There are probably enough people to determine the outcome of the presidential election who can be described thusly: They prefer Donald Trump to Joe Biden on policy, but find Trump’s conduct as president to be deplorable and wearisome.
I suspect this describes a large fraction of swing suburban voters in Maricopa County, Arizona, who have the attention of national prognosticators.
They are not Never-Trumpers. They might still vote for Trump if the price of getting rid of him is too high. Call them Don’t-Like-Trumpers.
For this segment of the electorate, nationally and locally, Democrats keep increasing the price, and the risk, of booting the boor from office.
Bill Clinton would win in a landslide
If the Democrats had nominated a truly center-left candidate, my guess is that he or she would win in a landslide. Someone like Bill Clinton after the defeat of Hillarycare.
After that, Clinton still pushed policies that expanded the scope and reach of the federal government, but in small, incremental ways. Nothing that fundamentally changed the nature of the country’s political economy or the political playing field.
He also was willing to work on enacting some Republican priorities in a divided government, such as welfare reform and a reduction in the capital gains tax. He famously, if inaccurately, declared that the era of big government was over.
Instead, Joe Biden is a chameleon
Biden isn’t that guy. Biden is a Democratic chameleon, taking on the coloration of whatever happens to be the Democratic consensus of the moment.
Biden obviously loves the life of being a politician. He’s been one since his 20s. And he is reflexively liberal. But he isn’t what Margaret Thatcher called a conviction politician, as she and Ronald Reagan were, and as Bernie Sanders is.
Biden goes with the flow, at least the flow within the Democratic Party. During the Clinton era, when Democrats wanted to be seen as tough on crime, Biden led the way. Today, when the party wants to defang the police and end mass incarceration, he has apologized for his previous handiwork.
So, what’s important in this election isn’t so much where Biden is as where his party is and wants to go. And his party does not see this as a small-ball election.
And his party wants big changes
Democrats, including Biden, are committed to fundamentally remaking the political economy of the United States. Not, as Republicans claim, to adopt socialism. Even the Democrats who claim to be socialists, such as Sanders, aren’t really, if the term is to retain any useful meaning. The only part of the economy even Sanders would nationalize is health care. He would leave the rest of the economy market-based, if heavily regulated. And the party is still at least slightly to the right of Sanders.
Instead, they want to turn the United States into a European-style social democracy, with a much more expansive social welfare system and much more heavily regulated labor and capital markets. And a greater government role in directing the economy.
Ironically, the more successful European social democracies have liberated their labor and capital markets, and increased reliance on markets, rather than government, to direct their economies.
It’s about identity, grievance politics
There’s another fundamental change Democrats are committed to: They are determined to embed identity and grievance politics throughout American government, economy and society.
The aspiration of a colorblind meritocracy would be abandoned. A government role in trying to create more equality of opportunity would be passé. The Democratic platform flatly states that “race-neutral policies are not sufficient to rectify race-based disparities.”
Instead the role of government would be to dictate equality of outcomes. There would be de facto quotas in government and for government programs. And de facto quotas imposed on the private sector though the administrative state.
This isn’t just a referendum on Trump
The Don’t-Like-Trumpers can’t count on the usual Washingtonian inertia to stall out this agenda until the next election. Democrats are also committed to changing the political playing field to clear the way for the fundamental changes they are advocating and increase the odds of making them permanent.
Biden has said that he is open to eliminating the virtual filibuster in the Senate that would thwart much of this. The virtual filibuster should go. But that increases the risks of a Biden presidency for the Don’t-Like-Trumpers.
Biden says he’s against stacking the U.S. Supreme Court. But he said he was against changing the filibuster rule until recently.
He, and the Democratic Party, are committed to statehood for Washington, D.C., and perhaps Puerto Rico. That would establish additional Democratic strongholds in the Senate and the Electoral College.
For the Don’t-Like-Trumpers, this election could have been a simple referendum on Trump’s conduct in office. But the Democrats have made it about much more than that.