Coronavirus lockdowns threaten to lock up the electoral college for President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE. For four years, Democrats have prepared for a presidential campaign on national issues of their design. Now to Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place MORE’s detriment, Democratic governors’ imperious coronavirus lockdowns may localize the campaign in key battleground states.
Trump won the presidency by the political version of poker’s drawing to an inside straight. Despite losing the popular vote by two percentage points, he beat Hillary where it counts — in the electoral college, 306 to 232. However, Trump’s 74 electoral vote margin is deceptive; Democrats need to flip just 38 votes to take back the White House.
Democrats’ “do-over” fixation rests primarily on Pennsylvania and Michigan. Both are considered presidentially blue, and Trump narrowly won them (Pennsylvania by 0.7 and Michigan by 0.3 percentage points); a combined 36 electoral votes, they alone could almost flip the presidency.
Democrats’ 2020 strategy has been to nationalize an anti-Trump mood, through accusations, investigations and impeachment, to switch the needed electoral votes. Successful midterms in 2018 indicated Democrats held the hand they wanted. Then, 2020 dealt a wildcard into the game.
Initially, coronavirus’s negative nationwide impact appeared to finally give Democrats a card to trump Trump’s ace in the hole: The economy. However, now it looks like Democrat governors have overplayed the party’s hand in several crucial battleground states.
Among the states with the most restrictive lockdowns, are those Democrats need the most. A recent Wall Street Journal list of state restrictions shows lockdowns’ distinct partisan bias.
As of May 21, 19 states were described as having “comprehensive or some restrictions on business or travel;” 15 had Democrat governors. Of the four that did not, three had Democrat-controlled legislatur
Seven of these 19 lockdown states, all Democrat-controlled, were also narrowly decided in 2016 — all by less than five percentage points. Among them, Pennsylvania and Michigan and those much-needed 36 electoral votes.
However, Democrats must also look at the other five they won: Maine (3), because Trump won one its four electoral votes in 2016), Virginia (13), Nevada (6), Minnesota (10) and New Hampshire (4) — where Democrats control four of governorships and four of the state legislatures. Without those 36 electoral votes, it likely will not matter what Democrats do elsewhere.
How can we be so sure coronavirus’s severe lockdowns will have an effect? A late wildcard, like coronavirus, means uncertainty and uncertainty inherently means risk. Also, coronavirus’s unprecedented nature will not be forgotten in a lifetime, let alone five months.
Further, politicians compounded the pandemic with lockdowns. These have an undeniable partisan correlation. Their continuation has stoked frustration, spawning a Tea Party-like reaction. And there are 72 electoral votes tied to severe lockdowns in states that were close in 2016 and battlegrounds now.
There is also a field test in the form of mid-May’s special election in California’s 25th district. There, a political novice Republican flipped a Democrat seat running against an assemblywoman representing a large portion of the district. Previously won by a Democrat by a nine percent margin, the Republican won it by a 10 percentage points.
Even factoring Trump’s support and his supporters’ over-performing their polling strength, the result strongly indicates something else occurred too. That bluest of blue California has had one of the most stringent lockdowns, and that Republicans flipped a congressional seat there for the first time since 1998, appears to be more than mere coincidence.
Democrats’ coronavirus lockdowns do not have to be the deciding factor to be a deciding factor. They undoubtedly will have an impact and in close states even a little can affect an outcome.
Instead of getting a presidential race on a national theme of their construction, Democrats face the prospect of several localized ones influenced by an issue to their disadvantage. Suddenly, 72 electoral votes — 36 Democrats must win and 36 they must hold — are thrown into uncertainty. They constitute over a quarter of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
For four years, Democrats have fumed over the brash braggart who strode into their casino and took their money. They were the professional players; they knew the odds and were supposed to win. They have awaited their chance to confront him again. But now, instead of sitting down with a carefully plotted strategy to place their bets and play their cards, Democrats may see Trump draw to an inside straight. Again.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.