A Repudiation After All?

The early reaction was premature.

President Donald J. Trump greets guests on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, prior to boarding Marine One en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. to begin his trip to Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Nevada. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans were hoping that voters would send such a strong message of their disgust of President Trump that we would never see his likes again. The seeming closeness of the race on Election Night made us all sad.

The morning-after columns were clear on that point:

  • Jamelle Bouie, NYT, “We Waited in Vain for a Repudiation That Never Came.”
  • Max Boot, WaPo, “Trump may lose, but Trumpism hasn’t been repudiated.”
  • Monica Hesse, WaPo, “The fantasy of repudiating Trumpism is dead.”
  • Adam Tooze, The Guardian, “Trump has not been repudiated – a Biden presidency would face obstruction at every level.”
  • Molly Jong-Fast, The Daily Beast, “This Isn’t Enough—We Wanted a Repudiation of Trumpism.”
  • James Joyner, OTB, “Blue Wave Crashes: It’ll be days before we know the final 2020 results but a resounding repudiation is unlikely.”

But what if our threshold was too high?

Commentary‘s John Podhoretz, of all people, makes a pretty good argument that we did indeed get “The Repudiation” we asked for. While he muddles it with too many snipes at the woke libz, the case is actually rather strong.

Joe Biden is on track to receive more than 80 million votes—nearly 20 percent higher than Barack Obama’s previous record in 2008. Hillary Clinton received 66 million votes in 2016. Biden may best her total by close to 30 percent. Clinton won 20 states in 2016. Obama won 24 states in 2012. Biden may end up winning 25 states.

Biden did this while presiding over the least energetic and most idea-free campaign in modern history. As far as his positive agenda for America goes, we should all wear masks and listen to the science. And since the public seems to have seen fit to deny Biden a Democratic Senate, he won’t be able even to rubber-stamp liberal or leftist policy items that are put on the Resolute Desk for him to sign.

There’s little or no enthusiasm for the man, and there shouldn’t be. He didn’t encourage any. In the primaries, Biden ran as the milquetoast; the most inoffensive major candidate. And he didn’t change much in the general, which is the point. His goal was to be… nothing. A flat surface.

He just wasn’t Donald Trump—and that proved to be enough to generate 80-plus million votes.

Now, while that’s a skosh oversimplified, it’s not wrong. Biden has a rather detailed platform, and one that actually become more progressive and ambitious during the general election campaign thanks to a task force to unite the Bernie wing of the party with his own. But, even as one who very much liked Biden when I was a staunch Republican—I was defending his gaffes at least as far back as 2008—and who voted for him in both the primary and general election, his main message was “Make America Normal Again.”

That followed a 2018 election in which 62 million Democrats cast ballots and flipped the House blue—9 million more than Republicans and a level of turnout for a midterm the likes of which we’ve hardly ever seen.

In my view, just as Trump’s brash willingness to defy political convention and his addiction to outrageous behavior won him his party’s nomination and arguably the election, they also created a movement against him of incomparable size and power.

Look, Ronald Reagan was hated like crazy. George W. Bush was hated like crazy. People demonstrated against them by the millions. But they did not generate a massive counterforce that ended up driving them from office. Far from it. Reagan won 49 states in 1984. Bush improved on his electoral college performance in 2004. Trump lost states and maybe as many as 50 electors from 2016 to 2020, while also losing the House for the Republicans.

There’s a lot to this. The comparison with Bush is really good: despite an increasingly-unpopular war and an arguably stronger opponent, he managed to win a popular-vote majority, increase his margin in Florida considerably, and add states to his coalition.

This year, the election was almost purely a referendum on Trump. He’s going to lose very, very badly. Huge. In what is looking to be not only the highest-turnout election in US history in terms of the sheer number of votes cast but, crucially, the highest percentage of eligible voters in a century.

Trump enhanced their cause. It couldn’t have survived and thrived without being constantly fed by Trump. He made the best case against himself anyone could ever have made, which is what Biden’s apparent victory demonstrates. That, and the fact that, with the exception of Cory Gardner in Colorado, elected Senate Republicans thought to be doomed or nearly doomed all survived—Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Steve Daines, and probably Alaska’s Dan Sullivan. (Martha McSally and Kelly Loeffler were both appointed to their seats.)

The fact that Washington Republicans weren’t ditched, combined with Biden’s colorlessness and lack of an agenda, means that the astonishing turnout among Democrats and independents was driven by one overwhelming objective: To drive Donald Trump from office. And that, it seems, is the only clear message of the 2020 election.

Obviously, one can argue this one either way. Returning Trump’s enablers to Congress is indeed evidence that Trumpism hasn’t been thoroughly stamped out. But the fact that Trump lost in places that sent Republicans back to the House and Senate (or to state offices) is indeed a yuuuge repudiation of Trump himself.

Further, as the counting goes on, it’s looking like Biden will run the table on the remaining states, minus Alaska. He’s ahead in Georgia now and could well win North Carolina, which didn’t seem possible even yesterday. He’ll almost surely win Nevada and Pennsylvania. That’s as big a win as could reasonably have been expected from the pre-election polls.

And, while Podhoretz didn’t mention it, Biden would almost surely have won Florida had Republicans not managed to thwart the ballot initiative that restored voting rights to felons who had served their time. (I remain befuddled that, with all the money Mike Bloomberg and others invested there, they didn’t simply pay all the fines owed by these folks.)

Democrats and Lincoln Project “Republicans” seemed to be asking for something more. The only way to repudiate Trump was to throw out the Republican Party and embrace the Democratic agenda. But that’s an absurd ask.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, Campaign 2020, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Biden did this while presiding over the least energetic and most idea-free campaign in modern history. As far as his positive agenda for America goes, we should all wear masks and listen to the science. And since the public seems to have seen fit to deny Biden a Democratic Senate, he won’t be able even to rubber-stamp liberal or leftist policy items that are put on the Resolute Desk for him to sign.

    I wouldn’t have thought you could sneer at a guy for getting 80 million votes but lo and behold.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Teve:

    I wouldn’t have thought you could sneer at a guy for getting 80 million votes but lo and behold.

    Again, it’s Podhoretz. And a bit overstated. But, really, his point is a strong one: Biden got 80 million votes by running on a platform of “I’m Not Trump.”

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  3. Jen says:

    (I remain befuddled that, with all the money Mike Bloomberg and others invested there, they didn’t simply pay all the fines owed by these folks.)

    This is a sidebar/slightly off-topic, but since you included this I’m going to address it, because I’d had the same thought. Putting my PR hat on, my only guess is that perhaps there was a concern about recidivism? Meaning, perhaps Bloomberg was reluctant to do this, for fear of a future bad headline.

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  4. Scott says:

    One, I think most people (including many Trump voters) are just tired of Trump. They don’t want to spend the energy required to think about him all the time.

    Two, I voted for Biden, not as an enthusiastic supporter, but as a duty. I would’ve voted for a potted plant over Trump.

    Three, I hope this is the last of the boomer generation to lead our politics. After Obama, we shouldn’t go backwards in age for our leaders. (Yes, I know. Biden is not technically a boomer and Obama is, but get over it.) Boomer, like me, have to move out of the way.

    Four, we have to consider the effect of both the Trump years and the pandemic on the younger generations. Will it change their world view of politics, life, and living. I think so. Mostly in subtle ways.

    I just hope we don’t continue a downward slide.

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  5. SKI says:

    (I remain befuddled that, with all the money Mike Bloomberg and others invested there, they didn’t simply pay all the fines owed by these folks.)

    My understanding is that there were a large number of funds to do exactly this but the State of Florida wouldn’t/couldn’t tell most people how much they had to pay in a timely manner or at all in many cases.

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  6. Teve says:

    Hi from Florida. The state won’t tell people what they owe so they can keep denying them the vote.

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  7. Teve says:

    And if you’re wondering if this is just some Republican Fuckery, you are correct!

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  8. Tony W says:

    I think Biden is more than “not Trump” – the electorate saw in Biden an extraordinarily decent and kind man, probably the only Democrat on that primary stage capable of a tiny chance at re-unifying the United States.

    Biden is one of the highest-quality people ever to be nominated for the presidency, and that’s a stark contrast to Trump who is one of the most despicable, unlikeable, and objectively awful people in the country.

    I give the Democrats a lot of credit for solidifying behind Biden.

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  9. Jen says:

    @SKI:
    @Teve:

    Ah, yes, thanks. I remember this now–but, how strange is this?

    You can vote if you pay what you owe.
    Okay, how much do I owe?
    We’re not telling.

    WTAF? How is this not a lawsuit at this point?

    Every day there’s some new stupidity.

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  10. DrDaveT says:

    Podhoretz:

    In my view, just as Trump’s brash willingness to defy political convention and his addiction to outrageous behavior won him his party’s nomination and arguably the election, they also created a movement against him of incomparable size and power.

    Why is it so important to Republicans to believe that the things that Democrats (and Independents, and the Lincoln Project) hate about Donald Trump are “his brash willingness to defy political convention” and “his addiction to outrageous behavior”? I hear this over and over, and it’s clueless beyond my ability to express.

    Yes, those things were annoying. But what we hate are his endless selfish lying, his trashing of our relations with our allies, his trashing of democracy, his total failure to do necessary things that might make him temporarily less popular, his science denial, his active support for white supremacists and bigots of all stripes, his conversion of the federal judiciary into a rubberstamp for GOP ratfvckery… None of this is about how brash or outrageous he is*. Were he as suave as Reagan and buttoned-down as Bush the Elder, we would still hate him much more than Reagan or W, and fear for America much more than we did under Reagan.

    *Of course, calling his actual behaviors “brash” and “outrageous” is already to spin them so hard that you get gyroscopic effects — but even accurate terms would still not capture what drives our loathing.

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  11. Scott F. says:

    Democrats and Lincoln Project “Republicans” seemed to be asking for something more. The only way to repudiate Trump was to throw out the Republican Party and embrace the Democratic agenda. But that’s an absurd ask.

    Absurd? Maybe.

    The only outcome that had any chance of pulling the country back from the brink? Absolutely.

    Biden’s margin of victory won’t matter a whit to anyone with any reason to react to it. If, as likely, Georgia doesn’t deliver two more Dem senators through their run-offs, then the country is still left with McConnell and Trump enablers obstructing even the smallest piece of the most moderate elements of Biden’s agenda and continuing to pack the courts. Trump’s base remains shouting in the streets with their military-grade weaponry and without their masks, unchastened. Government won’t be able to return to “normal,” let alone change direction even slightly.

    The Democrats and Lincoln Project folks hoped for a great deal, yes. But, it wasn’t starry-eyed liberal pipe dreaming. It was the least that was necessary for the near future of the country. Steven and you both have alluded as much. I think it was necessary for the long term future of the country as well, but I’m a liberal dreamer.

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  12. mattbernius says:

    Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political report shared this analysis earlier today that definitely feels right:

    n hindsight, a blind spot for analysts (including me): Trump atop the ballot is a “best of both worlds” for down-ballot Rs:

    1) Trump turns out low-propensity Rs in droves
    2) Unlike ’18, indies can take out anger at Trump directly but still vote for down-ballot Rs they like

    #2, I suspect, played a major factor in the mixed “repudiation” and it’s why we may have seen down-ticket success for some folks like Collins.

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  13. KM says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Have you ever heard someone dismiss legitimate criticisms as “you’re just jealous”? Same mentality.

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  14. Scott F. says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Why is it so important to Republicans to believe that the things that Democrats (and Independents, and the Lincoln Project) hate about Donald Trump are “his brash willingness to defy political convention” and “his addiction to outrageous behavior”?

    Because that is what Republicans like Podhoretz hate most about Trump.

    If Trump weren‘t so brash and outrageous, then ‘GOP ratfvckery’ could continue unabated without establishment Republicans being called on it quite so often.

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  15. Andy says:

    Yes, I think the fact that down-ballot contests went better for the GOP signals this wasn’t a coat-tail election and signals the weakness of Trump as an incumbent.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    There’s little or no enthusiasm for the man, and there shouldn’t be. He didn’t encourage any. In the primaries, Biden ran as the milquetoast; the most inoffensive major candidate. And he didn’t change much in the general, which is the point. His goal was to be… nothing. A flat surface.
    He just wasn’t Donald Trump—and that proved to be enough to generate 80-plus million votes. -Podhoretz

    Rachel Bitecofer is right, elections now are about negative partisanship. The Biden campaign seems to have taken this to heart. They recognized that there’s a tradeoff. Everything you do to energize your own voters will generate enthusiasm against you on the other side. And Biden didn’t need to do anything to generate enthusiasm on his side, Trump had done that for him.

    Old, sleepy Joe with no radical ideas was exactly the right role to play for the election. How he’ll govern remains to be seen.

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  17. Not the IT Dept. says:

    You can make the argument that McConnell threw Trump under the bus by insisting on pushing through the appointment of a new SC justice. If the only reason you were pro-Trump were the judges, then there was no reason to vote Trump after that.

    Mitch McConnell is one cold SOB.

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    Poor old, old, gaffe-prone, silly, confused, (did I mention super old?) Joe Biden. Silly old, old guy who is really old and sleepy and ooooold.

    He just ran the most disciplined, effective presidential campaign in my life time. He knocked off a sitting president. He will have the biggest vote total – by far – of any president, ever. He did it in the middle of a pandemic. He did it against an absolutely unscrupulous thug of a president and the criminally-compliant GOP.

    So, maybe, just a thought, maybe we could knock off the sleepy Joe bullshit and admit that Joe Biden just fucking crushed it.

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  19. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W:

    I think Biden is more than “not Trump” – the electorate saw in Biden an extraordinarily decent and kind man, probably the only Democrat on that primary stage capable of a tiny chance at re-unifying the United States.

    Biden is one of the highest-quality people ever to be nominated for the presidency, and that’s a stark contrast to Trump who is one of the most despicable, unlikeable, and objectively awful people in the country.

    Oh, we agree. Again, I thought that of Biden when I was voting against Biden (as VP). But, really, you’re just describing Not Trump.

    While Trump doubtless had some outrageous policies, notably the separation policy on the border and his Let’s Ignore Coronavirus and Hope It Goes Away, the NeverTrump movement was mostly just about what a despicable excuse for a human being he is.

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  20. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    Rachel Bitecofer is right, elections now are about negative partisanship.

    I think it’s horseshit that’s been given credence by two Trump-centric elections. But, if it’s “negative partisanship,” how do Republicans manage to win back House seats and hold onto endangered Senate seats in places where the voters reject Trump?

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  21. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He just ran the most disciplined, effective presidential campaign in my life time. He knocked off a sitting president. He will have the biggest vote total – by far – of any president, ever. He did it in the middle of a pandemic. He did it against an absolutely unscrupulous thug of a president and the criminally-compliant GOP.

    Again, I think Podhoretz overstates things here. But this election was absolutely a referendum on Trump first and foremost.

    Biden is going to win a substantial popular vote victory and he’s likely to win two states (Arizona and Georgia) and could pick up another (North Carolina) that usually go Republican. But, given an opponent who has literally never been at 50 percent approval and a pandemic that’s killed 241,000 Americans, one might think it would have been easier.

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  22. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, if it’s “negative partisanship,” how do Republicans manage to win back House seats and hold onto endangered Senate seats in places where the voters reject Trump?

    See Adam Silverman at Balloon Juice.

    What everyone missed is that in 2018 if you were pissed at Trump, uncomfortable with Trump, disliked Trump, were concerned about what Trump was doing and you wanted to cast a protest vote against Trump you could only do so by voting for Democrats and against Republicans. And that’s what caused the 2018 blue wave for the Democrats in the House races. And it’s why it didn’t reappear this time.

    I’ve seen at least one other pundit offer the same explanation. And “horseshit” seems a bit severe.

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  23. al Ameda says:

    i’m not Donald Trump@James Joyner:

    There’s little or no enthusiasm for the man, and there shouldn’t be. He didn’t encourage any. In the primaries, Biden ran as the milquetoast; the most inoffensive major candidate. And he didn’t change much in the general, which is the point. His goal was to be… nothing. A flat surface.
    He just wasn’t Donald Trump—and that proved to be enough to generate 80-plus million votes.
    Now, while that’s a skosh oversimplified, it’s not wrong.

    Biden and Harris were very smart, they made very few unforced errors.

    Podhoretz’s ‘I’m not Trump’ take also suggested to me that Biden and Harris were quite willing to let ‘Trump Be Trump’, and let him own unforced errors.

    Also, Rudy’s ‘Hunter Biden’s Laptop! October Surprise’ fell flat, there were no takers.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (I remain befuddled that, with all the money Mike Bloomberg and others invested there, they didn’t simply pay all the fines owed by these folks.)

    It’s a perfect Catch-22; you can’t vote until you pay what you owe. You can’t pay because we don’t have records of how much it is. Oooopsie! [heh heh heh]

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  25. charon says:

    If you care how AZ is doing:

    https://twitter.com/i/events/1304084520317014016

    https://twitter.com/EmmaKinery/status/1324746716256620544

    To reiterate where we stand in Arizona: Biden currently leads by a margin of 1.4 percentage points, or 43,779 votes. We estimate there are about 220,000 ballots left to count there, which Trump would need to win by at least a 60-40 ratio to pull ahead. While recent vote releases have been Republican-leaning, they haven’t been that Republican-leaning.

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  26. Flat earth luddite says:

    @SKI:
    IIRC, Fed court ruled that yes, amendment could be overruled so that felons had to pay the fines. But also that the state couldn’t be required to tell you how much you owed, or even to take your $$$ if you tried to pay. As I seem to remember a famous fictional detective was wont to say, “Pfui!”

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  27. Kurtz says:

    @Jen:
    @James Joyner:

    (I remain befuddled that, with all the money Mike Bloomberg and others invested there, they didn’t simply pay all the fines owed by these folks.)

    Jen may be correct here. But there is another issue. It seems that nobody knows anything in terms of the financial obligations of felons. Bloomberg and others paid off the balance for some felons. But for many, just figuring out how much is owed is a complicated process. Notice the bold (mine) from this article.

    By adopting the strictest interpretation of Amendment 4, lawmakers created an “administrative nightmare,” Hinkle, the federal judge, said during a hearing last year. That’s because Florida has no central database of court fees or fines. Data on felony convictions is scattered across the state’s 67 county clerk’s offices, and much of that information is incomplete or outdated. Nobody tracks restitution paid to victims.

    Lee said her office has to request information on felons’ fines and fees from clerks of court, who often have trouble coming up with the correct numbers. During the litigation, an official in the Hillsborough County clerk’s office testified that he and four co-workers spent 12 to 15 hours figuring out how much one felon owed.

    “This process is far more complex than our prior process, when we were reviewing simply to see if someone might have a prior felony,” Lee said.

    Nearly 80 percent of Florida’s felons are estimated to owe money to the courts. Some owe criminal fines, which can range from $5,000 for a felony DUI to $500,000 for drug trafficking. The vast majority, however, owe “user fees.” In Florida, there’s a $100 fee for using a public defender, a $50 fee for applying to use a public defender — even a $100 fee to cover the cost of prosecution — all tacked on at the end of the sentence.

    “You’re paying the state to prosecute you,” said Lisa Foster, a former judge who is co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which advocates for the elimination of court fees.

    While criminal fines have been around for centuries, user fees are a modern innovation, triggered by the war on drugs of the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to a bipartisan wave of anti-tax sentiment.

    With more arrests came a need for more courthouses, judges, prosecutors and public defenders. Instead of raising taxes to fund this expansion of the criminal justice system, however, Florida, like other states, targeted “users” of the system — the people swept up in the nation’s anti-crime wave.

    Even if Bloomberg and others tried to pay all the fines, a big chunk of felons would still be unable to vote because Florida is poorly administered.

    More at the link.

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