Jan 6, 2021

Democrats take the Senate.

Democrats take the Senate.

What does it mean for the future?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 15 minutes.

It’s a long Tangle, but boy is there a lot to cover… The Georgia Senate results come early, and what they mean. Plus a question about the future of the Republican party.

Raphael Warnock made history last night by defeating Sen. Kelly Loeffler in their runoff race. Photo: Raphael Warnock

Quick hits.

  1. In a chaotic scene yesterday, Pennsylvania Republicans refused to seat Democratic State Senator Jim Brewster, whose election victory was certified by the state. Republicans are asking that a court challenge to his victory be resolved before he is sworn in.
  2. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly told President Trump that he lacks the power to change the election result. Trump responded to the report by calling it “fake news” and again suggesting Pence could impact the outcome (Editor’s note: he cannot).
  3. Thousands of Trump supporters are expected in Washington D.C. today for a “Stop the Steal” rally, and the city is bracing for violence. Mayor Muriel Bowser has mobilized the National Guard and clashes between Trump supporters and police began occurring last night.
  4. Prosecutors declined to charge the Kenosha police officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times this August. The officer, Rusten Sheskey, could successfully argue self-defense, they determined. Blake told prosecutors that he was armed with a knife that could not be seen in the cell phone footage, which went viral and set off protests this summer.
  5. Nearly 1,000 Hong Kong police conducted raids in the early morning on Wednesday, arresting 53 pro-democracy activists and politicians, according to a report from Reuters.

What D.C. is talking about.

The results in Georgia. Last night, Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, becoming the first Black senator in Georgia history and the first Black Democratic senator from the South. This morning, 33-year-old Jon Ossoff defeated Republican Sen. David Perdue, becoming the first millennial elected to the Senate and the youngest person elected to the chamber since Joe Biden in 1973. Both races were called by Decision Desk HQ, the election desk Tangle relies on for accurate results.

The twin victories were a stunning end to one of the most unusual and historic election seasons in American history — where we saw record turnout during a global pandemic, where an incumbent president lost and has refused to concede, and where a twin Senate runoff race in a traditionally red state went blue to determine control of the Senate.

The victory is monumental for Democrats, forcing a 50-50 tie in the Senate and giving them majority control of the Senate (with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote) and House of Representatives. It’s only the second time a party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress since 2009, when Obama entered office. President Trump had unified control in 2017 as well.

Control of the Senate means Joe Biden will be able to confirm cabinet nominees, judges, committee members and even pass short-term budgets without a single Republican vote. It also means the end of the Mitch McConnell era as Senate majority leader and moves the power centers of the upper chamber to the middle. Moderates like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) will now hold the keys to the 50 vote threshold. Democrats will still need to whip up 60 votes or more to pass major legislation.

It also marks a major turn for Georgia, a traditionally red state that now has two Democratic senators and chose Joe Biden in the presidential race. Like Virginia before it, the turn of Georgia from a red to purple state will change how candidates view the electoral college map and how they campaign in U.S. presidential races for generations to come.

With his victory, Senator-elect Ossoff will begin a six-year Senate term. Warnock, with a slightly stronger showing than Ossoff, is taking over a vacated seat that Kelly Loeffler was appointed to, and will have to run for re-election in 2022. Here are some reactions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

The left is in celebration mode, believing Trump has successfully torn the Republican party apart and opened the door for Senate control that could advance Joe Biden’s policies.

In Vox, Ella Nilsen explained what the win meant for Democrats, noting that it represented a “firm rebuke” of President Trump, given that Sen. Perdue was one of his first allies and Loeffler had pledged to join his ploy to oppose the electoral college votes.

“Even with this victory, Democrats will have to contend with Senate Republicans,” Nilsen wrote. “Securing both Georgia seats gives Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a crucial tie-breaker for simple majority votes. The catch is that most bills need to clear a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. Therefore, even if Democrats have control of the Senate, they will generally need around 10 Republican votes to get things done. Passing Democratic bills will be extremely difficult in a 50-50 Senate. It will be tough to even pass broad bipartisan bills. But winning Georgia’s seats is the only thing that guarantees that Democrats — rather than McConnell — will have a say on which bills come to the Senate floor for debate. It would also give them the ability to more easily confirm Biden’s Cabinet picks, or his nominees to the federal judiciary and US Supreme Court.”

This morning, Alex Shephard wrote in The New Republic that Trump “is finally tearing the GOP apart,” something many liberal pundits thought would happen in 2016.

“For a president obsessed with loyalty, any break is seen as unforgivable,” Shephard wrote. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was also one of Trump’s most reliable backers and defenders; he, too, is being attacked as a turncoat. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, one of the biggest defenders of Trump’s disastrous handling of Covid-19, has become public enemy number one. Trump’s base, meanwhile, has thrilled to attacks on the Republican Party. Protesters at the ‘Million MAGA March’ in December chanted ‘Destroy the GOP.’ They may be coming for Mike Pence next: On Tuesday, Trump falsely claimed that Pence, as vice president, has ‘the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors’ when Congress convenes to certify Joe Biden’s victory in November… In his final days in office, Trump is doing what many believed he would do four years ago: He’s tearing his party apart.”

In HuffPost, Kevin Robillard wrote about what this means for the future.

“In some ways, the immediate Democratic agenda won’t change much,” he said. “Biden has already announced a handful of executive actions he’ll take on his first day in office, including rejoining the Paris climate accord and ending President Donald Trump’s ban on travel that targeted several Muslim-majority countries. Progressives will continue to push Biden to be more ambitious with his executive actions, though he had indicated he would like to try working with Congress first. There is one obvious change: Some Americans should see additional money in their pockets, since Biden promised quick approval of $2,000 coronavirus relief checks if Warnock and Ossoff won.

“Democrats could use reconciliation to pass major health care or climate legislation ― Biden backed both a public option for health insurance coverage and a significant investment in green infrastructure during the presidential campaign ― but it would be difficult to use the process to enact gun safety laws or large-scale immigration reform. Other ambitious pieces of legislation will still require significant cooperation from Republicans, along with consent from moderate Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema…But control of the Senate does have plenty of other benefits: Democrats will chair major committees, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) taking over the Senate Budget Committee and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio leading the Banking Committee. Democrats will also control oversight hearings, blocking Republican plans to investigate Biden’s son Hunter and other right-wing boogeymen.”

What the right is saying.

The right is split. Some are blaming Trump for causing so much skepticism about the election, while others feel the Republican establishment hampered Georgia Republicans by not embracing Trump's populism.

Many Trump supporters are blaming McConnell’s refusal to support $2,000 relief checks and higher unemployment benefits as the cause of the Georgia loss. Henry Olsen wrote about those dynamics in The Washington Post, noting that the fight over $2,000 checks in Republican circles illustrates the party’s inability to create a working-class coalition.

“The battle over the $2,000 checks shows how not to manage this tension,” he wrote. “Orthodox conservatives oppose the checks because they would lead to more debt. They hew to the old preferences for limited government activity and prioritization of debt control regardless of the circumstances facing the country. So-called populists such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), however, favor sending the checks on the theory that government must act indiscriminately in time of need. Both impulses fail to understand the working-class mind-set and weaken the conservative and working-class coalition both sides want to create.

“The orthodox conservative view’s shortcoming is obvious. Caring more about debt than people in need is a classic flaw that Democrats have successfully exploited since the days of the Great Depression. Working-class voters will always back a party that understands that they need government to give them a fair shot at earning what they deserve… But Hawley’s populist view is also fatally flawed. Working-class voters have a strong sense of desert and need that underlies their views on government action. They oppose aid for people who don’t deserve or need help, whether they are people who prefer to take government aid without working or the rich who get tax write-offs and preferential treatment to fund their comfortable lifestyles. Giving $2,000 checks without regard to how covid-19 has affected an individual means nonworking poor and hard-working rich alike will get checks they neither deserve nor need.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty went off on the failed opportunity in National Review.

“Congratulations to Joe Manchin, the moderate Dem of West Virginia, who would then be the most powerful senator,” he said. “Blame the GOP candidates. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were bad candidates, though Loeffler was much, much worse. To my eyes, it seemed as if Loeffler barely understood — let alone believed in — the content of her attack lines on Raphael Warnock. Blame Governor Brian Kemp: Why did he choose Loeffler to fill the seat? She’s a great fundraiser, but there was no evidence of talent for electoral politics.

“Blame Donald Trump: This is the third election in which Donald Trump has made himself the sole focus of a campaign, and the third election that Democrats won new voters and had fantastic turnout: 2018, 2020, and now 2021,” he said. “Instead of the races being about control of the Senate, Trump made the election about himself and his baseless claims of voter fraud. By indulging these claims, Loeffler and Perdue were put into a civil war with their governor and other elected Republicans in Georgia. They also gave more reasons for Democrats to turn out.”

In his newsletter, Erick Erickson offered some early reflections on why Republicans lost.

“This is important to understand what happened,” he said. “The Democrats won because Republicans did not show up. Democrats turned out at rates near their general election turnout. Republicans did not. The black vote crushed it. Black pastors and Stacey Abrams deserve some credit here. But the reality is the GOP did not perform. To the extent the election was stolen, the GOP stole it from itself. To the extent there was malfeasance, the President running ads on Atlanta radio this very week that the election was stolen is the malfeasance, not local boards of elections. To the extent there is misfeasance, the state GOP chair in Georgia attacking the Republican Secretary of State and lying about what happened in November is the misfeasance, not local boards of elections.

“The President ran ads over the past week telling Republicans that the Georgia election was stolen,” Erickson added. “He came in the night before the election and spent most of his time attacking the GOP. He too helped suppress the vote. His voters did not vote. Yes, the President deserves some blame here.”

My take.

Well, I was wrong about everything. I thought Republicans had the upper hand and would pull it out, regardless of all the antics from Trump. Wrong. I thought the election would last two or three days, given the unbelievable early vote turnout. Wrong. I thought Ossoff would outperform Warnock, given that the GOP’s focus seemed to be on demonizing the latter. Wrong. I thought that Trump’s claims of a stolen election wouldn’t actually depress Republican turnout, given the nature of this race. Wrong. I thought we’d see practically no ticket-splitting. Wrong again. In fact, more than 18,000 Georgians voted for Warnock (Democrat) and Perdue (Republican) — those are some voters I’d like to speak with.

I haven’t hidden my feelings about this race. I’ve been disgusted with Loeffler and Perdue — who have both embraced Trump’s lies about election fraud, turned on their own Republican colleagues, and have gone as far right in Georgia politics as they could to try to juice support. Election workers and state officials have suffered the most, some now requiring police protection and most under a constant barrage of death threats or racial slurs, or both. It’s good to see some repercussions for those lies, and that desire I’ve had for reality to come into focus has been satisfied.

If there was any remaining doubt about Joe Biden’s victory in November, or about Democrats’ ability to turn Georgia blue, it should be gone now. Georgia changed its rules about scanning and organizing early votes, and it paid huge dividends: they managed the massive increase really well and most of the state’s results are already in, to my shock. These were the most-watched Senate races in U.S. history, with Republican lawyers on the ground, radical transparency about the early vote totals, and eyes on every part of the process. There were no “late-night vote dumps,” no pauses and restarts in vote counting, no ambiguity about where votes were coming from, and no confusion about how the election happened. Democrats just won, fair and square, reaffirming the reality that they simply have the upper hand in Georgia this year.

Of course, the drama is unlikely to end here. Jon Ossoff’s race could end within the 0.5% threshold for a recount, which will doubtless set up a slew of legal battles. Sen. Loeffler, who has pledged not to accept the results of the presidential election, could also refuse to concede in hers. Georgians who feel the November election was stolen will likely be inundated with new baseless claims and misleading videos this time around as well, and how they react could mean chaos for weeks to come.

If you’re on the left, there can’t be enough said about Stacey Abrams. Her refusal to concede her 2018 loss to Brian Kemp made her a pariah to the right, but she has now marked her place in American history as a legendary political operative. Turnout in Georgia amongst Black voters was earth shattering, and once again they proved themselves to be the most reliable, most important and most powerful base of the Democratic party. Abrams, whose groups were registering people to vote in the streets on the day Biden won the presidency, got what she came for: Black turnout surged across every part of the state, propelling Warnock and Ossoff to victory.

As for Trump, it looks like he got what he wanted, too. The president insisted the vote was rigged, gave oxygen to the Sidney Powell and Lin Wood crew, and flamed every Georgia Republican official he could find. As a result, while Democratic turnout stayed strong, Republican turnout was depressed. It was exactly the outcome the maligned “establishment” Republicans had feared most, and Trump’s last-second rallies in Georgia appeared to do little to turn the tide. More Republicans than Democrats who voted in November stayed home this time, and Warnock and Ossoff look poised to outperform Biden as a result.

As for the voters who turned up, Trump did no favors for the GOP among them either. 56% said they disapproved of how he handled the election. Trump supporters rightly criticized Mitch McConnell, too, who buried an attempt to give out $2,000 checks and increase unemployment benefits. The populist right understood this would be a winning message, and instead they handed the reins of that messaging over to Warnock and Ossoff, who hammered the billionaire and millionaire Republican incumbents, both for capitalizing on the crisis and for not fighting for working-class Georgians. It was smart politics, matched with a strong ground game and up against a divided and unfocused Republican party.

As many Trump supporters have rightly noted, it turns out campaigning on $2,000 checks and increased unemployment plays better than running against the imaginary threat of socialism. Color me not shocked at all. It looks like another perfect storm of Trump’s political instincts being superior to the Republican establishment, but his execution being far worse.

The future, in turn, has been reshaped. Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, even the most controversial and disappointing ones (like Neera Tanden and Antony Blinken), now have an easy road to confirmation. It also means Biden can go as far left as he wants for his remaining picks, including attorney general, which is widely considered one of the most important Cabinet posts there is.

Stephen Breyer, the 82-year-old liberal Supreme Court judge, will likely retire while Democrats hold the majority so they can replace him. Votes about climate change, health care and immigration will make it to the Senate floor, meaning Republicans will have to face heat for opposing broadly popular reforms Democrats want. Progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are likely to gain substantive power over Congressional committees that could reshape taxes and the financial sector. And, of course, Mitch McConnell’s reign as the most powerful man in politics comes to an end.

I am, again, stunned. My suspicion was that Democrats won in November on the coattails of Biden’s moderate pitch and strong anti-Trump sentiment in the suburbs. With no Trump on the ballot, and with a chance to keep Republican control of the Senate as a check on Biden, I was damn near certain this would go the other way. It’s just the latest twist in what has truly been an unpredictable and utterly unhinged election season.

Your Blindspot.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that uses data to rate the political lean of stories and news outlets, I’ll be featuring parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their biased news diets.

The left missed a story about new rules proposed in the House of Representatives that would eliminate gendered terms like “father” and “daughter.”

The right missed a story about President Trump trying to call Georgia’s secretary of state 18 times before being put through on Saturday’s call, where he pressured him to “find” votes.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What does this mean for the future of the Republican party? Do they move away from Trump?

— Jeremy, Athens, Georgia

Tangle: I really don’t know. There are at least two ways to look at this: one is that Trump’s grip on the Republican base is so strong that he successfully suppressed turnout by objecting to the results of the election. Without him at the top of the ticket, the Democrats’ position appeared to get stronger. The other way to look at it is that after Trump’s win in 2016, a wave of anti-Trump sentiment grew so powerful that it has now cost Republicans the House, the Senate and the White House, and turned Georgia and Arizona decidedly purple (and maybe blue).

There will be a battle in the press, amongst the pundits, and throughout Congress to assign blame here. As you can see in today’s “What the right is saying” section, the fractures are already evident. Trump’s strength in 2016 was, in part, that once he won the nomination it was basically him vs. The Clinton Machine. It wasn’t hard to unify the party. He didn’t have that this time and he basically got stomped in the general election while Democrats just barely took back the Senate and House Republicans outperformed him down the ballot.

My personal opinion is that Trump tapped into something Republicans can learn from. He did bring in Hispanic voters, of whom there are not many in Georgia. He didn’t perform any worse among Black voters than traditional Republicans do. And he motivated white working class voters — millions of whom had never voted before — to a much greater degree than any Republican in recent memory.

I think his America first messaging works. I think the “Washington D.C. is corrupt” messaging works. I think the populist language works. I’ve written before about Trump’s general appearance, his genuine nature, even when he’s telling an outright lie. He is who he is, and he’s unscripted and — by all accounts — basically the same person in front of the cameras as he is behind them. A lot of people, especially political pundits, still don’t understand how appealing that is to Americans. Shoot, it’s appealing to me, and I’m not even a supporter of his. I think, as a country, we are genuinely done with the stuffiness and squareness of Washington D.C.

What I don’t think works is the midnight tweeting, the bizarre outbursts, the deranged conspiracies, the subtle and not so subtle racism, and the insufferable self-centered lens of every single event. When Trump made coronavirus about something that was happening to him, this terrible plague that was ruining his political chances, and not something that was happening to the country, or to working-class Americans, he genuinely lost favor. His messaging on police has not worked, and some of his supporters are now abandoning their “Back the Blue” positions. The overt corruption of so many of his appointees and his own actions, has destroyed the moral high ground he had on “the swamp” with anyone close to the center.

As many others have put it, the feeling on the ground during this election was that a lot of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 were just exhausted by him. They didn’t “like” him anymore, and they were tired of hearing about him. And it showed at the polls.

So, from a Republican party perspective, I think the lessons of Trump abound. A few months ago, I felt very confident Trumpism wasn’t going anywhere, but I think this loss in Georgia is going to reverberate in ways that will force the party to move on from much of what has defined the president’s term. Ultimately, it’ll come down to which faction of the GOP wins the narrative about why they lost control of the White House, Senate and House.

A story that matters.

The vaccine rollout is going much more slowly than expected, and experts can’t pin down a single reason for the problem. Just 5 million Americans have received the first dose of the vaccine, and only 30% of the 17 million doses distributed have also been administered, according to Axios. States didn’t have the money or resources to pull off administering an initial surge of doses, but that should change soon with the latest COVID-19 bill. The Christmas and New Year holidays also slowed things down. In New York City, officials have responded by building pop-up vaccine centers where people can go to be inoculated.


  • 58%. The percentage of Americans who view Joe Biden’s victory in November as legitimate.
  • 27%. The percentage of Americans who do not view Joe Biden’s victory in November as legitimate.
  • 11%. The percentage of Americans who are unsure.
  • 39%. The total percentage of Americans who believe Congress’s effort to reverse the election results is a threat to democracy.
  • 54,153. Raphael Warnock’s lead over Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the Senate runoff race, as of 11:30 a.m. EST.
  • 17,025. Jon Ossoff’s lead over Sen. David Perdue in the Senate runoff race, as of 11:30 a.m. EST.
  • 98%. The percentage of Georgia’s votes that have been counted, as of 11:30 a.m. EST.

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Have a nice day.

A California hospital may have accidentally given us the road map forward for how to speed up the COVID-19 vaccinations. Senior staff at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Mendocino County were in the middle of a meeting when a staffer informed them that a freezer holding 830 COVID-19 vaccines had just broken. With the threat of the vaccines thawing, the staff sprung into action. With just two hours before the Moderna vaccines, which need to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, would no longer be viable, they managed to vaccinate 600 essential workers, frontline workers, and even prisoners at a nearby jail that was experiencing an outbreak. 200 of the doses had to be returned to a county that owned them, but the hospital staff celebrated the mad rush as proof of how quickly they could get the vaccines out the door and into peoples’ arms.

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