Trump’s Parting Gift to Joe Biden

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tags: Republican Party, political realignment, inaugural addresses, Joe Biden

“There is a universe of Republicans looking to divorce Trump,” John Anzalone, Biden’s chief pollster during the campaign, told me. “They don’t necessarily know how to do it … [but] January 6 was kind of the reckoning.”

In his inaugural address yesterday, Biden made clear that he will pursue those voters. He centered the speech on a promise to unify the country and made an explicit appeal to voters skeptical of him. But he also unambiguously condemned the threat to democracy that Trump unleashed. In doing so, he defined a new dividing line in American politics, between those who uphold the country’s democratic system and those who would subvert it. “We must end this uncivil war,” Biden insisted.

Beyond providing electoral possibilities for Democrats, the GOP coalition’s widening fissures could provide Biden with leverage to win greater support for his legislative agenda from congressional Republicans, especially in the Senate. Mainstream Republicans’ desire to separate themselves from violent extremists could make some of them more eager to find areas of cooperation with Biden, analysts in both parties have told me. If GOP voters disillusioned with Trump express relatively more approval of Biden, that could also make Republican legislators more comfortable voting with him on some issues. And the bloody backdrop of the Capitol assault could make it more difficult for the GOP to engage in the virtually lockstep resistance that the party employed against Barack Obama during his first months in office.

“If the Republicans play a hard obstructionist role, there is a good chance that they will turn off some of the more moderate Republicans, who will see it as an effort to delegitimize Biden by other means,” the Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told me. “A lot of this will depend not only on how Biden plays his hand, but how Republican leaders play their hand.”

Biden still faces significant headwinds in securing cooperation from Republicans. He can’t threaten many of them politically, because all but three senators and about 10 House members represent jurisdictions that voted for Trump in November. And, as white-collar suburban voters have drifted away from the GOP, most Republican lawmakers have shifted their focus toward promoting massive turnout among Trump’s hard-core base of non-college-educated, nonurban, and evangelical white voters—a group that’s likely to be dubious of any cooperation with the new president.

One measure of Biden’s challenge came when he declared in his speech, “Disagreement must not lead to disunion.” With that warning, Biden became the first president in more than 150 years to use the word disunion in his inaugural address, according to a comprehensive database kept by UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project. No president since Abraham Lincoln in 1861—who spoke when the South had already seceded but the Civil War’s shooting had not yet begun—had thought that the threat of the nation coming apart was material enough to deploy the word in an inaugural address. The only other two presidents who ever did, according to the database, were William Henry Harrison (in 1841) and James Buchanan (whose pro-South maneuvering after his 1857 inaugural helped pave the road to the Civil War). To raise the possibility of disunion, even while cautioning against it, shows how far the nation’s partisan and social chasms have widened after four years of Trump’s relentless division.

Read entire article at The Atlantic

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