An existential election for Democrats’ establishment

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As big as this election is for America, it is even bigger for Democrats. The Democratic establishment are hanging onto their party by their fingernails; November is their last chance to retain it. Put simply: Democrats cannot have Joe Biden lose because not only would that mean  President Donald Trump is the winner, but their left is too.

Nothing better demonstrates November’s stakes for Democrats than the current Supreme Court vacancy fight. Just as the next few weeks will determine the Supreme Court’s direction, November will decide in which direction the country will go the next four years. Trump intends to continue reshaping the government’s direction and Democrats now promise to do the same. 

November could also determine congressional control. A Biden victory could trigger a Democratic Senate majority and give Democrats full control of Congress. A Trump victory could retain the Senate’s Republican majority and, while more uphill (due to a larger current Democrat majority), possibly tip the House to Republicans. 

Despite the scales potentially tipping politically for both parties in November, they could also tip existentially for the Democratic establishment. 

Emotionally, losing to Trump would be crippling for Democrats. It would be another whipsaw from victory’s expectation to defeat’s devastation. However, this time they would have waited years, not just 2016’s few months, to beat the man they loathe. Four years ago, they only hated his rhetoric; since then, they have come to hate his reality even more. 

Electorally, a Trump victory would be no less damaging to Democrats. Trump and his populist politics would go from fluke to template. He would bequeath Republicans a formula for Midwest success. Democrats can easily foresee what a politically more skilled, but less divisive, candidate could do with Trump’s message. Imagine a Republican running 10 points ahead of Trump now, and better in the suburbs and with women. 

 Democrats will also lose their best shot at winning the Senate. In November, Republicans are defending twice (23-12) as many seats as Democrats. Those numbers only get worse for Democrats in the next two cycles (22 Republican, 12 Democrat in 2022 and 10 Republican and 21 Democrat in 2024) — neither of which will have Trump on the ballot. A Trump victory could also threaten their House majority, after all, Republicans only need to win a net 17 seats — hardly an unapproachable figure behind a presidential win. 

As damaging as a Biden loss would to Democrats emotionally and electorally, it could be existentially so to the party’s establishment. In 2016, the establishment thrust Hillary Clinton on the party. In 2020, Biden is the quintessential establishmentarian. If the establishment’s candidate again loses to Trump, the left’s patience will vanish. 

To understand the left’s reaction, look at their surge after 2016. Clinton would never have dreamed of running on a $4 trillion tax hike. Four years later, Biden could not have dreamed of running without one. In 2016, the left was represented by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) alone, who did remarkably well. In 2020, the left was represented by everyone but Biden, who went remarkably far in adopting their policy priorities.

Another leftward lurch following an establishment defeat, will completely untether the party from its establishment and moderates. Nor will the establishment have anyone left on their bench to represent them. Biden is their whole team, despite being twice-defeated (1988 and 2008) and once-passed over (by Barack Obama in 2016) presidential contender. 

The Democratic establishment will be unable to again corral their left should Biden lose. Despite their argument that an unhinged left cost Biden the election — by forcing him too far left and shifting the focus from Trump to their violence in America’s streets — the left will see things differently. 

Democrats’ left will claim that the establishment cost the party the presidency, again. They will claim the establishment candidate Biden did not offer enough of a contrast to Trump and did not motivate the party’s new, more leftward base. They will argue Republican-lite does not work. 

The left will then move to consolidate their hold on the party, just as they did after 2016 when they changed the superdelegate rules to diminish the establishment’s influence. Such moves will only reinforce their already growing ascendancy as the establishment “ages out” of its influence. 

The Democratic establishment simply must have Biden win. Their last loss to Trump cost them dearly. A 2020 Biden loss to Trump will cost them their party. 

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.

Tags 2020 elections anti-Trump Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Biden campaign campaign 2020 Democratic establishment Democrats Donald Trump far left Hillary Clinton Joe Biden leftist agenda progressives Republicans

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