Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
In the midst of a national and international crisis, a Republican presidential candidate lost to the man with the most votes in United States History, running on a historically diverse ticket. For these surface similarities with 2008, this year’s election is vastly different.
In his concession speech delivered on the night of the election, John McCain wished “Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my President”. The crowd boo-ed when McCain said he had conceded; McCain silenced them with a dignified “Please”. It echoed the time when he defended the then Senator Obama as “a decent family man… who I just happen to have disagreements with”. Looking back, with a hint of nostalgia, it is worth asking questions- were those boos a fledgling sign of a win-at-all costs mentality? Were those questioning Obama as an “Arab” the signs of a nascent birther movement? Was Sarah Palin’s presence on the ballot the first sign of Republican capitulation to Tea Party and Trumpian tendencies?
But Politics does not stop to breathe, let alone look back and think. For all that Joe Biden will be President, this election has only defeated Trump- not Trumpism. Whilst victory in Arizona (should it come) would be “John McCain’s last laugh”, this election has solidified the Republican Party as the Party of Trump. The Democratic tide did not just fail to rise, it abated. True, Arizona and Georgia have probably abandoned their Republican tendencies for this election- but to take this as a sign of a lasting change (like when Obama won Virginia in 2008) would be dangerous. Arizona flipped in no small part with the help of Cindy McCain, John McCain’s widow. Trump’s own idiocy towards someone whom people on both sides of America regarded as a man of outstanding character (see above!), a man who refused early release from Viet Cong torture unless his fellow prisoners were freed and whose funeral included eulogies from both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, exacerbated this. In Georgia, the tireless work of Stacey Abrams- and Trump’s mocking comments about Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis- will (probably) help flip the state by the barest of margins. If I had to bet how these states would vote in 4 years…?
Even if they stayed ‘blue’, Trump was competitive; he lost the Rust Belt states by narrow margins. He held Texas. He even increased his margin in Florida- anyone hopeful of a Progressive Democrat candidate in 4 years’ time will have to be very wary of how Cuban-Americans and Venezuelan-Americans were repulsed by Trump’s ‘radical left’ label even for a candidate who is as mild as they come.
In the unlikely event that Trump vanishes from the political scene, the movement which propels him is not going anywhere anytime soon. Democrats lost ground in the House. They will rely on two run-off elections to flip the Senate- the key to policy and judicial appointments. Democrats were disappointed in key races; Mitch McConnell was re-elected. One-time moderate Susan Collins was re-elected (in fact, Maine split its Electoral College votes with Trump winning one). Lindsey Graham, one-time best friend of John McCain’s who called Trump a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot” in 2015 didn’t just change his mind on Trump and win re-election- he then donated $500,000 to Trump’s legal team, spuriously alleging fraud.
When Senate Republicans attempted to repeal Obamacare in 2017, it was John McCain (just diagnosed with what would be fatal brain cancer) who like a Roman Emperor, turned his thumb down on Republican policy and cast the vote to retain it. He put institutions, country and people before party. Other than Senators who have already reached their pinnacle (Mitt Romney) or have announced a retirement date (Pat Toombs), few lawmakers have this integrity and follow what will keep them in office. This election has shown that, for Republicans, it pays to be Trumpian. Despite the parting gift of Arizona, the party of John McCain is no more.