Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's

Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's
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President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden taps California workplace safety leader to head up OSHA Romney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS US mulling cash payments to help curb migration MORE faces a tougher political position than President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS US raises concerns about Iran's seriousness in nuclear talks MORE did when he took office. This is because of Biden’s thin congressional margins, a fractious Democratic Party and his limited political capital to address these liabilities.

Mathematics’ transitive property does not apply in politics. In math, if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A must be greater than C. In 2016, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report Pence autobiography coming from Simon & Schuster Amanda Gorman makes the cover of Vogue MORE won more votes than Trump; in 2020, Biden won more votes than Clinton. Yet when Biden takes office next year, he will be in a tougher political position than Trump was in 2017.  

When Trump took office, despite losing the popular vote by two percentage points, Republicans controlled the House with a 241 to 194 majority and the Senate with a 51 to  49 majority. When Biden takes office in 2021, at best he will have the smallest congressional majorities in 20 years. And he may well not even have that.


Should Real Clear Politics’s three uncalled races all go to the Republicans (and they currently lead in all three), Democrats would hold just 222 of the House’s 435 seats — allowing them to lose four members on each vote and still pass legislation. In the Senate, Biden needs Democrats to win both of Georgia’s two runoffs to just get to a 50-50 Senate, in which Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report How Kamala Harris can find the solution for the migration crisis White House unveils official portraits of Biden and Harris MORE could cast the tie-breaking vote. If Democrats lose even one of those races, Republicans will control the chamber. Should that happen, Biden would be the first president since George H. W. Bush in 1989 to enter into office with his party being in the Senate’s minority and without full control of Congress. 

Without control of the Senate, Biden’s ambitious campaign agenda could be stymied. Even with control by virtue of Harris, Biden could not lose a single Democrat senator’s vote and still pass legislation. In the House, depending on the currently three undecided races’ outcomes, Biden could lose anywhere from just four to seven Democrats and still pass legislation. At best, those are extremely tight squeezes.

Some argue that lack of Senate control could help Biden by giving him cover for not achieving the Democratic Party’s left wing’s demands. Still, the left — the biggest block of the party — will expect him to deliver, without reducing demands. After all, Biden promised the left a lot to win the nomination. 

Coupled with the Democratic Party’s losses in the House and inability to pick up Senate seats, redistricting following the 2020 Census could cost the Democrats up to six seats

The 2020 election is more about Trump’s loss than Biden’s victory. This one-sided dynamic means that many of those who voted for Biden did not support him as much as they opposed Trump. With Trump now dispatched, Biden has his work cut out for him to keep this disparate marriage of convenience together.


Evidence of Biden supporters’ lack of attachment to him was clear from polling. On Election Day, Morning Consult published a poll in which 44 percent of Biden voters said their vote was against Trump, while 54 percent said it was for Biden. In contrast, 75 percent of Trump voters supported the president and just 22 percent were voting against Biden.  

Trump’s presidency proves that a personal base is an invaluable political commodity. Trump’s followers supported him through four years of media and opposition vilification. This year alone, it stuck with him through impeachment, pandemic, economic collapse and summer rioting, increasing his popular vote total by 11 million and leaving him just short of reelection.  

Personal political power influences politics. So too does its absence. A president with it can wield it for and against others. Trump was able to so quickly gain control of the party because he had it. 

Without his own substantial personal base, Biden is at a tremendous disadvantage to Trump as he enters office.  

Certainly, as Biden takes office, there will be an immediate, general good feeling, a desire for normalcy and hope for success. However it happens though, this honeymoon ends quickly and, like a couple, the marriage dependent on a honeymoon for long-term happiness, is in trouble.  

The question for Biden is whether he can successfully forge a personal attachment with the electorate and then use it to aid him with Congress. His difficulty lies in the fact that this is the opposite of the way the presidential dynamic usually works.

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.