What the Democrats understood is that Democrats are pretty much all the same under the surface. Once a “harmless moderate” was installed, the radicals would come out and boogie. Trojan Joe was selected to tell the voters he didn’t support the Green New Deal, even as his platform clarified that he essentially did. He was supposed to tell the voters that restoring “decency” was what the election was mainly about, even as his backers schemed to rewrite the political rulebook by destroying the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, and making states out of Puerto Rico and D.C. He didn’t want Medicare for All, which would destroy the private insurance industry immediately; he merely sought a “public option,” which would do so gradually. And every time he futzed up a simple sentence or retired for the day at 9 a.m., activist Democrats licked their lips at the prospect of replacing him with the single most liberal member of the United States Senate, a woman of color whom several nonpartisan surveys ranked to the left of even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Just as Biden secured the party nomination, the country was gripped by the pandemic, whose catastrophic effects allowed him to blame Trump for mismanagement, even though his own party’s disgust for the stigmatization of China and the hardening of our borders against the virus probably would have made matters worse.
The voters saw through all of this. If, as appears likely, voters have given Biden a narrow win, they have done two things: acknowledge President Trump’s personality and stylistic flaws while resoundingly rejecting the idea that it was time to implement the opposite of Trumpian policies. Unless the Democrats can grab both Senate seats in Georgia in runoffs scheduled for January 5, Biden would be a bandleader without musicians, an architect without builders. The country will have chosen to remove President Trump while asking that America otherwise continue on its present course, steady as she goes: no rethink of the energy industry, of health care, of capitalism, no vast new scheme to combat inequality, no federal bailout of the fiscally profligate blue states. The Democrats will have been given the presidency and warned not to do anything much with it.