Many years ago, George Mitchell, the Senate Democratic majority leader in the 1990s, told me, “The only people who believe the speeches of Republican senators are Democratic senators.”
I love my party. And I’m proud of what we stand for: equality, economic dignity, health care as a human right, among other things. But when it comes to practicing politics, the Democrats are a party ridden with crushing anxiety and self-doubt, even if the winds of fate are sailing entirely in our direction. Throughout the Trump era, I’ve seen us suffer time and again a terrible case of political amnesia.
In 2016, Donald Trump got just over 46 percent of the vote, aided by Russia’s hacking and disinformation campaign, Jim Comey’s oh-so-necessary letter about Hillary Clinton’s email server and a tepid Democratic endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders. Yet even amid Clinton’s tornado of negative coverage, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, winning the Electoral College by a freakish fraction of votes spread across three states. Since Trump was inaugurated, we’ve won governor's races in all three of those states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We elected the first Democratic senator from Arizona in decades, suburbs across the country have shifted against the president and in 2018, Democrats stormed to the majority in the House of Representatives by the largest voter margin in U.S. history.
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Now, it feels like the majority of people who believe Trump can win again in 2020 are Democrats, for better or for worse. And yet, Trump’s approval rating has never once peaked above 50 percent, even before Covid-19 — the only president to fail to reach that level since polls have measured presidential favorability. And now, because of his gross mishandling of the worst pandemic we’ve seen in a century, he has reduced his base support even further. As a result, I predict we will see a majority unite against him in a way not seen since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential election. I have never been more certain of something in my life. So, quell your fears, bed-wetting Democrats: 2016 is not 2020.
And that means this election is not just about defeating Trump. We also need to think about what comes next. Once the votes are tallied, I think we’re going to see a welcome unification of groups once thought to be separate: young liberals, veterans, suburban women, voters of color and seniors who witnessed the darkest flashpoints of our country’s history.
Dating back to April, I have been publicly bullish of a Democratic victory. This is the most consistent race I’ve seen — consistently bad for the Republicans. And this week, a slew of polling from NBC/Wall Street Journal and CNN only confirm my long held belief. While the CNN poll had Biden up a stratospheric 16 percent, there is a statistic within the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which had Biden up 14 percent, that should not be overlooked. But apart from the double-digit defection of men or Trump’s nose-diving numbers with seniors, there is an underlying statistic within that should not be overlooked.
The poll showed that 36 percent of respondents identified as Republicans and Trump got 39 percent of the vote. This means there are now more people, even in his swan-diving national popularity, who intend to vote for Trump than actually self-identify as Republicans.
So in the last four years he hurt the nation, which is awful. But he has now also hurt the Republican Party, with their full cooperation, which is not awful. That’s why North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Arizona’s Martha McSally, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, and Maine’s Susan Collins — senators who may have been thought unbeatable before — are now fighting for their seats. Democrats can expand their House majority by capitalizing on suburban districts in states like Texas that were thought unwinnable before Trump. And with a popular vote victory as large as the NBC/WSJ poll, even that ol’ hypocrite Sen. Lindsey Graham could be sent running for the hills.
The Republicans know they are facing a resounding defeat. Like I predicted in April, they have tried to cheat at every turn. But if the polls hold, even with all their corruption and conniving, there is nothing that the Pennsylvania state Legislature, Wisconsin Supreme Court, or even Trump’s precious Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett will be able to do about it.
Now, this coalition will not hold forever. What has happened over the last four years has presented a once in a generation opportunity for Democrats to run up the score against a party that has become the most dangerous threat to American life we’ve faced since World War II. Quite honestly, it’s unlikely we keep retired military generals and urban teenagers in the same coalition forever. But from this moment of national peril, we can hope to repair the foundations of our government and push our country forward with giant bounds of progress.
So, in these final weeks before the election, second-guessing Democrats need to stop chasing the tails of the daily news cycle. I’ve spent a lifetime in politics, I've seen a lot of elections, and have had my fair share of sleepless nights. But this race is different. Stay energized, shake off the 2016 PTSD, sleep well. It’s time to think bigger. This November, we have a chance to not just win, but win in such a way that we will be able to change the trajectory of America — for the better.