Democrat Jon Ossoff in the general election but failed to avoid the runoff, might be in a more precarious state than Loeffler. But given the historically high dropoff in Democratic turnout between presidential and runoff races, Republicans have every reason to hope they can right the ship and preserve their Senate majority. 

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