What would a Democrat victory in Georgia mean?

As of writing (1am Australia/9am Georgia), it looks as if Democrats are likely to win both run-off elections in Georgia, handing them control of 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats. With the Vice-President casting a vote during ties, Democrats would have defacto control of the chamber.

The NYT has excellent rolling coverage.

While winning control of the Senate will give Democrats more space for their legislative agenda, it is likely to shift other political dynamics. With that in mind, a few points to mull on over the next few days:

  • How will this change the relationship between the progressive and conservative wings of the democratic party? On the surface it seems likely to empower conservative Democrat senators, whose votes will now be essential for any legislation – remember, the 51st vote only comes into play should there already be a tie. At the same time, we are a long way from 2009 and the haggling over Obamacare. Holdout Democrats who refuse to cooperate (or are perceived to be doing so) will come under far more pressure than they did then. ‘Crossing the aisle’ will be labelled as working with Trump.
  • How will this change the relationship between Trump and the Republican Party? To date, the party has resisted openly contradicting him over his allegations of voter fraud, in part due to these elections. With mid-terms two years away, how will the Party’s calculus change? An optimistic reading would have moderate Republicans using the defeats and the two year electoral lull to wrest back control and distance themselves from him.

    A more pessimistic reading sees defeat strengthening Trump’s hold over the party. The great danger is that having already lost the elections, the party get behind his claims of voter fraud, or at least refuses to refute them, partly as a way to delegitimise the incoming administration, and partly due to pressure from the base. While it is probably turning moderate voters away, the Faustian bargain may prove hard to pull out of.
Trump is already claiming fraud was underway in Georgia
  • Finally, how will this change the relationship between the parties? Biden has been talking up the possibility of bipartisanship, but there is a version of events where these wins make both sides more intransigent. If concessions need to be made, better to make them to someone in your own party. On the other side, collaborating with a possible illegitimate and fraudulent government will be more difficult than normal.

While the elections results would certainly widen the Democrat’s legislative agenda, we should be careful from reading too much into these results. The deeper trend of polarization, with its roots in institutions, geography, and demographics, may be harder to shift.

Trump the third party candidate

I’ve been tossing around the following question all week:

What explains the Republican Party’s decision to (at least implicitly) go along with Trump’s increasingly brazen attempts to undermine the electoral system and Biden’s victory?

Prior to the election, and in the hours/days immediately following it, I expected that the Republican Party would cut Trump loose. They had gained significant influence over the judiciary through the appointment of hundreds of judges to district courts, as well as three to the Supreme Court. Instead of a ‘blue wave,’ Republicans looked set to increase their share of the House and hold onto the Senate. It seemed a perfect moment for the party: lose a useful but erratic leader while maintaining enough power to make Biden’s administration impotent.

Instead, Republicans have supported him on a spectrum from emphasising his right to legal action, to actively participating in his conspiracies. The few Republicans criticizing him get lots of media headlines, but they are usually either retiring or long-time opponents of Trump. The real power in the party remains quiet. Much has been made of number 3 Republican in the House, Liz Cheney’s, recent statement, which on my reading is rather subdued. Judge for yourself:

“America is governed by the rule of law. The President and his lawyers have made claims of criminality and widespread fraud, which they allege could impact election results. If they have genuine evidence of this, they are obligated to present it immediately in court and to the American people. I understand that the President has filed more than thirty separate lawsuits. If he is unsatisfied with the results in those lawsuits, then the appropriate avenue is to appeal. If the President cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process.”

This muted reaction follows daily accusations that voter fraud is so widespread that the electoral system is unable to deliver free or fair results. These accusations are also increasing distrust with the electoral system among Republicans – although the problem is not as new as we might think.


The willingness of the party to follow Trump down this rabbit hole comes back to his hold over the party base. The radicalisation of the Republican party started before Trump with the Tea-Party movement, but he has been the apotheosis of its politics of outrage and mistrust. He achieved the second highest voter turnout in US electoral history in part thanks to the brand he has built around himself. Think back to the relief checks that were sent out with his signature on them. He has personalised politics around himself, and in doing so, has made himself difficult to excise from the party. He is also working to hold on to party machinery, with his preferred candidate seeking reelection to Chair of the Republican National Committee.


There is an element of both carrot and stick here. Republicans certainly want to draw on his pull to increase turnout and energise the base, but they are probably also terrified of the consequences of crossing him. The Republican Governor of Ohio, who appeared to acknowledge Biden’s win, has received threats of a primary challenge from Trump. He has also called Georgia’s Secretary of State a traitor.

Trump’s hold over the base gives him enormous power in any intra-party power struggle because of how dangerous he could be outside the party. Remember, Trump was asked to sign a pledge back in 2015 not to run as a third-party candidate should he lose the Republican primary process. If the party were seen to turn their back on Trump, he could declare the party corrupt – in league with the Deep State – and launch a new party, a new movement. This would be an existential threat for Republicans by splitting the conservative vote. Even if he stopped short of this nuclear option, the prospect of Trump on TV flinging vitriol at Republicans and supporting primary challengers looks like to keep the party in line for the foreseeable future.

Why vote on a Tuesday?

Why are elections in the United States held on a Tuesday? Most explanations talk about how weekday voting helps disenfranchise voters who are unable to get time off work (usually poorer or minorities). While this helps explain why the United States still votes on a Tuesday, it does not answer the question of why Tuesday in the first place?

This entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica comes to the rescue.

Congress set Election Day as the first Tuesday of November in 1845. November was conveniently placed between harvest and winter, while Tuesday gave America’s mostly agrarian population a day to travel to polls after church on Sunday. They could arrive, vote, and then stay for market day on Wednesday to buy or sell produce.

Plenty more detail in the link.

Trump and a full-blown crisis of succession

It is increasingly obvious that Trump views democratic institutions the same way he does people: relevant as long as they serve his fickle purposes. Faced with the growing likelihood that he will lose the election, Trump has responded by attacking the integrity of the voting system and refusing to commit to stepping down should he lose.

In this piece for The Economist Lawrence Douglas paints the terrifyingly plausible series of steps Trump could take from election day to engineer a “full-blown crisis of succession.” Here is one ominous passage:

The new Congress—sworn in just three days earlier, on January 3rd—confronts an astonishing situation: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have each submitted conflicting electoral certificates. The election hangs in the balance.

Please do read the whole thing.