Georgia runoffs cap a Democratic comeback: Last election of the Trump era may lock GOP out of power

One of Donald Trump's final legacies in office appears to be leading the Republican Party to defeat in Georgia

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 6, 2021 6:26AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

As I write this, the results of the two Senate runoff races have not yet been officially certified, but most of the smart election analysts project both Democrats have won. The Cook Reports' Dave Wasserman issued his famous "I've seen enough" early Tuesday evening for Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, who successfully challenged unelected incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and a couple of hours later tweeted the same for Democrat Jon Ossoff, who has apparently defeated Republican multimillionaire David Perdue to become the first millennial in the Senate.

Anything's possible in close races so I am withholding my euphoria — but if this holds, it's hard to overstate just how important this result is going to be. If the Senate is ultimately tied 50-50, Kamala Harris is able to cast the deciding vote as vice president.

Georgia's election results mean the difference between the U.S. finally controlling the pandemic to recover economically and ... not doing that. Lives will be saved and families and businesses will be able to get back on their feet. That is the immediate crisis we face and with the Congress in Democrats' hands, the Biden administration can move much faster and more efficiently than if Mitch McConnell remained in the way as majority leader of the upper chamber.

As for the rest of the Democratic agenda, we will have to see. History shows that when the Congress is divided so closely, power tends to flow to the "moderates" in both parties who tend to form a coalition and serve as a veto point for both conservative and progressive legislation. In Barack Obama's book, this comment in the preface is an important insight that I hope he's discussed with his wingman Joe Biden:

"I confess there have been times during the course of writing this book, as I reflected on my presidency and all that's happened since, when I've had to ask myself whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it, too cautious in either word or deed, convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we've been promised."

In his quest to unify the country and embrace a bipartisan Grand Bargain, Obama now seemingly admits, he empowered slick hyper-partisans like Paul Ryan, the former Republican from Wisconsin who served as speaker of the House, by treating him as an honest broker. The Republicans responded to Obama's overture by sabotaging as much of his presidency as they could. It took Obama and his team much too long to realize that the Republicans were radical obstructionists regardless of what he proposed or how much he tried to "reach across the aisle." The administration's flailing in the first term only made Republicans realize the extent of the power and they have been exercising it ruthlessly ever since. After Trump, Republicans will no longer be bound by any sense of shared commitment to the Constitution or even democracy

Considering how close the Senate split is likely to be, it's also important to remember that Obama was hindered by some of the centrist divas in the Democratic caucus as that may end up being a greater challenge for Joe Biden.

Even with a Senate majority, there will still be Joe Manchin, D-W. Va, both Kirsten Sinema and probably Mark Kelly, the moderate Democrats from Arizona, along with some others like Virginia's Mark Warner and Delaware's Chris Coons who will join with the GOP's perpetually concerned caucus of Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Maine's Susan Collins and Mitt Romney of Utah to wring their hands and clutch their pearls about anything necessary for fundamental change. We already know this much:

Former President Barack Obama has called on the Senate to do away with the filibuster, but that won't happen if West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has anything to say about it.

"I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening," Manchin, a Democrat, told Yahoo News in an interview on Wednesday. "We will not have the democracy we know today if that [filibuster elimination] happens, I can assure you."

Recall that the Democrats briefly had a 60-vote majority in 2009 and getting Obamacare passed was a months-long, hard-fought negotiation that ended up being stymied when Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy died and was replaced by Republican Scott Brown. Even with 59 seats, Democrats still had to pass the Affordable Care Act through the reconciliation process so they would only need 50 votes. It barely passed.

Doing anything important is difficult in a polarized country with an undemocratic institution like the Senate. Sometimes a crisis can move the dial a bit more dramatically, but, for the most part, it's like pulling teeth to make fundamental change through legislation these days. I'm just hoping that Biden will use whatever executive power he has and that the Democrats move quickly to deliver material improvements to people.

None of that is to say this isn't a huge relief and a major opportunity. With a Democratic majority, Biden will be able to make the appointments he wants, including judges, and the Democrats will set the agenda. They will control the committees and will have the ability to investigate what has happened during the Trump era and seek some justice for the outrageous assaults on our democracy over the past four years.

Those assaults continue today as what would normally be a pro-forma ceremonial task of confirming the Electoral College votes in the U.S. Congress is being turned into a circus sideshow by the president and his followers. On Tuesday night the president refuted a New York Times report that Vice President Pence had informed him that he didn't have the authority to change the election outcome, which he certainly does not. Trump simply refuses to believe it, apparently, and is now threatening to take revenge on Republicans who failed to help him overturn the election. It sounds like Pence might be among them.

One name that won't be on the list is Kelly Loeffler, whose loss in the runoff in Georgia was likely because of her servile bootlicking of Trump. His insistence that the vote was stolen is almost certainly one reason why the Democrats won. At the Georgia rally on Monday night, Trump predicted, "If they win, I'll get no credit, if they lose, they're gonna blame Trump." He's undoubtedly right about that. According to the New York Times,  voter surveys showed that 56 percent of Georgia voters said they disapproved of Trump's handling of the results of the presidential election. It turns out that insulting their leaders and trying to coerce them into overturning an election wasn't such a great get-out-the-vote strategy.

What happens now is anyone's guess. But now that the Senate appears to be in Democratic hands I would be lying if I didn't admit to feeling a tremendous sense of schadenfreude at what's about to take place in the Republican Party. It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of people. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton