Why the networks can't bear to call the election
First the good news for Democrats (besides winning the White House): The Senate race in Alaska looks to be very close, and the independent there, Al Gross, who aligns with Democrats, could very well snatch that seat, where votes won’t finish counting until this coming Tuesday at the earliest. That would mean that Democrats would still need to win one of the two upcoming runoff elections in Georgia, where both the Ossoff-Perdue and Warnock-Loeffler contests will be decided during the first week of January. Traditionally, Democrats have done significantly worse in runoffs than in the general elections before them. Between now and then, Democrats will have to pivot from their general election message -- Trump needs to go -- and come up with a rationale for why it’s good to have the Senate in Democratic hands.
Failing to take the Senate could be a catastrophe. McConnell would have the power to block Biden from doing basically anything, the economy would suffer, Biden would look weak, and Democrats would get wiped out in 2022. The next two years leading into 2024 would be a mess, with Republicans launching investigations into Hunter Biden and whatever else they can think of. In 2018, scientists said that the globe has about 12 years to move away from fossil fuels to avert climate armageddon.
Yesterday, House Democratic leaders made clear on a private conference call what messages they don’t want the party running on -- lefty stuff like Medicare for All, defunding the police, or anything else that can be tarred as socialist. The prominence of those issues, people like James Clyburn argued, contributed to Democrats losing seats in the House and would cost them the special elections in the Senate. Now, “Defund the Police” is one thing, as it’s easily twisted to mean police abolition, which is different. But neither Ossoff nor Warnock are fire-breathing radicals, so that shouldn’t be a problem for the centrist voters of the world, whoever they may be. But that raises the question: If the progressive agenda is too much to run on, why should Georgia voters care who controls the Senate? What is the Biden agenda that Republicans would block, and that Democrats would enact if given the chance? (This is not a rhetorical question. What is it? My take with Akela Lacy on all this is here.)
Meanwhile, Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement commissioned an analysis of Democrats in swing districts who won and lost races, and it found that, in fact, supporters of Medicare for All did just fine relative to centrists. In fact, Democratic vote share declined for candidates the further they moved to the right. They shared this graphic with me.
The Democratic leadership argument may be primarily emotional and reflexive, but it also serves an internal political purpose. Democrats are likely to have little more than an 8-seat majority next Congress, meaning a small bloc of Democrats can wield outsized power if they band together. Consider that the Squad’s ranks grew this election season, with incoming freshmen Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Mondaire Jones and Marie Newman making eight. With the Senate still on the line, House leaders chose an inopportune moment to launch a new war inside the party. The next eight weeks in Georgia, leading to the special elections, will be pivotal.
The left, meanwhile, has clear answers to the question of why winning the Senate matters: A massive injection of economic stimulus to counteract the misery produced by Covid and its lockdowns, universal health care coverage, investment in green infrastructure, rolling back the war on drugs and legalizing weed, higher wages, and on and on. Biden could fairly easily be pushed to get behind all or most of those things, and that’s a good argument for progressives to support both the Democratic candidates. But would Biden make that argument?
On Deconstructed this week, I talked to House candidate Mike Siegel, who had some very interesting reflections on why he lost, and they’re related to that question above. His effort to persuade poor people he could truly do something to help them was hampered by the lack of a non-Trump message from the top of the ticket, he believes.
I also talked to Ilhan Omar, whose congressional district set a record for turnout and helped give Biden his margin in Minnesota, shattering Trump’s hope that her mere presence would be enough to drive the state into his arms. (“He effed around a found out, I guess,” she told me.)
Also at The Intercept, Maz Hussain has an important essay up that grapples with how it is that Trump’s brand of right-wing populism does indeed appeal to some non-white people. The first step in counteracting it is admitting it and understanding why.
Meanwhile, the networks, drunk on the spike in ratings, are refusing to call the election for Biden, even though he holds insurmountable leads in enough states to clear 270. I suspect beyond this immediate ratings surge they’re enjoying, they’re subconsciously also mourning the loss of their 24/7 source of entertainment. Readers of this email, I further suspect, don’t feel the same.