Perhaps, as a long parade of pundits and commentators insist, Joe Biden is the right person for the moment. After all, the thinking goes, riding a wave of resentment against liberal elites and their socialist agendas, 47% of voters wanted to return Trump to office, he fell less than 150,000 total votes in swing states from an Electoral College victory and another term, and Democrats failed to gain significant ground at the state or national levels. Surely candidates that were more easily painted as left-wing socialists—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders—would have lost by large margins. Perhaps, but this line of thinking points directly to the abysmal failure of Democrats to defend their party and its history, or to undermine the legitimacy of those attacking it.
- Across the country the Republican party has engaged in voter suppression and intimidation, but Democrats are the ones on the defensive about rigging elections.
- The President and a rogue’s gallery of family members and Republican appointees and advisors have exploited office for private gain on a scale unrivaled in modern history but for most of the country Hunter Biden was the primary corruption story of the election season.
- The President and dozens of Republican lawmakers have supported baseless conspiracy theories, welcomed the support of white supremacists, defined freedom in terms of access to assault weapons, and yet the extremist threat that voters heard most about was Nancy Pelosi.
- Republican leaders at all levels, with very few exceptions, have supported or enabled a President who has repeatedly abused the powers of his office, defied Congressional oversight, fired independent investigators, interfered in military decision making and processes, pressured foreign governments to help take down his political rivals, and purged employees based on personal loyalty and vendettas and yet the Democrats, in an epic moral failure, did almost nothing to educate or alert the public to threats to democracy and the rule of law. The result is that most voters still associate patriotism with the Republican party.
Both the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee utterly failed to campaign against the Republican Party, and not just Trump, or to run a campaign against the Republican Party’s embrace of extremism, its attack on Democratic institutions, corruption, racism, and hostility to the rule of law. Instead, the Democrats chose to run a traditional “issues” campaign focused on the economy, the health care system, and the COVID public health threat (again, laid at the feet of Trump but not his party).
They rarely defended their “brand.” When Trump attacked Biden in the first “debate” for being a tool of extremists—like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders—he firmly indicated that he was not Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders! (He could have pointed out that his party has open and intelligent debates about the best way to assure decent health care coverage and has an 80 year history of making improvements while Republicans have a track record of denying coverage and enriching the insurance industry). When attacked by Nancy Mace with the “tool of the extreme left” charge Rep. Joe Cunningham mounted a huge effort to disassociate himself from the party and assert his independence from it. Although it failed, there is some excuse for such a strategy in House District One in South Carolina but none for the party as a whole and its national leadership.
Imagine a campaign where the Democratic Party defended itself as the party of Social Security, Medicare, the GI bill, expanded voting rights, and legal protections and opportunities for women and people of color. Imagine a campaign where the party used all the ammunition that the Republican party handed them. Imagine a campaign built on destroying the credibility of the Republican brand simply by telling the truth. Imagine video spots of the President’s incoherent rants and threats interspersed with Republican lawmakers defending or excusing his behavior, imagine a relentless focus on “soviet style purges” that put personal loyalty above the law, imagine a spot with a screen scroll of Trump’s most outrageous tweets, imagine spots highlighting and tallying the conflicts of interest of Republican cabinet members, imagine a spot asserting that American freedom is about more than the right to carry assault weapons, imagine likening the President to a “mob boss” with bullet points about his efforts to deny legal benefits to states not run by Republicans, imagine highlighting FBI data on right wing extremist violence compared to left wing violence, along with statements from right wing extremists in support of President Trump.
Of course, we don’t know what would have happened had the Democratic Party run such a campaign. What we do know is that Trump is the culmination of a 40 year Republican campaign to destroy the Democratic brand and the Democratic Party utterly failed to take advantage of an opportunity to restore it and to undermine the Republican brand. Even now, the Democratic party is passively accepting or feeding the media narrative of the pathetic and self-absorbed Trump, “unable to face the inevitable” rather than using its resources to relentlessly attack the complicity of the vast majority of Republicans in excusing his behavior and fomenting conspiracy theories. (A failure which allows a Republican Secretary of State in Georgia to be portrayed as a hero for merely doing his job.)
Of course, we all need to move on from the “what could have beens” and Joe Biden may be the right person demonstrate to many Americans the kind of dignity and competence that was lost with Trump’s election, to replace incompetent and corrupt political appointees, and to reverse at least some of his most outrageous policy changes, particularly with respect to health care, the environment, and taxation.
We can all hope that this “Partial Restoration” period can be accelerated by Senate wins in Georgia, and we hope that it can last for more than the two years between now and mid term elections but anything more than that will require the Democratic Party to actually campaign against the Republican party by de-legitimizing it. This should be easy, given the party’s descent into conspiracy mongering, corruption, and racism, but at this point there is no indication at all that they will do so. Instead, they are poised to reprise the Obama era pursuit of a mythical appetite for bipartisanship while splitting themselves in two arguing over policies that will never be enacted unless the credibility of the opposition is, justly and truthfully, laid to waste. Perhaps a Defund the DNC campaign is in order.