Such a victory could lead to the end of the nation’s clearest impediment to structural change.
The political epitaph of President Donald Trump has not yet been written. Trump is still the incumbent president in a polarized country. He has millions of dollars to spend in his 2020 campaign and near-total control of his party. He should not be counted out until the Electoral College casts a majority of votes in favor of his opponent.
But with each passing day, the chances of a Joe Biden presidency increase. Biden’s positive poll numbers continue to grow. A representative Monmouth poll on Monday gave Biden a twelve-point advantage, while an Economist/YouGov poll gave him a nine point lead. His success has ripple effects throughout the country. It forces Republicans to spend money in previously safe states such as Georgia and Arizona, money that they would have otherwise spent shoring up Michigan and Wisconsin. The chance of success also increases Biden’s support among Democrats and diminishes the party divisions that were so stark during the previous presidential campaign. There have been none of the failed endorsements and stories of lukewarm Democratic support that plagued the Hillary Clinton campaign. As Democrats continue to think Biden might win, they will continue to unify behind their candidate.
While a Biden victory is still far from ensured, a landslide now seems like a distinct possibility. Such a landslide might force open the floodgates of social legislation by removing the filibuster, one of the nation’s greatest impediments to change.
It is clear that a change is underway in Senate thinking about the filibuster. Several key senators have reversed their previous support for the filibuster in recent weeks. Many key Democratic leaders have also refused to openly support it. Joe Biden has said nothing. Bernie Sanders has floated the idea of abolishing the antiquated practice as well. Perhaps the only Democrat to actively support the filibuster is Dianne Feinstein, who will most likely fold if 50 other members of her caucus vote to get rid of it. This change is significant, given that leading Democrats have resisted any effort to drop the practice prior to this year. Their argument was always the same: dropping the filibuster for Democratic bills means allowing more Republican bills as well. But after three years of Trump doing almost whatever he wanted despite the filibuster, Democrats rightly see it as a tool that harms progressive policies more than it helps them.
The end of the Democratic filibuster would mean that Joe Biden could have a first term similar to those of past Democrats such as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. He could pass significant social legislation in his first year in office, during the honeymoon period that most presidents enjoy. Once these laws are passed, many of them will help Americans and become popular. They will be so popular, in fact, that a later Republican administration will feel extraordinary pressure to keep them in place. This phenomenon occurred with the Affordable Care Act, which, even with all of its compromises and flaws, was untouchable in the next Republican administration.
It will take a Biden landslide to actually get rid of the filibuster. Republicans may still keep the Senate. They may be able to repeat patterns of the Obama presidency, when first-term accomplishments were kept to a minimum and the opposition successfully struck back in the midterm. In addition, Biden will need a significant majority to resist the immediate calls for bipartisanship that will come from Republicans the moment they are no longer in power. But if Biden wins by five or ten points, he will have a mandate, and the nation will look to him to do whatever it takes to enact that mandate.