Column: A new president and a more sedate — and boring — politics

A supporter of Joe Biden waves a flag in front of the Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas.
A supporter of Joe Biden waves a flag near supporters of President Trump in front of the Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas on Thursday.

In this time of high political drama, we’ve asked Republican political strategist Scott Jennings and L.A. Times columnist Robin Abcarian to have a weekly discussion of how things are unfolding.

ABCARIAN: Well, Scott, it appears that our four-year national nightmare is over. Joe Biden will be sworn into office as our 46th president on Jan. 20, and Kamala Harris will take her place in history as our first female vice president, and the first person of color to hold the office. For the moment, I’m trying to savor the victory rather than dwelling on the unexpected closeness of the race or the reckless assaults on our democracy unleashed by Trump’s inability to lose with grace. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that we can now get back to some sense of political and scientific normalcy. This country is in the middle of a public health crisis that is worsening each day, and we desperately need a leader who can pull us together to fight it. I don’t think there’s any question whether Trump will go; he doesn’t have a choice. But I do worry about how much damage he might do on the way out. Scott?

JENNINGS: For better or worse, Trump is going to be with us long after he leaves the White House. He’ll still be talking and his supporters will still be listening and his endorsement will mean something in 2024 — assuming he doesn’t run again himself. But I think with Biden and [Kentucky Sen. Mitch] McConnell largely in charge we will see a more sedate politics for sure (and that’s just fine with me, by the way, even if it’s more boring — although I will dearly miss the videos of people screaming about Trump in their cars). Joe Biden will be the next president, but it was an incredibly close election and Trump did far better than any pundit or Democrat thought he would. It’s looking like he won about 93% of the vote among Republicans, despite the millions spent by grifters like the Lincoln Project and other groups dedicated to ripping GOP voters away from Trump. It’s incredible. The Lincoln Project folks spent $67 million only to see Trump surge among the Republicans they claimed to be attracting. They literally went backwards, and yet Hollywood is courting them for something or other. How much more money will California’s liberals allow these guys to burn? A big picture takeaway for me is whether Biden actually understands how he won. Look at the exit polls — Trump actually did better than he did in 2016 among every racial cohort except…wait for it…white men! I tend to agree with the analysis that Trump has turned the Republican Party into more of a working class party, and that the Democrats are now more of a ruling class, wealthy elite party. They spent more money on the campaign, won over white men with college degrees, and carried virtually every county with a tall building or a state capitol. I’m wondering, Robin, do you agree with Andrew Yang’s speech the other night, in which he said Democrats have work to do understanding working class Americans?


ABCARIAN: I, too, long for boring. I do find it fascinating that Trump improved his numbers with all blocs of voters except white men Trump has always done well, and did again, with non-college-educated white men, and his appeal is understandable; he exploits their racial anxieties and lies to them. But I take Andrew Yang’s point that Democrats have to work harder to win back this group, which has been battered by economic forces beyond its control. Moving beyond the presidential ticket, I’d have to guess that Mitch McConnell, who comfortably won reelection in your state of Kentucky, is the happiest man in Congress right now. It looks likely he’ll maintain his powerful role as majority leader, and he won’t have to deal with Trump’s craziness anymore. I saw an Axios report that McConnell is already planning to nix Biden cabinet picks he deems too progressive. The good news is, even with McConnell obstructing Biden at every turn, our new president will have plenty of opportunities to undo the damage wrought by Trump and his enablers. He can return the U.S. to the Paris climate accords. He can reverse Trump’s draconian immigration policies. He can populate the federal government with smart, capable people. I’m feeling pretty good about the next few years, Scott. You?

JENNINGS: Draconian immigration policies? Are you hoping Biden returns to the mass deportation days of the Obama years? I feel fine — happy, actually — because we had massive turnout, America’s democratic institutions proved very durable (despite apocalyptic predictions to the contrary), and Republicans did perfectly fine down the ballot. I agree it seems likely Republicans will keep the Senate, but Mitch McConnell will wield significant power no matter how Georgia’s Senate runoff elections turn out. This is a good thing for America because it makes it virtually impossible that Democrats can eliminate the legislative filibuster in the Senate, the last mechanism in Washington enforcing the clear voter demand for bipartisan governance. A lot of folks on TV are saying we are more divided than ever, but I disagree. I think we are united in a desire that neither party wield too much power. Biden won, yet Republicans picked up seats in the U.S. House and will likely hold the Senate. Republicans didn’t lose a single state house fight, either. Makes me think that a center-right governing philosophy is just fine with Americans as long as the messenger isn’t offensive. Do you think Speaker Pelosi will be chastened by losing seats and finally accept some compromise with her colleagues in the Senate, or do you think she’ll continue to be hostage to her more progressive members?

ABCARIAN: Actually, Scott, I wasn’t referring to deportations. I was referring to the inhumane policy of ripping children from their parents at the border. It hurts me to think of the 545 children who have yet to be reunited with their parents. I’m talking, too, about restoring policies to allow people to remain in the U.S. while their asylum applications are pending, rather than forcing them to wait in Mexico. As someone who lives in a border state, I desperately hope to see an end to any expansion of Trump’s disgusting wall. As for Nancy Pelosi, she’s still in control of the House. I hardly would describe her as “hostage” to her progressive members. She’s occasionally been dismissive of “the squad” when she feels they’ve overstepped, but they’re on the same side. Pelosi is an adept negotiator, leader and cat-herder. She never takes her eye off the ball. Also, I always got a kick out of how she flummoxed Trump. I think we’re all a little beaten down by the drama of a Trump presidency. Do you think we’ll see a change of tone in our political discourse once Trump is gone, if he ever goes?

JENNINGS: I think American institutions have been extremely durable throughout this presidency, despite fears to the contrary, and they will remain strong in this period of transition. We are going to count the votes, courts are going to adjudicate any valid claims, and then when all that is done the electoral college will meet and choose the president-elect. Ultimately, it is hard to do too much damage when an entire process is working just as it was designed to work, even if it takes a few days. I suspect Republicans will support the president’s desires for legal relief until it is clear that all valid claims and avenues have been exhausted. Extraprocedural shenanigans won’t be tolerated, nor should they be. We will have an orderly transition of power. That’s the beauty of a diffused, non-federalized electoral system: no single actor, even a president, can really break it.