By Tom Baxter
Last week voters elected a Democratic president, approved Democratic policy positions in referendums in both red and blue states, and soundly rejected the Democratic Party in most other categories of political competition.
In Florida, 5.2 million people voted for Joe Biden, 5.7 million voted for Donald Trump — and 6.3 million voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as defining a Democratic issue as there is.
In Metro Atlanta and Omaha, Neb., Democrats uprooted long-entrenched Republicans from county-level offices and gave Biden important majorities in the presidential election.
But on the same battleground, Georgia Democrats lost their opportunity to have much say about the next legislative map, as Republican incumbents eked out narrow victories in a string of state House races in the northern suburbs.
In Omaha, Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, under the gun since defeating Democrat Kara Eastman by only two points in 2018, increased his winning margin to five points in a rematch with Eastman last week.
In all four states, red and blue, where recreational marijuana was on the ballot, it won, by a wider margin in Arizona and New Jersey than either presidential candidate. Medical marijuana won by a wider margin of votes than Trump — seven points — in Mississippi.
All this suggests a Democratic Party which has grown cattywampus from its issues, a brand that has grown toxic even as many of its broad themes prevail. It is a party with an increasingly diverse coalition which can be difficult to coordinate. The peeling away of black men and Hispanics in the presidential election, while support from suburban women increased, reflects that difficulty.
But at least the Democrats have a coalition.
The news Monday afternoon that Georgia’s two United States senators and Gov. Brian Kemp have called on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign means that Georgia is not only where control of the Senate will be decided, but where the first major battle of the Republican civil war over Trump is being fought.
“I could never be a Republican, because they eat their young,” former Gov. Roy Barnes used to say when people asked him about switching parties.
Sure enough, only hours after Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan declared that he has seen “no credible evidence” of fraud in last week’s election, senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler issued a joint statement calling on Raffensperger to resign due to his “mismanagement and lack of transparency.” Kemp soon joined the senators in their call, and Trump posted what appears to be an approving tweet.
I have to say that, having covered the 1992 and 2008 Senate runoffs in Georgia, I’ve had a hard time giving much credence to the idea that the Democrats can win either seat in this runoff. I still think the Republicans have the advantage in both races. But there’s not an illuminated sign in Times Square flashing brighter than the one which says that both Perdue and Loeffler aren’t as sure about this as I was. They think they’re in great danger of losing, and they have to take drastic steps to avoid it.
If this is what it looks like, the beginning of an all-out effort to reverse the outcomes in enough states to keep Trump in the White House, then it has national, perhaps truly historic, implications.
Raffensperger’s very cool, detailed and firm response to the call for his resignation — “Let me start by saying that is not going to happen” — is going to be widely quoted in days ahead, and Republicans across the country are going to be coming to terms with what’s best for the future of their party.
In those unexpectedly comfortable U.S. Senate victories around the country and those narrow legislative victories in Georgia and other states which will be redrawing their maps next year, there was evidence of the party discipline which brought Republicans their greatest victories in previous decades.
In the aftermath, we are seeing a resurgence of the internal tensions which have troubled the GOP over all those years. The conflict we are about to witness has been crystallized by Trump, but it began decades before him and even now it extends beyond him. Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West announced this week that he is opposing the election of Republican Rep. Dade Phelen, calling him a “political traitor” because Phelen is so popular some Democrats are supporting him. The fight within the Republican Party could get messy, quickly.