Donald Trump left office a week ago. The prevailing question among the voting public is likely “What will post-Trump politics look like?”
President Joe Biden believes it is a time of healing. He’s generally known for conciliation. Yet, 70 million Americans voted for Trump and it is questionable whether these persons will be persuaded toward more centrist policies on Capitol Hill.
By and large, Republicans are hardcore one-issue voters, starting with abortion, low taxes, limited government and law-and-order. Any one of these issues is a motivating factor among the GOP voting block. Republicans have been building this base since at least the 1960s, when Richard Nixon employed the Southern Strategy to feed off White resentment to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
Political strife began 30 years ago
About three decades later, Newt Gingrich introduced hyper-partisanship to the mix as House speaker during the Clinton administration.
Republicans took it from there during Barack Obama’s tenure as president, thus fueling the Tea Party and eventually the unexpected rise of Donald Trump. Trump was the next logical step for Republicans and, with the party establishment’s blessings, he tackled not only the Democrats but long-held democratic norms and institutions.
Biden wants to unify the country—to the extent that’s possible—in suggesting policies that address the legitimate grievances of a wide swath of Americans, left, right and center. As he stated during his campaign, the Biden administration will start with the pandemic, followed by health care, racial reconciliation, and economic inequity and insecurity.
Many political watchers believe the new administration—along with party leaders in the Senate and House—should devote considerable time and attention to rebuilding the more liberal wing of the Democratic party. That means addressing racism, misogyny and law enforcement injustices as these issues have historically plagued communities of color. It also means continuing the grassroots progressive organizations and expanding the party’s base by getting more people off the sidelines and registered to vote. That strategy paid huge dividends in many states, particularly in the presidential and Senate votes in Georgia.
The Democrats are likely to call for a series of reforms concerning, among other things, presidential conflicts of interest, foreign influence on elections, pardon power abuse and assaults on the press.
“Trump conducted the presidency in ways that justify these reforms,” said Bob Bauer who, with co-writer Jack Goldsmith, authored the 2020 book “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency.” Each served in senior executive branch positions in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After the inconsistency and perversion of power exhibited during the Trump administration, the two suggest that Congress may devote considerable time in the coming years in debating how to reconstruct and reintroduce the familiar comportment and customary norms that constitute and govern the world’s most power office.
Reflecting best of American values
Then there’s the issue of whether the Biden administration will turn the Department of Justice loose to investigate Trump’s criminal behavior while in office, having been impeached two times. And while the United States has a history steeped in the slavery of African-Americans, the genocide of Native Indians, and the exploitation of immigrants, the nation has an equal history that has brought forth the “better angels” into play during the darkest times.
Biden’s role during these next four years may be to resume moving the nation forward towards the light. Rather than reflecting partisanship, this strategy is more reflective of the best of American values.
With thin majorities in both the House and Senate, Biden will have his work cut out for him in pushing through not just liberal but at a minimum centrist legislation against a Republican Party still angry and reeling about the loss of White House and Upper Chamber. Coming weeks will tell if there could be an end to hyper-partisanship at the national level.
With Senate wins in Georgia, the Democrats over the next two election cycles are looking to prove that Biden’s national victory was not simply a Trump backlash, but a permanent shift for not only that once-solidly Republican state, but to make inroads through the Deep South. The victories by Sen. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have made a strong push to solidify Democratic gains in urban areas and younger suburbanites around Atlanta—and possibly other large southern cities—along with an exceptionally strong Black voter turnout.
Suburbs once GOP stronghold
For Republicans, the looming question after their four-year embrace of Trump’s disruptive politics is how to deliver victories in battleground states going forward. While the GOP picked up seats in the House of Representatives, they’re still left with having to recon more directly with Trump’s swift rise to party leader, and equally fast fall. The nation’s growing and diversifying suburbs—once GOP strongholds—are trending considerably toward Democrats not just in Georgia but in other metro areas such as Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. The suburbs are shifting and are becoming more integrated among a growing middle class composed of young Whites and households of color.
Much of the Democrats’ recent strength in the suburbs is thanks to gains made with college-educated White voters. While this group has historically leaned Republican, it has shifted decisively towards Democrats in the past four years. College educated Whites are not the only reason Democrats have improved in the suburbs. Two other trends have also been in play being an increase in racial diversity, and population growth.
For instance, in Georgia, suburban Gwinnett County is now a “majority-minority” county at just 35 percent Non-Hispanic White, with substantial Black, Latino and Asian populations. The population of Gwinnett County has grown just over 16 percent since 2010, well above the national average. The newcomers are generally younger, more diverse and more highly educated than longtime residents.
Is a filibuster worth fighting for?
In past years, the Democrats coveted the filibuster as a way to keep Senate Republicans in check. With the Senate tied at 50-50 (and Vice
President Kamala Harris serving as the deciding vote), the majority party may no longer want to maintain it. Often called the “nuclear option,” the move to eliminate the 60-vote threshold currently needed to end debate in a full senate would allow President Biden—and a Democrat-led Congress—to act swiftly on key party priorities, including climate change, voting rights and gun control with just 51 votes.
But that may not be the case with Joe Manchin, a more conservative Democrat from West Virginia. He has stated that eliminating the filibuster would lead to even more partisanship.
“I have never supported a repeal of the filibuster and I don’t support one now,” Manchin said. “I am willing to consider solutions that promote collaboration so the Senate is able to be a productive body again. But repealing the filibuster would result in even more partisanship.”
This issue, along with a myriad of others, could prove controversial for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who must decide what’s best for his caucus: To block everything so that voters will blame Biden for not getting anything done, or compromise? McConnell hasn’t had to take the latter course of action in six years.
“The important thing for our Democratic friends to remember is that you may not be in total control in the future, and any time you start fiddling around with the rules or the Senate, I think you always need to put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes and just imagine what might happen when the winds shift,” McConnell said.
The GOP is now a deeply split party. It hasn’t won the popular vote in a presidential election in the last seven of eight elections. Trump is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the House and Senate in one term. For the next two years at least, the collective voice of the “constitutional conservatives” will be significantly muted.
An immediate chore for the Senate is to once again conduct a trial over the conduct of (now former) President Trump. The Jan. 6 domestic terror attack on the US Capitol amounted to the violent manifestation of cult QAnon which, among other lies and conspiracy theories, have proffered that the US government is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles that only Trump could expose. Hundreds of its adherents stormed the Capitol, seemingly certain they were the ones called by Trump to “liberate” the country.
The influence of QAnon
“There is a violent anarchy to QAnon that is baked into it,” said Mike Rothchild, author of a soon-to-be-released book examining and debunking some of the most prominent conspiracy theories. “You can’t just push QAnon followers away. We’ve seen, certainly in the Georgia runoff, where these margins are thin, you can’t piss off 1 or 2 percent of your constituents.”
The American body politic going forward will include arch conservatives and those fringe elements of the Republican Party who may cling to conspiracy theories. The House Republican conference now includes two QAnon adherents in freshman Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Lauren Boebert from Colorado. Greene once praised QAnon and spread baseless conspiracy theories linked to the movement. Boebert has since disavowed her connection with the group, but once said of QAnon “I hope this is real.”
Both parties realized modest to significant gains among African-American voters, particularly the GOP which saw 8 percent of Black voters cast ballots for Donald Trump, up two percentage points from 2016. The Democrats benefited tremendously from the early voting format that saw record numbers of African-Americans head to the polls in their favor.
Mia Love, an African-American former Republican representative from Utah, said the GOP’s failure to deal decisively with toxic members puts the unity of the party at risk.
“Kevin (McCarthy) whom I adore and have a lot of respect for, the only advice I can give him, if he wants to preserve the conference, he needs to deal with this,” Love said.
Irrespective of whether Republicans in both the House and Senate set up roadblocks to the Biden legislative agenda, it is certain that the new administration must wield a steady but deft hand in navigating past a resilient, yet bitter Republican Party.
As President Biden said in his inauguration speech, it will be a resolute challenge—but not impossible—to cast aside socio-political divisions that have, for the last seven presidential election cycles, pitted “red against blue, rural versus urban and conservative versus liberal.”
Time will be the best arbiter of this noble proposition.