Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!

It appears that the two facts that went in their favor in the past election, that Trump won 74 million votes, more than any other Republican in history, and that Republicans did not suffer major congressional losses, are enough to persuade party leaders that everything is just hunky-dory, even though Trump’s margin of defeat of seven million votes was two million larger than Mitt Romney’s in 2012. That loss triggered a huge post-mortem analysis as to what went wrong while this one is being ignored.

“Our president absolutely grew our party,” said Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, noting the GOP’s down-ballot victories and explosive turnout with Trump on the ticket. “He totally advanced our party … I think that as Republicans, we just need to continue to remain on the course.”

It hardly matters that Trump couldn’t beat Biden in the Rust Belt. Or that Trump ceded the longtime Republican strongholds of Georgia and Arizona to Democrats and, in defeat, became the first incumbent president since 1992 to fail to win a second term.

“As far as I’m concerned, everything’s great,” said Stanley Grot, a district-level Republican Party chair in Michigan, a state Trump won four years ago but lost to Biden in November.

In one of the more surreal role reversals in modern post-presidential election history, the winning party nationally is poring over its congressional and legislative losses, while the party that lost the White House isn’t.

For Democrats licking their wounds, the optimism of Republicans can be disorienting. In Texas, where Democrats are conducting a postmortem on the party’s shortcomings in 2020, Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said the lack of a similar review by Republicans nationally is “just strange.”

However, Hinojosa could rationalize it: “But they didn’t lose,” he deadpanned. “I think that’s exactly why they’re not doing it. There is not a recognition that they lost, not just because they’re afraid of Donald Trump, which I think has a lot to do with it, but because they live in this fantasy world that whatever he says is gospel, and if he says it, it’s true.”

Hinojosa said, “It’s [Trump’s] electoral version of alternative facts.”

This is not to say that they will do nothing. While they think that Trumpism is just fine, what their efforts will be focused on is further disenfranchising voters. Although Trump got more votes than previous Republicans, Biden got a whole lot more too, with his numbers growing more than Trump’s. In the name of ‘election integrity’, we are going to see efforts in Republican-controlled states to eliminate or at least strongly restrict mail-in and early voting. It used to be that Republicans were the ones who were in favor of these methods because they used it more. But the pandemic resulted in much greater numbers of Democrat’s using it this time and this has alarmed Republicans.


  1. Matt G says

    Let’s hope the generation gap weakens them -- and that young people reject the draw of conservatism as they age.

  2. flex says

    A quick back of the envelope calculation suggests that in four years the gap between democrat and republican voters will be increased by about 4 million (or greater) nationwide in the democrats favor. This (very) rough estimate is based on demographic changes, the death rate and the rate new citizens are gaining the right to vote (mainly by turning 18).

    This gap can be entirely erased by voter suppression tactics.

    On the differences between the two parties, I think the responses are entirely expected. The republicans have decided on a strategy which pretty explicitly focuses on bigotry and hatred. If they changed from this strategy they would lose more people than they could gain. Their strategy is to inculcate the younger voters with the idea that the problems with the US are caused by the people who want to change it. By evoking a mythical past where the US ruled the world economically, the dollar was accepted everywhere, and the rest of the world respected and feared the US’ military and economic power; the republican party can blame the downfall of this power on immigrants (diluting the precious bodily fluids) or societal changes (like women in the workforce, or the increased secularization of society). This message resonates with a lot of disenfranchised people, including a lot of young people. The policies the republicans are promoting feed into this narrative, as does the messages from the media wing of the republican party.

    The democratic party is at a very different stage. The democratic party leadership is fighting the last war, and has not adapted their message to the current state of society. They see the erosion of civil rights as the battle they need to fight, but that is not something which appeals to the younger population. You can see this most dramatically in the feeling which is growing in the African American communities that the democrats are taking their votes for granted and getting fewer votes because of it. There are a few policies which democrats have espoused which have resonated with the younger population, in particular reducing/eliminating college debt. But the democratic party does not appear ready to act on this (or other) problems which are hurting their younger cohorts. Don’t get me wrong, I hate to see civil rights being reduced as much as the next person, but you don’t win many voters to your cause by beating that drum. While the republican party has a consistent message which does resonate with a lot of younger people, the democrats do not.

    All the republican party needs to do is grow the number of people who believe in their message, and consistent application of that propaganda has shown this strategy works. Republicans don’t care about getting a majority of the population members of the republican party, they care about having enough votes in the right places and having ‘acceptable’ voter suppression in other areas to reduce turnout.

    The democrats, on the other hand, have to not only find issues which will energize voters, but adopt platforms and push policies which would solve those issues. This can, and is, happening at local levels, but not at the national level. The democratic party, as a whole, needs to be more progressive. The national democratic party should have been able to rout Trump; the complete incompetency of his administration and the reluctance of the republican party to chastise Trump because of political fear should have been an easy target. The fact that the democratic party didn’t win in a landslide shows they are not connecting with people. This is not due to both-sideism, but to the democratic party wanting to take no risks. So the democrats didn’t run on any platform other than, ‘Trump Bad!’.

    It is no surprise to me that the democratic party is engaging in soul-searching and the republicans are going full-speed ahead. The republicans have a strategy which is working, it leads to fascism, but they don’t care as long as they are in power. The democrats have no national strategy. The policies desired by younger democrats are rejected by the older members of the party. And the older members of the party, with a few exceptions, are proposing policies which appear outdated and dull to anyone younger than sixty.

  3. Who Cares says

    This is not exactly exclusive to the republicans. The democrats have been wielding the entire ecosystem that has sprung up around russiagate to not have to do a serious analysis of what other factors caused them to lose to Trump.

    That said the response of the democrats was not what the response of the republicans is going to be. There is a good chance the republicans will be going all in on gerrymandering, voter suppression and disenfranchisement as a reaction to the false claims that the democrats rigged the election better then they did.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Mitt Romney’s … loss triggered a huge post-mortem analysis as to what went wrong while this one is being ignored.

    That “post-mortem analysis” (“Try a little less racism, okay?”) was also thoroughly ignored.

    By skipping the analysis part, the Republicans have simply become even more efficient at what they do.

  5. KG says

    While the republican party has a consistent message which does resonate with a lot of younger people, the democrats do not.

    How odd, then, that the clear majority of young voters voted for Biden (scroll down to “Voter Demographics”). Among the 18-24 age cohort, the majority was more than 2:1. Admittedly, more white people in this age group voted for Trump than Biden, but even so, the proportion voting for Trump was lower than in any other age group. As for down-ballot contests, FiveThirtyEight says there wasn’t much split-ticket voting (the article reckons 0.5% difference in the proportion voting Democratic between Presidential and House races, admittedly on incomplete figures -- I can’t find final or near-final total figures for the House). The differences are more down to different degrees of pro-Republican bias in different electoral systems -- and, I’d add, a good deal of luck: several Republicans won House contests by tiny margins, and if 44,000 votes in the closest states had gone for Trump instead of Biden, he’d have won the Electoral College despite being 7 million and 4.5% down in the popular vote.

    None of that means you’re wrong about the Democrats needing to do serious analysis, or the likelihood of Republicans doubling down on gerrymandering, vote suppression and disenfranchisement. But that analysis should start from a careful examination of the facts.

  6. flex says

    KG wrote,

    How odd, then, that the clear majority of young voters voted for Biden….

    I am not arguing the demographics. But there are two major divisions in the reasons young voters might vote for Biden.

    First, they voted for Biden because they like what Biden proposes and thinks he will try to deliver.
    Second, they voted for Biden because they despised Trump.

    The young voters who voted republican were enthused about voting for Trump. This is something the republican party is doing right. And it’s not just Trump, the republican party in general has embraced concepts which are creating enthusiasm among young voters who embrace nationalism and isolationism. I disagree with those concepts, but I recognize that they are appealing to a lot of people.

    I did not see, and I still do not see, enthusiasm among young voters for Biden. There is enthusiasm for some democrats, individually, but not for the democratic party in general and not for many candidates at the national level. There is almost no enthusiasm for the democratic party platform, even among older voters. In this past election, the enthusiasm to vote for Biden was not generated by the democratic party, but by Trump.

    The republicans now know that they can select someone with the same fascist tendencies, but not as obviously incompetent, and there is a good chance they would win. Of course the republicans don’t need to change their strategy, they proved it would work. The democrats, on the other hand, really need to find a better message than, ‘look at what the republicans are doing to the country!’

    The demographics are trending toward democrats, but that won’t help if people are not enthused enough to vote. Add into that mix the republican strategy of disenfranchisement and vote suppression (and I think we’re going to see a lot more effort on making it harder to vote in urban centers), and republicans have a good chance to stay in power. It also certainly doesn’t help that a lot of democrats at the national level support conservative policies (not republican) and are against any progressive legislation which would help correct imbalances in our society.

    Your second point, about how the republican party has managed to remain in power through clever use of gerrymandering and a deep understanding of the electoral college, I agree with. If we are to be a united nation rather than a collection of independent states, the electoral college should be abolished. We’ve had election reform in the other branches of the federal government, the presidency is not special.

  7. KG says


    You say you’re not arguing the demographics, and you’re right: you’re ignoring them. You claimed that:

    the republican party has a consistent message which does resonate with a lot of younger people

    but it didn’t; at least according to the exit poll I linked to (it could be inaccurate, but unlikely to be hugely so), fewer than a third of those 18-24 year-olds who voted, went for Trump
    You’re right that (to paraphrase) this election was a referendum on Trump. But the evidence shows that Trump did not appeal to a very clear majority of young voters. So if the Republicans decide they don’t need to change, they stand to lose young voters by a large margin. On the Democratic side, I certainly wish there was evidence that a clear shift to the left would garner more support -- because the centre-right policies of Biden and that crew are utterly inadequate to the scale of the dangers the USA and the world face. Unfortunately, I see little evidence for it -- the Florida vote for a $15 minimum wage excepted. If there were a sizeable demand for such a shift, Sanders (or possibly Warren) would have won the Democratic primary contest.

  8. flex says

    KG @7,

    I think we are talking past each other. As you say:

    fewer than a third of those 18-24 year-olds who voted, went for Trump

    My point is that even though these roughly 1/3 of that demographic went for Trump, they went for Trump because he appealed to them. The roughly 1/3 of voters in that demographic are committed to the republican rhetoric and will vote for republicans of the same stripe again. They voted for something.

    I don’t know how many of the remaining 2/3rd of voters in that demographic voted for Biden rather than against Trump. Was it another third of the total? Or a smaller fraction? Are these voters committed to the democratic party or did they just hate Trump? They don’t need to be committed to the democratic party to vote against republicans, they just need to dislike the republican platform. But, it is a lot easier to convince someone of the need to vote if they are voting for something rather than against something.

    The republicans are for a lot of things. They are for increasing US manufacturing jobs, they are for stimulating the economy by cutting taxes on the rich, they are for exploiting natural resources for wealth, they are for allowing religious people to ignore discrimination laws, they are for removing regulations, etc.

    What are the democrats for? Raising taxes on the rich? Nope, that might annoy their rich donors. Free Trade? Nope, that would upset the unions. Protecting natural resources? Sure, but it’s not presented as a positive, it’s presented as being against the republican’s chipping away at the already existing protections. Better anti-discrimination laws? Nope. They are defending those that exist, but not for making improvements. Redefining the police? Not really, any adjustments to police functions and funding is being done at local levels, nothing appears to be being done at a national level. Free health care for all? Nope, that’s been abandoned.

    What the democrats are for is government as usual. We have a conservative party which just wants be be a caretaker to our current government structure, they are called the democrats. We have a fascist party who wants to rule by decree, not by consensus, which are called republicans. Fascism is very appealing to people who have never experienced it, it promises to make changes quickly. There is no progressive party, no party which looks at the problems the citizens are facing and says we should do something about it. There are individual elected democrats who say that, but it’s not a position the party takes.

    We had record high turnout this year. The chances are that the turnout will diminish in future years (regression to the mean and all that). If the roughly 1/3 of the 18-24 year-old demographic is committed to voting for republicans this year, they are more likely to vote in future years. The remaining 2/3 of that demographic who voted in this election will be less likely to vote in future elections unless they can vote for something. That 2/3 are less likely to vote against a republican who isn’t as awful as Trump was, they are less likely to vote at all.

    The 1/3 of that demographic in this election may become 1/2 in the next election simply because fewer of the remaining 2/3s will vote. And the primary reason for voting apathy is the feeling that it won’t make a difference. At the moment the republican party is for change, and the democratic party is fighting it. The democrats need to embrace and promote the changes to get the to the society the public seems to want (without worrying about their donors), so that voters will have something to vote for. We know what the public in general wants; there are hundred of polls saying they want health care for all, they want reduced inequality, they want to return to a time when their children could have a better life than they did, they want necessary education to be available without a life-long debt. The republicans are promising to make (some of) those changes. They won’t follow through, but they are making the promise.

    The democrats are not making those promises, and have abandoned the plans (like those of Warren) which might make the changes necessary in society to meet the desires of the public. We’ll see what happens in the next four years, but even if the democrats take the senate, I don’t see legislation which will make the changes society wants getting passed by our government. Which is why the democratic party needs to do some serious soul-searching.

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