Among those of us who obsessively track electoral horse-race analysis, it was the shot heard round the world:
This election is looking more like a Democratic tsunami than simply a Blue wave.
Coming from veteran observer Amy Walters of the ultra-cautious Cook Political Report, this was an unusually bold assertion, buttressed, it appears, by her belief that “the president is not interested in changing his approach or focus” despite countless indicators that he needs to in order to survive. She even discounts the possibility that Trump’s dismal performance will create a “checks and balances” undertow benefiting down-ballot Republicans among voters worrying about too much Democratic power:
At least one Republican I spoke with … was wary of a check and balance working this year, telling me that “people are looking for a restart and a reset.” That includes down-ballot candidates as well as the president.
So it might be time to take a cautious and highly conditional look ahead at what a “Democratic tsunami” might look like, and might produce after the elections. Democrats with a superstitious fear of even thinking over-confidently are excused from a further reading of this piece, lest they tempt the Lord Satan (or at least Vladimir Putin) to intervene demonically on the president’s behalf.
1. A Decisive Result That Makes Any Trump Post-Election Contest Impossible
Let’s say Joe Biden performs exactly as national and state polling averages at RealClearPolitics currently suggest. That would be an 8.7 percent advantage in the national popular vote, the largest major-party victory margin since Ronald Reagan’s blowout win over Walter Mondale in 1984. He’d carry all seven battleground states for which there is public polling in the RCP database: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, giving him at least 333 electoral votes.
A win by this margin could not be dismissed by Republicans as flukey or the product of voter fraud or any other of the rationalizations they might deploy for a squeaker. Biden could claim at least a modest, perhaps a major mandate, particularly since a victory of this magnitude would all but guarantee conquest of the Senate and House gains, too. And to the extent that the burial of Trumpism is an ancillary goal for Biden, a nine-point trouncing with losses in all the battlegrounds would make a 2024 comeback by Trump himself unlikely, while handing an anchor to any designated successors.
But the most immediate, and perhaps most important, effect of a large Biden win would be to neutralize Team Trump’s pretty visible plans to contest a close loss based on success in early returns, followed by legal maneuverings, state government machinations, and even violence in the streets to produce a 2000-style victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat. Even if Trump managed to post early leads in some competitive states based on heavy in-person Election Day voting by Republicans, they wouldn’t last long, and the Biden wave in later-counted (mostly mail) ballots would be too large and national to attribute to any sort of wire-pulling, particularly given Republican control of the election machinery in some of these states.
A Biden tsunami is definitely the best, and possibly the only, way to avoid disinformation about the results in a year when a slow count is going to definitely occur.
2. A Solidly Democratic, if Not Filibuster-Proof, Senate
Right now, control of the Senate is teetering in the balance, with Democrats needing (assuming Biden wins and installs his vice-president as the chamber’s tie-breaker) a net gain of three seats to take away Mitch McConnell’s gavel.
Using Cook’s very change-averse ratings, of 11 competitive Senate races, nine are for seats currently controlled by the GOP, with Biden leading in the polls in five of the states with those vulnerable GOP seats. Given the recent trend toward straight-ticket voting — in 2016, every single Senate race was won by the party that carried the state in the presidential election — it’s extremely likely Democrats would win the Senate if they and Biden are performing as they are currently. That’s crucial, for the most obvious reason that a Senate majority would ease confirmation of Biden’s executive and judicial branch appointees.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that Biden’s lead expands and Democratic Senate candidates do even better. If Democrats won all 11 competitive races on Cook’s ratings board, they’d have 56 Senate seats (though one win would likely have to wait until January of 2021 for a runoff in the Georgia seat occupied by Republican appointee Kelly Loeffler). That’s a comfortable margin that would give Democrats a nice cushion on difficult Senate votes, thought not enough to overcome a united Republican minority deploying the filibuster. It might give new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, enough votes to abolish the filibuster even if he loses a few institutionalist Democrats. And it could very likely put reconquest of the Senate in the 2022 midterms out of reach for Republicans.
3. Iron-clad Democratic Control of the House
Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to step down as House Speaker in 2022 subsequent to a deal she cut to head off opposition following the 2018 elections. A big Democratic win in 2020 would make her last two years wielding the gavel much more pleasant.
The current Democratic margin of control in the House (35 seats), along with recently enhanced party unity, means that Pelosi rarely has to worry about Democratic defections. Another ten or twenty seats would likely remove all doubt.
Above all, of course, a Democratic trifecta in Washington for the first time since 2010, means House and Senate Democrats could focus on enacting laws rather than fighting off destructive GOP legislation (as they had to do for the first two years of the Trump presidency) or producing gridlock (as they’ve done since their House takeover).
4. State Government Gains Just in Time for Redistricting
Democrats are targeting seven key states where an achievable flip in control of legislative chambers could have a major effect on the redistricting cycle that plays out between 2021 and 2022: Arizona (House and Senate), Iowa (House), Michigan (House), Minnesota (Senate), North Carolina (Senate), Pennsylvania (House and Senate), and Texas (House). A true Democratic tsunami could pull other chambers into play, with dividends that could pay off for the next decade.
There are only 11 gubernatorial races this cycle, and according to Cook, only two are competitive, both in seats currently held by Democrats (in Montana and North Carolina). But while gains are unlikely, holding onto those two governorships, particularly in the North Carolina battleground, would be quite valuable.
All in all, a Democratic “tsunami” this November would not only end the Trump Era and destroy much of the power of his Senate allies, but could force an extended crisis in a Republican Party that is already looking down the barrel of demographic trends that are not friendly to its reactionary views or narrow constituencies. It’s no time for Joe Biden to play it safe. When it comes to beating Trump, a big margin is more than worth the effort.