Democrats, Not Just Trump, Are Putting Biden in a Tight Spot

In the last election cycle, and the election certification process in November 2020, democracy in the United States survived and overcame its most difficult test in decades. Although Joe Biden gained the biggest number of votes in the history of his country in absolute terms, the election was closer than anyone could have thought: Donald Trump also gained a record number of votes for his second place. In fact, the votes for the Republican candidate were greater than in any other election, including that of Barack Obama, and only less than Biden thanks to an unusually high rate of citizen participation. The results in the House of Representatives and in the states and municipalities also show how close the votes were on election day; not only did the Republicans not lose, they actually gained seats.

In the end, Biden’s success is owed to the fact that a large number of citizens voted (either for him or, in many cases, against Trump), and that the Republican officials in key state governments and Vice President Mike Pence did not give in to the pressure from Trump and his supporters to reject the verdict from the ballots.

Trump has not left the political scene since his defeat; on the contrary, he continues to insist that he was robbed in the election, that the attack on Congress on Jan. 6 cannot be considered an attempted coup (any similarity to 2006 is pure coincidence) and that he will be back in the White House in 2024. What’s more, he has managed to keep the Republican Party loyal to his cause and has politically punished those members who have not been faithful to him, labeling them as traitors. As a result, the Republicans have not wanted, been able or known how to separate themselves from Trump’s rule, which has allowed him to get rid of the officials who refused to modify the electoral verdict, as well as modify state electoral laws with the aim of suppressing potential Democrat voters. In other words, he has been creating conditions that will make it more difficult for him to lose the election in 2024.

The continued attempt to subvert democracy should unify the Democrats to face this enormous challenge. However, the divisions within Biden’s own party could lead to a significant weakening of the president who, additionally, will not run for the role in 2024 and does not have a clear successor, in light of the lack of enthusiasm that Kamala Harris has generated in her first months as vice president.

Biden has always tried to place himself in the middle of the wide ideological spectrum of the Democrats and, in his long career as senator, to gain bipartisan support for the most important legislative topics. Despite this, in the current polarized environment it seems impossible and unthinkable to count on a number of moderates (something like Blue Dog Republicans) that could vote in certain initiatives that are fundamental for making up a majority with the Democrats. This implies that the president needs all, or almost all, of the members of Congress in his own party to approve any initiative, and that he has to use the budget reconciliation procedure to avoid Senate filibusters forcing a supermajority of 60 votes. These two factors, unanimous Democratic support and reconciliation, significantly weaken Biden.

The problem is that his two legislative priorities, the physical infrastructure package and the social infrastructure package, will not see the light of day without an agreement in his own party. Without these legislative successes, the president will weaken three years before the 2024 electoral period and the foundations will be laid for the Republicans to regain the House of Representatives and, potentially, the Senate in November 2022.

If the prospect of Trump’s return and the attack on democracy are a real possibility if Biden is so weak, then it is worth asking what dynamics within the Democratic Party are preventing them from using the majority in both chambers and the White House to successfully move forward with a common agenda.

The answer lies in the polarization of the political parties in the United States, which has done nothing but grow in recent years. Although it is easy to blame the extreme right Trumpism for the polarization, it is clear that its growth is also due to the progressive extremism of important Democrat groups, which now aspire to implement their agenda despite not having won the election in 2018.

It is clear on the one hand that there was not a progressive wave that implied a mandate to implement a radical agenda and, on the other, that Biden won the primaries and the general election that year thanks to presenting himself as the moderate option. Neither Elizabeth Warren nor Bernie Sanders triumphed in the Democratic primaries. In fact, Biden beat them by a significant margin despite coming from behind, and neither of them would have beaten Trump that November. If his most radical agenda, in the ideological spectrum of the United States, had won the primaries, Trump would have dominated in the general election.

What is now stopping the president’s legislative agenda is the aim to universally implement a series of social programs and the reluctance to negotiate a lower level of ambition. The Biden administration has already suffered significant setbacks that show weakness (the withdrawal from Afghanistan that was poorly planned and even more poorly executed, the immigrant crisis at the southern border, the return to Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy). The impossibility of advancing his legislative priorities despite his party having the majority in both chambers only reinforces this idea.

In the current context of a global growth in populism and an increasing respect for authoritarianism in the public opinion, Biden’s success is important for his country, but also for the world, including Mexico. The dysfunction in Washington is one of the main reasons that explains the anti-systemic success of populism; the inability to implement a sensible agenda only promotes it more, with negative consequences for everyone.

About this publication

About Elizabeth Gardiner 17 Articles
I'm a native English speaker with a degree in German and Spanish Linguistic Studies from the University of Southampton. Though I have experience translating medical and pharmaceutical texts, I love the challenge of dealing with opinion pieces, so am very happy to be part of Watching America to continue developing that interest! Aside from languages my passions include salsa dancing and volunteering for Girlguiding.

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