A short commentary on the U.S. presidential election

However interesting the 2016 U.S. presidential election was, this year’s match between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has already, to coin a phrase, trumped it. In this short commentary, I will highlight two things that have, in my opinion, been discussed less than they would deserve, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Firstly, one might believe on initial examination that the Democratic Party is the clear 2020 winner. A lot of attention has been paid to the presidential election, the Democrats’ success in retaining their majority in the House of Representatives, and the Republicans’ problems with keeping their Senate majority. However, election results across all fifty U.S. states paint a different picture. We already know that when all the votes are counted, the Republicans will be celebrating, as their strong position in many of the statehouses will give them far more control over the process of redistricting. 

As my students (should) know, the U.S. conducts a census every ten years. Based on the demographic changes shown by the census, some states gain seats in the House of Representatives at the expense of others. Congressional districts must then be redrawn, and by employing the technique of “gerrymandering” the Republican Party will once again have the chance (as they did after the 2010 census) to manipulate the boundaries of electoral districts in order to favor its own candidates. It is therefore possible that over the next ten years, the Democrats will find it hard to keep their House majority, even if they have more voters. 

Secondly, there has been a lot of talk about American society being divided, with half of America showing up in record numbers to vote for the current president, and the other half voting against him with even more electoral power. This is certainly true, but I believe that we should pay more attention to the divisions within the two blocs of Republican and Democratic voters. The Democratic Party owes its pre-election unity to one man – Donald Trump. With his departure from the White House, the moderates and progressives will resume their intra-party fighting over the Green New Deal, taxes, healthcare, and many other topics. In some areas, Joe Biden might be politically closer to moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins than to the young Democratic firebrands who are exemplified by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress.

At the same time, the challenge that the Republicans face is not insignificant. Their first task is to survive Trump’s disruptive post-election behavior, and then to figure out how to deal with his legacy. Will they return to the staid Republican Party of responsible politicians, such as Ronald Reagan, John McCain, and Mitt Romney? Or will conservative voters support Donald Trump again or a similar populist in the 2024 primary?

Although it is too early for safe predictions about the 2024 elections, I will make one. The biggest task facing both the Democrats and Republicans is to ensure their unity and minimize their internal divisions. Whoever is most successful in managing this task will be best-positioned to occupy the White House in January 2025.

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