President Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic probably cost him re-election. Yet it seems mind-boggling that he still won more votes than any incumbent president in American history despite his dereliction of responsibility at a time of a once-in-a-century health crisis and economic devastation.
Why are President-elect Joe Biden’s margins so thin in the states that clinched his victory? And why did the president’s down-ticket enablers flourish in the turbulent, plague-torn conditions they helped bring about?
Democrats, struggling to make sense of it all, are locked in yet another round of mutual recrimination: They were either too progressive for swing voters — too socialist or aggressive with ambitious policies like the Green New Deal — or not progressive enough to inspire potential Democratic voters to show up or cross over.
But they should understand that there was really no way to avoid disappointment. Three factors — the logic of partisan polarization, which inaccurate polling obscured; the strength of the juiced pre-Covid-19 economy; and the success of Mr. Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic — mostly explain why Democrats didn’t fare better.
This shocking strategy worked for Republicans, even if it didn’t pan out for the president himself. Moreover, it laid a trap that Democrats walked into — something they should understand and adjust for, as best they can, as they look ahead.
How could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy’s throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn’t occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame.
When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can’t render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share. [Continue reading…]