When every legally cast vote has been counted, Joe Biden will probably have prevailed in enough states to claim victory in the presidential race, perhaps even ending up with a few more Electoral Votes than Donald Trump managed to earn four years ago. That means Trump will probably be out, defeated in his bid for re-election.
But this is not a moment for Democrats to celebrate.
In the expectations game, the Democratic Party whiffed and whiffed badly. The Biden campaign and its allies managed to drive up turnout — but so did Trump. Republicans put up a hell of a fight, and not just, or even mainly, in the battle for the White House. Democrats have almost certainly failed to win a Senate majority, and so far they have lost some ground in the House as well (while still on track to maintain control of the lower chamber of Congress).
That means that Biden is on track to be a weak, ineffectual president governing at the mercy of Mitch McConnell’s Machiavellian machinations.
So much for the Democratic fantasy — the one that seemingly never dies — of unobstructed rule. Democrats didn’t just want to win and govern in the name of a deeply divided nation’s fractured sense of the common good.
No, they wanted to lead a moral revolution, to transform the country — not only enacting a long list of new policies, but making a series of institutional changes that would entrench their power far into the future. Pack the Supreme Court. Add left-leaning states. Break up others to give the left huge margins in the Senate. Get rid of the Electoral College. Abolish the police. Rewrite the nation’s history, with white supremacy and racism placed “at the very center.” Ensure “equity” not just in opportunity but in outcomes. Hell, maybe they’d even establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to teach everyone who voted for or supported the 45th president just how evil they really are.
No wonder so many Republicans turned out to vote. Democrats proved to be the most effective GOTV operation for the GOP imaginable.
Yes, Trump and the Republican cheerleading section online and on cable news and talk radio harped on every extreme proposal. But this wasn’t just a function of the fallacy of composition, where one loony activist says something off the wall and the GOP amplifies it far beyond reason in order to tar the opposition unfairly.
These were prominent Democrats — progressive politicians, activists, and scholars and prize-winning journalists at leading cultural institutions — talking this way. Joe Biden himself usually did the smart thing and tried to distance himself from the most radical proposals. But in the end it wasn’t enough to mollify fears of an ascendant left hell bent on entrenching itself in power and enacting institutional reforms that would enable it to lead a moral, political, and cultural revolution.