Biden Defeats Trump — So What’s Next For Democrats?


Photo credit: Ren Rader

illustration by Ren Rader

On Saturday morning, America’s never-ending election finally came to a close. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has pulled off the difficult task of unseating an incumbent president. President-Elect Biden will receive 306 electors and the most votes in history. Biden garnered the same ‘massive landslide’ victory as Trump did in 2016 when he lost the popular vote by over 2 million.

Even so, the election was far from a wave election. Yes, President-Elect Biden did “beat [Trump] like a drum,” but down-ballot Democrats struggled in their respective races. Despite what expectations and polls predicted, Texas did not go blue. Democrats failed to flip the state legislature. We lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and are still shy of capturing control of the U.S. Senate. Many in the Democratic party have blamed progressives, pollsters and party elders.

To be clear, we all should rejoice that we set in motion the removal of Donald Trump. Yet, we would be remiss to not realize that our party should have performed better. The electoral map may be impressive, but by county, you see that very little has changed since 2016. ‘Blue America’ got bluer and red America’ got redder. This year we received millions more votes than Trump. Why then did we lose seven house seats and netted only one senate seat? Most think it is a matter of whether the party has gone too far left or not far left enough. The debate gets very wonky with both sides bogged down in the trenches over the minutiae of Democratic policy.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) recently blamed our losses on “the extreme leftward lurch of the Democrat Party.” While I am a critic of the Democratic party’s trend toward more liberal and progressive policies, she is wrong to only blame the left. The party’s problem isn’t ideological per se, but geographical and with our branding. One big thing that Republicans are much better at doing than Democrats is understanding what drives our politics — feelings and brand perception. Too often we forget that elections are popularity contests and not final exams. We can’t just win on detailed plans alone.

2020 proves that all politics is national, not local anymore. Democrats like Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), who barely won re-election, and Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), who lost, had a hard time escaping the national party brand. This is because our base has become narrower and narrower in recent years. We continue to pander to a specific demographic of voters in big cities and suburbs. Andrew Yang characterized it best when he said “the Democratic Party, unfortunately, has taken on this role of the coastal urban elites.” I’ve written on this before and warned Democrats that we must learn the lessons of the Trump era if we are to succeed as a party. We cannot, nor should we want to, run on a platform that resonates only with metro areas and the college-educated.

You might think that because only 14% of people live in rural America we can afford to write them off, but you’re wrong. American politics and our political institutions are beautifully crafted to prevent this. As they should. Moreover, rural America is not just white America. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people of color, women, queer folk and working-class Americans that need a strong Democratic party to advocate for them. Unfortunately, we ignore them and, if anything, run candidates that don’t fit their districts.

I suggest we de-centralize our brand and extend a national platform to moderate (35%) and conservative (17%) Democrats who make up 52% of our party. Doing so will be a great first step to localizing our politics again so that down-ballot Democrats can have the freedom to succeed on their own merits again. The Democratic party and President-Elect Biden are uniquely placed to restore our politics, but to do so we have to get our own house in order first.