‘Don’t Declare a Mandate. Because You Don’t Have One.’
It probably won’t happen today, but eventually we’ll know the identity of the next president of the United States. Here’s some free advice to the winner.
Don’t declare a mandate. Because you don’t have one. However the popular and electoral votes shake out, don’t let it go to your head. In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by millions and won the electoral vote by a 306-to-232 margin, good only for 46th out of 58 presidential elections. Trump’s average approval rating (41 percent, according to Gallup) is fully a dozen points below the historical average. If he somehow manages to win a second term, he will do so by again eking out a slim victory, probably under 50 percent of the popular vote.
If Joe Biden wins, he should take seriously the fact that he is nobody’s favorite. Over the summer, polls showed that 56 percent of Biden supporters agreed they were voting for him “because he is not Trump.” The next closest reasons straggled in at 19 percent (leadership/performance) and 13 percent (personality/temperament), respectively. These are not numbers that should cause anybody to start acting like they have the unconditional love of their own families, much less the country at large.
Build consensus rather than resentment. Despite barely squeaking into office, President Trump repeatedly claimed he’d won in a “landslide” and governed as if he had. The main result? Those sad approval ratings for himself and electoral sharting for his party. In 2018, the Republicans got curb-stomped in the midterm elections, losing 41 seats and control of the House; there’s a 75 percent chance they will give back control of the Senate this time around. Back in 2008, Barack Obama won in an actual landslide, becoming “the first president-elect in 32 years to receive a Congress under the firm control of his party.” The president and Democrats muscled through an ambitious, extremely ideological legislative wish list, including a massive stimulus bill, health-care reform, and Dodd-Frank. They lost the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016.
Stanford political scientist Morris P. Fiorina told me last week (podcast here) that we’ve been in a historically rare, prolonged period of “electoral chaos” in which control of various parts of the federal government keeps flipping from one party to another. The reason, he says, is because the two parties have sorted almost completely into conse
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