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Hanging in the Balance

A very big country, 330 million citizens strong, the great majority of whom are neither hard-right or left


If you’re a reader of this column (your first mistake) who’s in general agreement with the ideas we try to advance here (your second), you’re very likely pleasantly surprised to be quite satisfied with the results of the 2020 election. As Yuval Levin, the American Enterprise Institute fellow who’s one of the country’s top conservative thinkers, writes:

Both [parties] have been rebuked in some important respects by the electorate. And both rebukes are justified. If the parties are willing to learn from them, the result might be good for our politics….The Democrats ran against Donald Trump, and look to have persuaded the electorate to dismiss him. The Republicans ran against the increasingly radical Democratic activist base, and look to have persuaded the electorate to reject them. Neither party has gained a mandate, and both are left wondering how they can build a majority coalition in the coming years. That could end up being a constructive question….

The sheer number of Americans who said no to the president is pretty staggering. This election was a referendum on the incumbent to an even greater degree than a normal reelection race because the challenger was so bland and weak a figure…. And Republicans need to grasp that voters were right to want to reject Donald Trump. Over and over again, Trump has shown himself profoundly unfit for the presidency — and his behavior since Election Day has only added further evidence to the pile….

But voters have also rejected the woke Left and the activist base of the Democratic Party, electing more Republicans to Congress across the country and so diminishing the Democrats’ majority in the House, probably keeping a Republican Senate … Even in California, voters said no to a misguided affirmative-action ballot measure. And Democrats need to grasp that voters were right to reject the extremism of their activists. The radical cultural Left … have very real cultural and economic power. In this election, they have sought greater political power too. But the electorate has rejected them….

That the public is powerfully put off by the Democratic Party’s turn to radical cultural liberalism should help calm some of the most intense social-conservative worries about the direction of the country. And that the public is powerfully turned off by Donald Trump should help calm some of the most intense progressive fears about the future of our democracy.

In truth, the voting public’s twin rejections shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has an accurate grasp what America really is: A very big country, 330 million citizens strong, the great majority of whom are neither hard-right or left. The picture one gets from social media, the networks and talk shows, all of which are dominated by a small sliver of hyper-partisans is of an imminent threat of takeover by “The Left” or “The Right” that bears no relation to reality.

Will the two parties be willing to assimilate the lessons of the rebuke delivered by the electorate? Although it’s likely much too early to tell, initial indications give reason for hope. On the Democratic side, there are positive signs of a dawning recognition of how progressivism has cost the party. Influential political scientist Ruy Teixeira wrote: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that wokeness…helped brand the Democratic Party…[but] was basically of very little interest to the median voter…They 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.”

At a contentious three-hour meeting of House Democrats, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer and Virginia moderate ranted, “If we don’t mean ‘defund the police,’ we shouldn’t say that. And we need to not ever use the word socialist, or socialism, ever again.” Majority Whip James Clyburn argued that that moderate candidates must be allowed to “represent their districts,” and not be stamped by party progressives. So there’s turmoil and stock-taking among Democrats, perhaps a portent of better things to come.

Bronx progressive Ocasio-Cortez pushed back, blaming Democratic losses on under-spending on campaigns. But she also told the New York Times she’s not sure she wants to stay in politics due to perceived hostility from her party. In truth, she might just be ruing the fresh loss of her biggest PR asset: A president more than happy to elevate the thirty-something former bartender and freshman House member to being the face of her entire party. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? “Did you see what the leader of the free world, whose finger is on the nuclear button, just did?” “Yeah, but what about what AOC just said, huh?”

There was further good news on the Democratic side last week in an announcement by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. As Jonah Goldberg wrote at The Dispatch last week:

Here’s something you probably won’t hear from either the left or the right: Joe Manchin is a much more important and influential Democrat than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or “AOC” for marketing purposes). Just this week, Manchin did something far more consequential than anything AOC has done in her entire career. Yet everybody is paying more attention to her… Manchin [said] that “whether it be packing the courts or ending the filibuster, I will not vote to do that.”

As Goldberg explains, it’s impossible to abolish the filibuster without Manchin’s vote, and without abolishing it, the progressive agenda is a nonstarter. He writes that Manchin’s announcement was not only good for the Democratic Party but for the political system as a whole:

In recent years…voters have self-sorted into ideologically bubbled communities, and their preferred media sources have tailored their programming to those bubbles. This drives the parties to focus more on turning out their bases than persuading middle-of-the-road voters….The best way to turn out your side? Demonize the other side. That’s what Republicans and Democrats have done for years.

But in 2020, voters broke the cycle. Democrats did so poorly in their House and Senate races in part because many voters didn’t want Joe Biden and the Democrats to have total control of Congress, particularly when the loudest voices on the left were calling for ending the filibuster, court-packing and the Green New Deal, not to mention “defunding the police.” Republicans were only too happy to highlight this rhetoric and cast it as the core view of the entire Democratic Party.

And that’s why Manchin’s declaration was good news not just for the country but for Democrats—and bad news for Republicans….This is how it’s supposed to work. The two-party system functions best when both parties try to compete for voters, not pander to their bases.

Meanwhile, with most Republican officials still staying silent on or boosting the president’s electoral fraud fantasizing, it would seem the election’s message about the president is being ignored. But not necessarily: As time goes on, it will become ever more apparent that this latest conspiracy theory, in a party awash in them, is just a cynical ploy that everyone’s in on except for the millions of rubes who actually believe it. Its real goals have nothing to do with actually believing the president “won big” and had the election stolen from him.

Instead, the real purposes of the charade are manifold: First, to stir partisan frenzy and boost turnout in the upcoming Georgia senatorial runoffs. Second, to juice donations to Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund,” where, as Politico reports, 60% of a donation up to $8,333 “is routed to a new PAC started this week by the president that can pay for a wide range of activities — but is likely legally barred from spending on recounts, lawyers say…. Prior to Tuesday, the majority of a donation went to helping Trump’s campaign cover its debt.” The scams simply never end: Trump University, Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, Trump Recount…

Perhaps most importantly, there’s the need to delay for as long as possible a concession of his loss — and to the sleepy guy in the Delaware basement, no less. For someone whose stated life philosophy is, “Man is the most vicious of all animals and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat,” an acknowledgement of defeat must be indescribably painful, and every day in denial is another day of existential pain deferred.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 836. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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