Conservatives, take heart. Sure, Joe Biden is the president-elect and will move into the White House Jan. 20, barring a stunning and unlikely series of court victories by President Trump. But more than the presidency was on the ballot last week. And fortunately, the election was not the wholesale repudiation of Republicans that many pundits had forecast.
As of now, Republicans will hold 50 seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate in January and Democrats will hold 48. Two Senate seats will be on the ballot in Georgia in runoff elections Jan. 5, and they will determine which party controls the chamber.
Right now, Georgia Republican candidates Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are both favored to win their races. If at least one does, the Senate will remain in GOP hands. If both lose, each party will control 50 seats. As vice president, Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote and give Democrats control of the Senate by the slimmest of margins.
If Republicans maintain control of the Senate they will have earned a seat at the governing table — and the ability to serve as the check on the whims of far-left radicals as they find their sea legs in a Biden administration.
The battle for the Senate received far less attention than the Trump-Biden presidential race, but it is vitally important.
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A Republican majority in the Senate means that Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist representing Vermont, won’t become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee – and the odds of his nomination to become labor secretary are greatly reduced. Ditto for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., becoming treasury secretary.
President-elect Biden knows he has a limited amount of political capital and time. Spending both on lightning-rod Cabinet picks like Sanders and Warren does not — so far — appear to be in the cards.
Speaking of political capital, GOP successes put a serious dent into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House majority and stopped Democrats from flipping control of state legislatures, despite millions of dollars the Democrats spent on their campaigns. That means Biden won’t assume office with a sweeping mandate.
Unlike 2009, when President Barack Obama entered the White House after a resounding up-and-down electoral victory to parlay into governing, Biden returns to Washington more as an acceptable alternative to another four years of the Trump era than as a candidate voters were wildly enthusiastic about or an advocate of popular positons.
Forget about pie-in-the-sky far-left ideas like the Green New Deal or “Medicare-for-all” passing a GOP-controlled Senate. Even Biden’s campaign riff — “first thing I’d do is repeal those Trump tax cuts” — is likely about to meet the cold reality of divided government.
Pushing huge tax hikes in the current economic climate will certainly get the cold shoulder from Senate Republicans, and possibly Senate Democrats facing reelection in two years. These Democrats are staring down the unpleasant prospect of defending their seats in a Biden midterm — more on that a bit later.
Biden may not have campaigned as a left-wing radical, but he’s now presiding over a party chock full of them. Balancing the impulses of his party’s progressive wing will push his political skills to the limit and churn up countless news cycles.
The incoming president may want to keep his presidency focused on commonsense measures to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He has a chance to rally bipartisan support on dealing with this health crisis, especially as the case numbers continue moving in the wrong direction.
It’s an open question whether the most liberal Democrats will go along with a moderate and pragmatic Biden legislative agenda, or will instead demand Biden fight for an agenda that Bernie Sanders labeled as the most progressive since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Already, the fault lines are being laid bare. Extreme-left Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said her party’s election losses resulted from the failure of Democrats to embrace proposals like the Green New Deal or defunding the police.
Meanwhile, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who won her reelection bid by less than a point, blamed AOC and other far-left Democrats for the party’s election losses, warning that “we need to not ever use the words 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again.”
This dynamic will play out on the Senate side as well, albeit at a lower temperature. Another silver lining of a Biden presidency is that the 2022 Senate map improves dramatically for the GOP. Prior to last week, Republicans faced the prospect of playing defense in Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio — swing states, yes, but all places that look a little redder than they did a week ago.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania remain tough holds for the GOP, but now Democrats have two freshmen — New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Arizona’s Mark Kelly — who will next face voters for the first time in purple territory. They will be placing the baggage of the first two years of the Biden presidency before the judgment of voters, and won’t want to be defending socialism in their swing states.
So while it’s always better to win than lose, last week’s election results created new opportunities that did not exist earlier — and should ease the political pain for Republicans in the months ahead.
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