Now that both the campaign and the post-election wrangling have run their course, and Joe Biden will be inaugurated president in a few short weeks, Democrats face a series of tough questions about how to move forward as they begin to govern. The division within the party between the progressive grassroots and the establishment elite may have been slightly abated in the aftermath of Biden’s victory, but it hasn’t been completely negated. Biden has, seemingly, done a relatively good job of bringing those two wings together in both his agenda and his Cabinet.

Still, neither of those will determine who wins this fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, especially since progressives have shown an increasing willingness to flout party leadership in recent years. Instead, it will ultimately be the same people who determine pretty much every political conflict in a functioning democracy, whether intra- or inter-party: the voters.

Right now, the biggest question mark in politics is one certain breed of voters: those who primarily turned up at the polls simply to vote against Donald Trump. These voters can be further split into a variety of different groups, which might lean one way or the other in the internal split among Democrats. The challenge for both the Democratic establishment and the progressive grassroots alike is that these voters don’t necessarily share any great loyalty to the Democratic Party or liberalism as a whole.

One group is fairly easy to understand: liberal Democrats who not only loathed Trump personally, but also completely disagreed with almost every single aspect of his policy agenda. Although they might try to deny it, they probably would have disagreed with any other Republican president just as much – even a Mitt Romney or a John McCain – but their personal dislike of Trump gave them extra motivation. They were more likely to volunteer to assist candidates this cycle, and to work hard for Joe Biden in the general election, even if they weren’t really that enthusiastic about him. Democrats probably don’t have to worry about their votes going anywhere, but they need to maintain their energy and enthusiasm in future elections.

Another group who turned out big for Biden were centrists of various ideological stripes who were simply disgusted with the whole political process in Washington. A lot of these people were probably the same folks who had flipped from voting for Barack Obama (at least once, if not twice) to voting for Trump in 2016 simply because they so loathed Hillary Clinton. That’s a totally understandable motivation, especially four years ago: Clinton was a well-known fixture in the Beltway who was widely disliked, while Trump was a bit of a wild card. It’s understandable that voters who embraced Obama’s message of change would also support Trump’s call to drain the swamp. A certain synergy is there, even if both of the candidates would be loath to admit it. Although Biden won them over this time, they might not stay loyally by his side, especially in the midterms. A lot of these folks likely split their ticket in various odd ways when it came to local races all over the country.

Finally, there are the right-leaning voters of various stripes who didn’t like Trump and were willing to vote for Biden this year. Some of these people voted for Trump in 2016 but abandoned him this year as it became clear that Biden would be the Democratic nominee. Others always hated Trump, and some even completely abandoned the entire Republican Party because of him. While these different anti-Trump conservatives might have been willing to vote for Biden, they’re probably unlikely to completely embrace a left-wing agenda.

Now, we need to see where all of these folks go, especially in the midterm elections. The first big test of that will be in the U.S. Senate runoff elections Tuesday in Georgia, where Democrats hope to retake a majority. If they’re able to win one or both of those seats, it will probably be thanks to the first group of activist voters who want to give Biden the widest possible latitude to govern. If they want to win a majority in the midterms, though, they’ll need to convince all of the Never-Trump voters – not just the activists – to vote their way in two years.

The question for Democrats will be just how much they can do that without Donald Trump on the ballot.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: jimfossel

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