Democracy & Government

Unsanitized, Election Edition: Nobody Knows Anything

Unsanitized, Election Edition: Nobody Knows Anything

This article is adapted from Unsanitized: The Election Daily Report put out by The American Prospect. You can find the original publication here.

First Ballot

Welp. This is what victory over Donald Trump looks like. Is everybody happy?

Joe Biden took the lead in Michigan this morning, and once the early absentee votes are counted in Pennsylvania, he’s likely to take the lead there, at least if those votes fit the prevailing trend. That would be more than enough, even if Nevada flips. In fact, if Biden wins every one of the too-close-to-call states (not Alaska, which is just waiting on absentees and will likely go to Trump), my map prediction would be 100 percent accurate. Of course, we may end up in recount territory in a couple of states, and the president is frantically trying to shut down the counting. Winter of Our Discontent, anyone?

Meanwhile, the downballot races were a complete disaster, and the results in general frustrate any clean narrative you want to portray, with the exception of there being in general a voter suppression industry that begins to crank before anyone even tries to vote, as our Robert Kuttner explains today. Think that Trump voters are merciless racists? Some are, but he gained with non-white voters and according to the (imperfect) exit polls only lost ground among white men. Even if you don’t believe the exit polls, the non-white gains can be easily seen in south Florida and the Rio Grande Valley, and this was determinative or close to it among the pool of those able to vote in those states. Think that progressives would have done a better job? Nebraska’s second district, where Biden won (and in some maps won the election), saw open progressive Kara Eastman lose for the second straight time. Incumbent Republican Don Bacon benefited from more outside spending in that race by about $1.5 million, but Bacon outpaced Trump significantly.

Think the suburbs finally came back to Democrats? Not really, House freshmen lost midterm races in suburban-heavy districts in Charleston and Oklahoma City, reverting back to the mean. Think money in politics overwhelms everything? You can’t possibly think that, Biden destroyed Trump in spending for this bare victory, and Senate candidates like Jaime Harrison, Amy McGrath, and MJ Hegar set money on fire, unable to buy their way past ideology. Think the incompetent pandemic response would wake everyone up to the policy bankruptcy of the past four years? I have to say that this is what I thought, and even with my map still in play I was definitely wrong. There’s a “shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue” quality to that aspect.

You could keep going with this. There’s no single narrative throughline that cleanly explains last night. It’s time to throw FiveThirtyEight and the polling-analysis-industrial complex into the ocean, but if you’re grasping for a story to reinforce your priors, you’re unlikely to find it.

The results right now show that Trumpist populism has a much higher threshold in the country than expected, that Trump himself pissed off just enough people to lose, and that Democrats are completely distrusted. The public appears to be fine with what at least in the past have been called Democratic issues—a $15 minimum wage got a supermajority in Florida, Coloradans voted for paid family and medical leave, Nebraskans reduced consumer loan interest rates to 36 percent, Arizonans appear to have taxed the rich to pay for education. There are even some caveats to this blanket statement in California, where Uber and Lyft bought a labor law for themselves that cannot be changed, the cashless bail system was taken down, and the historic challenge to Prop 13’s commercial property tax rules is trailing, though it’s close enough that late ballots might turn that around.

Progressives largely sat down and shut up during the general election. They did not criticize what looked like a campaign you’d run if you had a lot of money in 1996, with hundreds of millions of dollars blown on 30-second ads, most of which were empty of policy (though not all). They didn’t second-guess the nominee. They didn’t do a whole lot to protect their own, either, for what it’s worth. That unity is going to end, and it’s probably already ended.

But here’s the thing. You don’t win back the trust of the universe of American voters with slogans about policy. You win it back with, well, policy. You have to govern well and prove that you put people’s interests first. Superficially it seems like Trump doesn’t do that; many of you are screaming “of course he doesn’t do that!” I’d have thought trade policy and the lack of a manufacturing return would hurt him more in the Midwest but he handed out billions in farm bailout funds; I’d have thought COVID would hurt him more, particularly among low-wage workers, but the funds that have run out may have endured just long enough not to insulate him. The larger point is that the populism, while a pose, is more appealing than we considered.

It wasn’t appealing enough to stop character attacks from barely succeeding. But now it’s Democrats’ time to govern. How, you ask? Over a year ago, we created the Day One Agenda for just the scenario we are more likely than not to find ourselves in: a Democratic president with a Republican Senate. There are lots and lots of options under existing authority for a Biden administration to make progress, and progress he must make. Trump barely has any legislative accomplishments and he transformed the country in numerous ways. The Biden team, if they win, must have the creativity and forcefulness to govern. It’s the only way to regain that broken trust.

Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair

Forget the chair for a second, one of the commissioners, Donna Shalala, lost her seat last night. You know Shalala from this space as the person brought in to oversee Federal Reserve credit facilities (with no relevant experience) who then almost immediately violated U.S. law with unreported stock sales. Not the best person to then conduct oversight, if she can’t even comply with it.

French Hill, the House Republican commission member, was supposed to be in a toss-up race for his seat. He won by 10 points.

Today I Learned, Election Edition

I must admit to not learning much from others; I’m way behind on my reading. Links tomorrow.

David Dayen

David Dayen is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @ddayen.