I appreciate what Stuart Stevens did last week in a piece for The Bulwark. The former Republican strategist sensed dread among anti-Trump voters, especially dread of being blind-sided like last time. “We are right,” he wrote. “They are wrong. This is our moment. This is our destiny. Walk with confidence. Do not falter. Victory will be ours.”
I appreciate, too, the qualifications he put on that. “That sounds terribly overconfident and a lot of Democrats can’t shake the nagging sense that overconfidence was one of the horsemen of the Trump 2016 apocalypse. But this is actually a misreading of history. It wasn’t overconfidence that hurt Hillary Clinton. It was lack of urgency.”
Again, I appreciate the gesture. I do. We all need encouragement now and then. But the above, too, is a misreading. Apathy alone didn’t sink Clinton. So did cheating.
It may sound like I’m giving voice to the skeptics of polling. I’m not. What I’m skeptical of is the idea hidden between voter apathy and voter urgency—the idea that voting is optional.
Candidate Donald Trump got a leg up from foreign espionage. President Donald Trump is getting the same. The Kremlin, via Facebook, moved just enough white people in just enough states to kneecap Clinton. Iran and probably China have joined the fun. The GOP, meanwhile, acts as if treason is jake as long as it helps the party.
Even if Stevens is right in saying voter apathy lifted Trump, Joe Biden needs more than urgency. The former vice president needs every single one of us to shut up already about the polls and do what needs to be done—put together an overwhelming show of force by an overwhelming democratic majority. Urgency, in other words, isn’t action. Only action demonstrates the will to power. Biden is winning when he wins. Period.
Biden must not simply win. He must win by a landslide. He must amass a super-majority on par with Ronald Reagan’s in 1980. If the result is close, apparent defeat won’t prevent Trump from throwing the election to the US Supreme Court. But every justice, even Amy Coney Barrett, will think twice if a super-majority makes itself clear.
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
A super-majority is, furthermore, the best way to flip the US Senate.
If the Republicans retain control, very little needing fixing is going to get fixed. There will be no reforming the court system, for one thing. There will be no reforming a political system currently rewarding GOP fascism. More immediately important, there will be no combating the fallout from the covid pandemic. This crisis is so big, it’s going to take trillions in government spending. The Senate Republicans, however, have already signaled readiness to sabotage the economy in order to sabotage a President Biden. Winning a super-majority is probably the best way of throwing the bums out.
It may sound like I’m giving voice to the skeptics of polling. They say opinion surveys were “wrong” last time, so why trust them this time? I’m not a skeptic, though. I trust polling quite a lot. What I am skeptical of is the principle hidden in the binary between voter apathy and voter urgency. That principle holds that voting is somehow optional.
That voting is optional is why cheating worked in 2016. That voting is optional is why authoritarians of the past and present find the legal and moral space to devise mechanisms to prevent voting. It would be hard to imagine either if people were as passionate about voting as they are about, say, bargain shopping or the Super Bowl. It would be hard to imagine if voting itself, not Trump, were the source of our urgency.
That we respect voting as optional is why we respect irresponsible voting behavior. There is no point in voting for a third-party candidate. There is no point in voting for a write-in candidate. Indeed, doing so can harm democracy, as it did in 2016. And yet we honor people like Mitt Romney and Larry Hogan who refuse to commit, as if they were acting bravely. They were not. They were acting cowardly. They were presented with a choice and failed to make one. We should condemn that. Instead, we praise it. In doing so, we collectively encourage the citizenry to throw away its collective sovereignty.
Instead of voting for its own sake in 2016, we find ourselves four years later voting not so much out of a sense of urgency but sheer panic. While some, like Stuart Stevens, are patting themselves on the back for a premature job well done, I’m not. All of this could have been prevented if all of us sincerely believed in voting and acted accordingly. As a result, Biden must not merely beat Trump. To save democracy, he has to crush him.