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.
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.
- 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.