2020 Election Takeaways
EDITORIAL: Wage-earning, multiracial and churchgoing voters made Trump vs. Biden a razor-thin race.
Although the winner in the 2020 U.S. presidential election had not been confirmed at press time Nov. 5, and the balance of power in the Senate remained in question, early returns offer critical insights and a ray of hope to Catholics looking to build a winning national coalition that upholds life and religious freedom.
First, it appears Joe Biden is poised to edge out a win as final results are counted in key states, and while President Donald Trump is contesting that count amid claims of fraud, this election cycle has been full of other surprises. Once again, the media and the polls badly misfired, predicting a massive “Blue Wave” that never materialized, while “shy” Trump voters only revealed their true intentions at the polls, making the race much tighter than they expected.
More importantly, the unexpected surge of Latino and Black support for the president marked the beginnings of a potential electoral realignment, with the GOP attracting increasing numbers of blue-collar “wage earners” and social conservatives across racial and ethnic lines.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center, which showed that between 2018 and 2020 the percentage of Hispanic Catholics who approved of President Trump’s job performance rose from approximately 16% to 27%, provide some context. Among Hispanic Christians as a whole, this approval doubled from 15% in 2016 to 32% this year.
Biden’s failure to keep these voters in his party, or pull back more of the blue-collar voters who switched to Trump in 2016, was a massive disappointment to his party’s old guard and the millions of big and small donors who helped him build a vast campaign war chest that dwarfed his opponent’s fundraising efforts.
But it was also a rebuke to the Democratic presidential nominee and his refusal to take religious voters seriously.
Biden made his Catholic faith a centerpiece of his voter outreach and hoped active churchgoers would ignore his actual positions on social issues and his accommodation of his party’s ascendant progressive wing.
They noticed. And while exit polls also confirmed that Biden benefited from voters’ dislike of Trump’s often polarizing style of governance and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of them stuck with the president because of his game-changing approach, especially on the economy.
During a post-election interview, Princeton’s Robert George summarized the power of Trump’s appeal.
The Republican establishment and elites believed the party’s “future success depended on combining social liberalism with economic libertarianism,” with the hope of building a winning political coalition, said George. In their view, “religious conservatives with their pro-life position and their pro-marriage position” impeded this goal.
“What Trump perceived was that the way to win was to combine social conservatism with economic populism. States that were otherwise ungettable were in jeopardy; the Ohios, the Michigans, the Pennsylvanias all of a sudden are back in play,” said George. And “whether Trump wins or loses, what will be the lasting consequence of the Trump phenomenon is that the Republican Party now sees its elites were wrong and Trump was right.” As a result of Trump, the GOP is now “a party that shares the values of the working class, which are socially conservative and economically populist.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum echoed this judgment.
“I think we will look back at the election,” Santorum told the Napa Institute, “even if we lose, as a launching point for a Republican Party to be a majority party.”
And as we absorb these early reviews, and await a definitive report on the 2020 election, let’s also take time to celebrate a slew of unexpected pro-life victories in the Senate and House.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has reliably introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in an effort to pass that crucial legislation, won reelection in perhaps the most high-profile Senate race in the nation. As a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham oversaw Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and his capable leadership during the contentious proceedings boosted his chances of reelection, as exit polls revealed that Trump’s judicial nominees mattered to 90% of voters.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst beat back her opponent in a race critical to GOP control of the Senate. Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was also reelected, and Wyoming got a new pro-life senator in Cynthia Lummis.
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, founder of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, won reelection, and Alabama’s pro-abortion Sen. Doug Jones was defeated, despite a huge fundraising advantage.
And though Democrats will maintain control of the House as expected, not only did all 11 pro-life women in that chamber win reelection, their ranks will double when at least 13 more join the next Congress. Additional pro-life wins could follow when the outstanding races are called.
It is also notable that former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national recognition after a pro-abortion filibuster, lost her congressional bid.
In Louisiana, voters approved the state pro-life ballot initiative on Election Day. Pelican State voters overwhelmingly backed Amendment 1, known as the “Love Life Amendment,” which will amend the Louisiana Constitution to include the statement that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
No doubt, many uncertainties remain over the direction of our country. Yet even if a pro-abortion presidential administration begins in January, we should look to the Senate to safeguard the dignity of the human person, secure protections for religious liberty, and build on the new opportunities for a majority coalition that Trump’s unexpected presidency now offers pro-life Americans.