On Tuesday, America waved bye-bye to a blue wave. Despite being long-heralded by Democrats, echoed by the establishment media, predicted by pollsters and aided by cash and circumstances, the anticipated blue tsunami was instead a blue “so what?”
Regardless of the final outcome, Democrats’ missed opportunity will haunt them long after this election is finally settled.
As late as Oct. 13, Real Clear Politics average of national polling showed Joe BidenJoe BidenWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE holding a double-digit lead nationally. Even on Election Day, Biden’s advantage still appeared impressive at 51 percent to 44 percent.
The establishment media echoed Democrats’ optimism. The question was not about a Biden victory but its extent. The “blue wall” would be reconstructed in the Midwest. In Congress, the only speculation was whether Democrats would retake the Senate.
While it is still too early to know exactly what did happen in the 2020 election, it is very clear what did not. As of Nov. 6, the presidency is still undecided; Biden has 243 electoral votes to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE’s 214 and nearly 51 percent to 48 percent lead in the popular vote. In the Senate, there currently has been no change, with the parties exchanging single wins and several seats still undecided. While in the House, Democrats have a reduced majority after losing five seats so far.
Even aside from the polls, it is not as though Democrats did not have reason for optimism. They were facing an incumbent who elicited strong negative reactions. They had begun the year with Trump facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. Almost as soon as the trial ended, coronavirus began.
The one-two punch of global pandemic and economic lockdowns devastated America and its economy at the worst possible time for Trump’s reelection. Together, they ground the country down throughout 2020. Additionally, Democrats had an enormous cash advantage to ensure that their version of events reached voters.
Despite having every conceivable advantage at the ideal time, Biden has managed to win just over half the popular vote nationally. Though it seems he’s inching closer to a victory, he still hasn’t won. Regardless of the eventual outcomes, it is not too early to ask how Democrats missed their enormous opportunity and what will be the repercussions.
Unquestionably the left hurt Biden. Democrats’ left flank was virtually their only negative in 2020, but it was a pervasive one. It drove Biden to the left to secure the nomination and this created one of the few openings Trump had to attack Biden effectively. Over the summer liberally-governed areas became overrun with violence.
Both Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Public officials are under physical and digital siege We must protect and support our health care safety net MORE, America’s two most recent Democratic presidents, suffered huge midterm losses, likely because of leftist policies like Clinton's tax and spending hikes, and Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was unpopular. In 1994, Clinton lost nine Senate seats and 54 House seats; in 2010, Obama lost six Senate seats and 63 House seats.
Neither Clinton nor Obama was as dependent on the left as Biden is, and neither has raised the left’s expectations as much as Biden has. The left now dominate the Democrat Party like never before and Biden committed to meeting their priorities in order to win the nomination. Also, both Clinton and Obama had greater ability to meet their base’s expectations, with both having sizeable majorities in both bodies of Congress. Biden will not have a Senate majority and a reduced one in the House.
Even if Biden prevails through the late counts, recounts and courts, Tuesday will be more defined by what the Democrats did not accomplish than what they did. At most, Biden will have eked out a win, without coattails and without a mandate. At the same time he has raised the left’s expectations, he has less means and just two years to meet them before facing a midterm that savaged his last two Democrat predecessors.
In the Senate, Democrats have missed a golden opportunity to take advantage of Republicans defending twice as many seats and Democrats had twice as much cash. In the House, they have lost ground, despite their majority having not been historically large. Neither of these limitations are likely to placate a left demanding action on their priorities.
If Trump wins after all, he and Republicans will be in a stronger position than they were before the election. Conversely, even if Trump should not prevail, Republicans will have achieved a great deal. In Congress, they will have accomplished their goals: holding the Senate and advancing in the House. Even if they are found to have lost the presidency, they have inherited a potent populist blueprint for success.
Looking at this election, it is perfectly clear that, absent the pandemic or the lockdowns’ economic impact, Trump would have won solidly. This would have occurred even despite him being divisive to so many.
Democrats went into Tuesday looking ahead and looking forward to the outcome. Coming out, they must be looking back and wondering how they missed their wave. Even with a Biden win, Democrats must face that they lost an even bigger opportunity.
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.