Just two weeks ago, America took decisive steps to reject Donald Trump in favor of a more unifying leader. While we await the coming transition to President-elect Joe Biden, we celebrate again this victory for our nation, while refuting the lies and conspiracies which Trump has stoked in a desperate bid to undo his defeat. This mixture of relief and concern is an all too predictable end to our four-year experiment in Trumpism.
This victory belongs to all of us who fought in the cross-partisan coalition against a president who tried to dismantle American self-government. We proved that there are enough Americans willing to put country over party to defeat the threats to our republic. But what should we make of the election as a whole?
First and foremost, this election was undeniably a national repudiation of Trump. It was not, however, a Republican repudiation of Trump. While enough Republican voters broke ranks to ultimately devastate the President’s campaign, more Americans voted for Trump this year than did in his first election.
Nor was this election a repudiation of the Republican party or its stated beliefs. Down ballot republicans won at the local and state level, making the House of Representatives more evenly divided while the Senate is guaranteed to remain at least half Republican.
This election dispels the myth that the American people have shifted ideologically to the left wing. The American electorate remains very diverse, but still fundamentally moderate on most issues. But it also means that some of the nastier components of Trumpism are acceptable to many Republican voters.
Even after four years of indignities, disgraces, and calamitous mismanagement, most Republican voters chose to stick with the President and the party that twisted itself in knots to defend and protect him. It was only a courageous minority who walked away from behavior and policies they could not tolerate to form the coalition of the decent eager to force change in our government.
What is most alarming about the resiliency of the Republican party in this era, is that it required a coalescing around increasingly authoritarian tactics and arguments. When the president tried to coerce foreign governments into influencing our elections, Republican voters stood by their party. Even as the president and some party leaders tried to discredit, disavow, or deny our elections, Republican voters continued to support them. The Republican party is in many ways becoming more authoritarian minded, willing to trade some freedoms in order to lock in what they perceive to be permanent ideological victories.
That is a dangerous trade, one our system of government was designed to prevent. And yet ideological extremism exists on the far-left was well. This election of Joe Biden, a mainstream Democrat, proves that the instinct for extremism has not grasped control of his party. As much as Trump’s defeat was a national rebuke of his divisive leadership, Biden’s victory was an embrace of measured leadership and unifying, principled politics.
The rush to read the tea leaves of elections often causes us to look at microscopic demographic details, hoping that we can dissect some magic formula for winning. But the story of an election is often much broader than the strategic implications. This year, a seemingly helter-skelter election result reveals a simple truth: we have much work to do to bridge the divides in our country and to build a political home for Americans that may not be dependent on their party alone.
That’s a tough challenge, one we’ll be discussing in the coming days, weeks and months of transition. But having won our first battle against rising authoritarianism, we are confident that we are all, together, up for the tasks ahead.