In recent years, the American political system has featured a clash of extremes. Republicans moved so sharply to the right that even past presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain no longer fit in, and Donald Trump stoked the ire of the sort of people who stormed the Capitol building yesterday. Meanwhile, leftists such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have gained greater influence over Democratic policies.
But Tuesday’s election in Georgia was a thumping victory for moderation. How so? First, because voters rejected the candidates endorsed by Donald Trump even as he strove to overturn Georgia’s presidential vote. Second, because both Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue emphasized their allegiance to Trump at his most outrageous.
The president is very good at revving up the base of the Republican Party. He got 11 million more votes in 2020 than in 2016 election. The problem for him and his party is that he’s even better at mobilizing Democrats. Joe Biden åoutdid Hillary Clinton by more than 15 million votes.
The stunning outcome of the two Senate races in Georgia, with Democrats winning both, is more proof that the king of Mar-a-Lago is often his own worst enemy. Republicans typically win the state’s runoff elections because they’ve been better at getting to the polls. On Monday, veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove predicted they would win both races.
The GOP did all it could to make this an election about ideology, portraying Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff as radical leftists. With control of the Senate hanging in the balance Perdue’s campaign theme was “Win Georgia, Save America.” Loeffler insisted, “We are the firewall to stopping socialism.”
But they may have alienated more people than they persuaded. Warnock and Ossoff leaned toward the center — declining to embrace the Green New Deal, “Medicare for All” or defunding police. In the end, their comparative moderation was more appealing to voters than fire-breathing conservatism.
It has been 20 years since Georgia elected a Democrat to the Senate. The state hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1992. But with Trump antagonizing suburbanites and driving Democrats to the polls, Georgia has lost its place as a GOP stronghold.
Maybe Republicans who have become evangelists for the cult of Trump should reassess. Four years ago, the GOP held not only the presidency but both houses of Congress. Today, Democrats control all three.
But anyone panicking about the onset of socialism should switch to decaf. The Senate will be dealing with a president who represents the moderate wing of the Democratic Party — and who has made it clear that his agenda will not be plagiarized from progressives. In striving for bipartisan cooperation, Biden will be looking for solutions that stand a chance of winning over at least a few Republicans.
He also has to placate centrists in his own party, who are not about to indulge any left-wing fantasies. The Moderate Democrats PAC has channeled support to 10 Democratic senators. The group includes Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, who represent red states, as well as Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Gary Peters of Michigan, who represent swing states.
Some Democrats who aren’t on the Moderate Democrats PAC list nevertheless earned an “F” on the leftist website Progressive Punch. Among them are Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
It’s senators like these who will decide the fate of legislation in this Congress. With the thinnest possible margin, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will have to keep the moderates on board to have any chance of success. Far from empowering socialists, the new Senate lineup will erode their influence.
Incremental change, not radical reform, is the only realistic way to advance Democratic policies. Likewise, in his judicial nominations, Biden will have to steer down the middle of the road.
Democrats also have to contend with their dismal showing in 2020 down-ballot races. They lost seats in the U.S. House and failed to wrest control of a single state legislative chamber from Republicans.
I asked Jerry Taylor, president of the moderate Washington think tank the Niskanen Center, what he made of the new alignment. “The governing coalition in America during the 117th Congress will be built from the center of American politics,” he said. “And happily, the extreme wings of each party have beclowned themselves and lost political strength.”
Americans, by and large, are a moderate people, gravitating to sober, practical policies. This year, they may finally have a government that matches.