Big challenges for each party

The 2020 election is now in the books, and its results are decidedly mixed.

There’s no self-evident guidepath for either political party to follow into its future. Each party will be challenged to forge its coalition, and the components of each won’t blend easily.

Joe Biden flipped anywhere from four to six states to roll up around 300 electoral votes in his successful campaign for president, and returned the White House to Democratic control after four years under Donald Trump. His Electoral College win was nearly identical to Trump’s victory in 2016. 

Biden amassed more than 74 million votes, an American record. 

He beat Trump by more than four million popular votes. But Trump’s 70 million-plus votes also beat the previous popular vote record, which had been set by Barack Obama in 2008. Both 2020 candidates benefited from herculean turn-out-the-vote efforts by their parties and supporters.

Nor do results of the congressional elections signal a definite direction for the nation’s political future.

Democrats retained control of the House of Representatives, but by a narrower margin than they expected, and narrower as well than what they had earned in 2018. Control of the Senate remains undecided, with Republicans apparently leading 50 to 48 as of now and the two Senate seats from Georgia to be determined by runoff elections in a few weeks. 

Going into the election, the Senate had 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats. (Two of the Democratic votes are actually independents who caucus with the Democrats.) 

Republicans did better than most polls had indicated in Iowa, except for Ann Selzer’s Iowa Poll the weekend before the Nov. 3 election, which foresaw the Republican statewide surge. 

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst comfortably won re-election over Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. Republicans flipped the First District U.S. House seat, which had been in Democratic hands since 2018, and easily held the bright-red Fourth District House seat. Democrats held onto the Third District seat. The Second District, which was an open seat from the retirement of Democrat Dave Loebsack, is too close to call.

The Iowa Legislature went into the election in Republican hands, and remained firmly in that condition.

Republicans apparently picked up six seats in the Iowa House to boost their margin to 59-41. The Iowa Senate appears to remain with a 32-18 GOP majority. 

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office and the other state offices were not on the ballot this year; they will come up for election in 2022.

In Greene County, all incumbents on the ballot retained their seats, and those were Republican.

Iowa generally mirrored the nation in its geographical politics. Both nationally and statewide, Democrats won the urban areas and Republicans the rural ones. The suburbs went mostly Democratic, although a few Iowa suburban seats returned to Republican hands.

Each party has a major challenge: Republicans to better penetrate the cities and suburbs, and Democrats to improve their chances in rural America. Those efforts, to be successful, must be authentic. Lip service won’t cut it.

Both parties foresee tough sledding to hold their various wings together.

For Republicans nationally, the question is what happens now with Trump out of power. 

Will some other charismatic leader, as yet undetermined, arise to stake a claim to Trump’s followers? Will the party return to its traditionally conservative format, led by members of Congress now that the presidency is in Democratic hands? Will moderate Republicans be able to grab a share of the vacuum left by Trump’s departure? 

And will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell make it his top priority to block any important legislation that Biden suggests?

The GOP’s 2020 national convention decided to dispense with creation of a new platform in favor of simply agreeing to whatever Trump declared it to be. It will be a challenge for the party now to determine its positions on the wide range of issues facing the nation, if indeed it decides to take a national stance on any of them.

And what about the Never-Trumper Republicans who created the Lincoln Project? Will they return to the GOP fold now that Trump is out, or will they defect to the Democrats or form their own movement? The Never-Trumpers include both conservatives and moderates; will they hold together or go their own separate ways?

Democrats face their own challenges, with Biden at the center. As president-elect, he needs to hold his party together insofar as possible, especially since Congress is so balanced politically. 

Democratic moderates are pleading for progressives to soft-pedal some of their more extreme demands for the sake of party unity. Progressives are pressuring moderates to move toward more activist positions; they can make governing very difficult for Biden and his cabinet-to-be.

It’s going to be tough enough for Biden to accomplish his goals without having to fight progressive back-benchers who insist on attaching amendments to Democratic caucus bills that will assure the bills’ defeat.

Biden served in Congress for decades before becoming Obama’s vice president. He’s a master of the art of the possible. He’ll need all his skills to win some of the battles certain to come in the few years. He’ll have to persuade Republicans and progressives alike. 

I see no respite in the next four years from the intricacies of political infighting that have defined us so far in the 21st century. 

I’d love to be wrong.

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