As America prepares to inaugurate Scranton Joe Biden as our 46th president, we interrupt Washington’s backslapping Democratic elites to inject a dose of realpolitik into a party that still calls itself the real champions of America’s working class.
While Biden indeed deserves great credit for having defeated his incumbent Republican presidential opponent, it is also true that Biden had a unique ally who greatly aided his effort: President Donald Trump.
Trump was the most blatantly lying, tragically incompetent, morally repugnant president in US history. He was a commander in chief whose failures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic led to massive tragedies of disease and even death among his trusting but tragically gullible supporters.
And while Biden went on to defeat Trump, the victor’s party leaders must now also face the reality that, except for the very top of their ticket, it was the Democrats who finished as the predominant losers.
Much to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprise, chagrin -- and yes, much to her own blame -- the Democrats actually lost at least nine seats in the House. House Republicans lost zero seats, leaving still-Speaker Pelosi with the smallest margin of any House majority in 18 years. Republicans also captured two formerly Democratic state legislative chambers; Democrats captured zero, even in districts where their presidential standard-bearer was winning.
But most significantly, the House Democrats were bizarrely stunned by their poor showing on Election Night. And that gets us to the biggest problem Democrats will be facing in 2021 and perhaps for the foreseeable future.
Throughout the summer and autumn, the House and Senate Democrats didn’t seem to have a clue that they were flat-out failing in their campaign battles of message politics. Voters everywhere seemed to have no idea of a most-desirable overall theme about what the Democrats were really all about -- and what Democratic-controlled Congress would mean to them and their families.
Think of it: Democrats whiffed on the golden political opportunity to present voters with a powerful national plan -- a red-state, blue-state pandemic “Rescue America” program to aid all Americans who have been thrown out of work, cannot feed their families, face eviction and so on.
Democrats missed their chance to carefully target their plan to make it most effective. And they missed their chance to then wallpaper America with their simplest-to-understand fact sheets showing people everywhere how much the Democrats’ pandemic “Rescue America” program would mean for their families.
And Democrats also missed a classic chance to reach out to all those families that were, at one time, headed by registered blue-collar Democrats. They were voters who grew increasingly disillusioned with what seemed to be Democratic indifference to them and their problems. They grew increasingly into those Mad-as-Hell, Not-Gonna-Take-It-Anymore blue-collar Democrats. In July 2015, I wrote about them as being the folks who were flocking to the rallies of the brand-new Republican in the race: Donald Trump.
And I warned, in that way-early 2015 column, that on Election Night 2016, still more than a year away, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that those blue-collar Mad-as-Hell Trump voters just elected our next president.
Well, in the summer of 2020 -- and increasingly ever since -- those same blue-collar voters who had indeed backed Trump increasingly found that they and their families had become major victims of Trump’s leadership ineptitude. They had lost their jobs as the pandemic economy shut down. Now they were Wannabe-Working-Class voters.
Throughout the campaign, the congressional Democrats missed their chance to speak to them in plain-talk. The Democrats failed to lead by presenting a simple but comprehensive pandemic “Rescue America” program that made clear to voters in every state just what their families could get -- and when. America’s blue-collar voters who needed to be rescued had no idea that they could be rescued by a party that really cared about them.
After the election, Democrats and Trump negotiators settled on a check for $600 for every adult or child earning less than $75,000. Last week, Trump -- defeated after losing some supporters from his onetime solid base -- tried to win them back by jumping suddenly to $2,000. Pelosi and the Democrats said a weak me-too.
Now the Democratic elites are wondering why they are no longer seen as the party of blue-collar America. Especially: they’re wondering why those blue-collar folks voted for all those Republican unknowns for congressional and state legislative seats. But then they switched and voted to make Scranton Joe our next president.
They are America’s Still-Mad-as-Hell voters. But they couldn’t hear or heed a message Pelosi’s Democrats never even sent.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)