One of the wildest weeks of the 2020 election cycle is, perhaps appropriately, taking place in 2021. After all, will we ever get to leave 2020?
In a week packed with major events, the implications of seemingly unrelated decisions from everyday voters to the nation’s most elite politicians will help define not one, but two presidencies. On top of that, they could also define the contours of the internal dynamics of both political parties.
It is as though the 2016 election, the Donald Trump presidency, and the upending of our lives due to a pandemic were all in preparation for this week.
Consider the week, which began on Sunday when the election of Nancy Pelosi for another term as House speaker — once considered all but certain — was briefly thrown into question as her support was tested by COVID-related issues and a handful of Democratic detractors. Pelosi was eventually reelected by 7 votes, but had she somehow lost, it would have been a dramatic shift in power that few saw coming, and it could be argued that it would overrule the will of the people.
Can anyone recall a time when two months after a presidential election, both major party candidates were back on the campaign trail, appearing in the same state on the same day to campaign for someone else? Well, a pair of rallies from Trump and Joe Biden were taking place in Georgia on Monday as both hoped to mobilize the base of each party ahead of a pair of runoff Senate elections taking place there on Tuesday.
While Biden’s afternoon rally hit on familiar themes from the 2020 campaign, Trump on headed to a rally that was likely the last of his presidency, and he was full of grievances as he continued to baselessly allege the election was stolen from him. If anyone needs a reminder of Trump’s current mindset, they can look at his Twitter feed, where he continues to retweet debunked conspiracy theories as to why he lost. There was also an hourlong phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state over the weekend where, in leaked audio, Trump demanded that the election somehow be overturned, over the voters’ will. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused, and then the audio of the phone call leaked. Trump on Monday was expected to have a thing or two to say about that.
This is the day Georgia will hold the pair of Senate runoffs. If Democrats win both seats, they will control the House, Senate, and the presidency. If they only win one or neither of those elections, then Republicans will have a firewall of sorts in the Senate, where at least they can control the agenda and what comes up for a vote, even if all votes could be close given the tiny majority Republicans would hold.
In the big picture: The results of this pair of elections will likely determine the course of the Biden presidency, including what happens in the midterm elections and whether Biden or a Democratic successor has a shot at the presidency in 2024. The consequences are that big. For example, progressives cannot be mad if Biden governs more from the center in a Republican-led Senate. Further, if Republicans are fully in the minority, then there is less reason to contain more radical voices from the right, including followers of QAnon. If Republicans are part of the governing majority, then those voices could be more contained.
Speaking of radical voices from the right, the Republican Party could feature one of its biggest splits ever as Congress officially takes up certification of the Electoral College votes. The Republican Party is split between members in the House and Senate who want to challenge the certification and party leaders who see it as foolish since there aren’t votes or time to deal with challenging the results.
But beyond talk about trying to overturn the will of the people from some other Republicans such as Mitt Romney, even Mitch McConnell is talking in superlatives, reportedly saying that it will be the most consequential vote he will ever cast.
The one in the hot seat will be Vice President Mike Pence, who may decide to make a career-defining decision to gavel and certify that Trump lost — or not. Pence, serving as Senate president, is the one holding the gavel to certify the election results, something Trump has not accepted. Then again, he could punt and leave the duty to a fellow Republican, but that probably won’t play well with Trump, either.
The rest of the week
The events above cloud out a bunch of others that would dominate any normal news week. A second, rare, round of stimulus checks continue to arrive in bank accounts. A vaccine to help end a raging global pandemic will be administered for the first full week outside of a holiday period.
It remains unclear whether we will know the winners in Georgia on Tuesday night. Over 3 million votes were cast early, a record for a special election. It is possible that it will be on Thursday or later when winners are announced. Polls at the moment really aren’t providing any clarity. Both contests could be close or blowouts.
And can you imagine the recounts? At this point, you probably can.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.