‘One election victory does not mean that work is now finished for the Democrats; for us in the Labour party, it is only just beginning,’ Keir Starmer wrote today in the Guardian. Amongst his comrades on the centre-left, he seems almost alone in understanding this point.
Biden’s victory was greeted by the British centre-left on social media as the definitive end of an era. Brexit is ‘over’ somehow, or at least, no-deal Brexit has become impossible. The Tories are now supposedly on the brink of being pushed from office by a moderate centre-left wave. Except of course, Starmer is correct – and Labour is in real danger of learning the wrong lessons from this US election, as their American cousins in the Democratic party already seem to have done.
In the face of an unprecedented public health crisis that his administration was deemed by many to have handled badly and the resulting, hideous economic fallout – and having run a terrible campaign on top of all that – Trump still managed to get 70 million votes. The final electoral college tally may make it look on paper like a comfortable win for Biden, yet those who followed the race closely know it was anything but. Biden scraped over the line in just enough states to win the election.
Republican strategists must be relatively happy with the result – think of what they can do in 2024 with a much less flawed candidate. They will be feeling good about the ’22 midterms as well. If two years from now anti-Trump feeling dissipates, and the Democrats continue tearing each other apart on policy, there will be depressed turnout amongst the key groups that were vital to Biden’s victory.
There’s another important thing to consider in all of this: both the British Labour party and the Democrats have their own form of internal populism to deal with. In America, talk amongst the left of the Democrats in the wake of Biden’s victory is that Bernie would have won in a landslide, combined with discussion of ways in which to push the Biden administration to the left. Starmer has a much greater hold on the dangers the left of his party present. But here’s a question for him: would he publicly state that some of the fallout from the mass demonstrations held across America this year were less than helpful to Biden’s bid to become president? I severely doubt it. Pushing members of the far-left out of the party when they graciously screw-up is one thing, actually pushing against the left side of the culture war is a whole different matter.
Right-wing populism has proven to be electorally successful, here and in America, while the left-wing version has yet to bear any fruit. Trump’s election victory in 2016 is still treated like an anomaly by the transatlantic left, much like Leave winning the EU referendum. The Russians made everyone do it, or everyone was fooled, causing a sort of temporary insanity to ensue. The transatlantic left has not considered the fact that Labour and the Democrats did things that turned a lot of people off – and may well have led directly to Brexit and Trump. Meanwhile, the same arguments are made on the centre-left, as the centre-right regroups and gets on with winning elections.
It is possible that the fallout from the 2020 presidential election will be genuinely harmful to the Republicans. Perhaps Trump refusing to budge will eventually seem silly even to portions of his own base. Maybe there will be a tug of war between those faithful to Trump the man, those who feel Trumpism obviously has an electoral future, and those within the GOP who want to return to 2015 and wash all traces of Trump from the party. It could be that these three forces rip the Republicans apart. Yet if I were the Democrats, I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s more likely that an accommodation will be found between these tribes and the party comes roaring back for the midterms, setting them up for ’24.
In Britain, any belief in Labour circles that Trump’s loss equals some sort of automatic fall from grace in the public’s eyes of Boris and his party would be equally unwise. As Keir Starmer said today, there is still a huge amount of work to be done if Labour wants to give itself any chance of winning the next election. The moderate centre-left have been handed a lifeline by the Biden victory, but if it doesn’t handle it correctly, then it will come to nothing.