Biden ‘allies’ painting him into a corner
Propaganda is a tricky thing. In an open society, it often does more damage to the perpetrators than to the target. And so it is with the progressive Left, who have managed to convince themselves that they have an overwhelming mandate for an exhausting list of policy demands and the political power to do whatever they want. Neither is true, and the delusion is likely to cost them.
Their demands that President Biden’s massive policy wish list be passed without alteration is going to founder on the rocks of political reality — and the Democrats face the prospect of accomplishing nothing.
For starters, keep in mind that Biden ran an explicitly “not Trump” campaign. Infrastructure was as front-and-center for Biden as it was for Trump — which is to say functioning as part of the typical laundry list of presidential campaign promises. The 2020 election was a referendum on Trump, not on Biden’s policy ideas.
The concept of infrastructure does poll well. Anyone bouncing over potholes on their way to work will instinctively favor a fix, particularly if someone else pays for it. Reuters and YouGov polling both show strong support for infrastructure spending, but that support wanes as the spending strays away from brick and mortar projects. Support also falls when the plan is presented in starkly partisan terms.
The nearly $1 trillion Republican counter to Biden’s plan not only covers the most popular categories but does so at reduced cost.
While Trump — and now Biden — have taken a cavalier attitude toward the federal deficit, concern over the size of the debt still looms in the background. A HarrisX survey showed 75 percent of voters “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the national debt. With the debt increasing by a colossal $5.8 trillion in the past two years, spending could make a comeback as a salient political issue.
But national polling does not really tell the story. What counts is the polling and political positions of 100 U.S. Senators — each of whom has his or her own mandate entirely separate from the president. From that perspective, the progressive Left should not expect — and should never have expected — to ram through their entire wish list.
Forty-seven Republican Senators hail from states that voted for Trump, and the margins for Trump in those states were generally not so close. Only North Carolina gave Trump a margin of less than 2-points. For the most part, the Republican Senators were elected and re-elected by substantial margins in states that also voted for Trump by substantial margins.
Three Republican Senators represent states that voted for Biden: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Johnson and Toomey have electoral mandates that are now over four years old. Johnson is an avowed conservative who may retire. Toomey is a classic fiscal conservative who is retiring — and who voted to convict Trump. Both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were razor-thin for Biden with margins under 1.5 percent.
Collins, however, is an interesting case. Maine decidedly voted for Biden, giving him a 9-point victory. But Collins has her own mandate, winning by nearly 9-points. Not only that, Collins was not supposed to win. She was a top target by the Democrats and considered a likely loser. Maine voters were of a different mind, handing her a clear victory. The message from the Pine Tree State is rather unambiguous: They want a president who is not Trump (check that) and a U.S. Senator who will be an independent vote. In short, Collins is behaving just the way her constituents want her to.
Perhaps one could make the argument that the GOP Senators in Biden states should still bend to the presidential vote. Too bad that logic dictates that a trio of the Democrats’ own should then abandon ship.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) all represent states that opted for Trump — and by far bigger margins that the Republicans in Biden states face. Ohio went for Trump by over 8-points, Montana by over 16-points and West Virginia by 39-points (second largest state margin).
Each of these Democratic Senators were re-elected in 2018 with solid margins, but those margins were less than what their Republican counterparts achieved. Tester’s lockstep with the Democratic leadership is the most at odds with his own constituents. Tester won re-election in 2018 by 4.5 points in a race that the GOP national committees failed to target, missing a significant opportunity. Tester’s Republican colleague in the Senate, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) defeated challenger Steve Bullock, a popular sitting governor, by over 10-points. There is no indication the people of Montana are on board with the larger progressive agenda.
As for the bete noire of the progressive Left, Joe Manchin, his resistance to their agenda is arguably not strident enough. West Virginia voters are definitely not on board with Biden. Not only did Biden lose to Trump by nearly 40-points, the disparity in mandates between the state’s two U.S. Senators is enormous. Manchin was re-elected in 2018 with just a 3-point margin, not even topping 50 percent. In contrast, his Republican colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), won last year by a 43-point margin — even larger than Trump’s.
The bottom line for the expansive progressive agenda is that the voters have elected Senators who are not on board with it.
If the Senate were to follow the will of the public, as demonstrated at the ballot box, Biden’s infrastructure proposal would fail. Alternately, the GOP counter proposal, containing many of the most politically popular parts of the Biden plan, would pass easily.
The progressive Left listened to Biden’s ad hoc State of the Union address and thought it was a serious proposal and a done deal. It was neither. But the delusion is warping their politics.
Demanding everything and getting nothing is how elections are lost.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.