1980 In Reverse

The 2020 campaign has easily been the weirdest one of my lifetime. We have a lunatic incumbent whose electoral college win was a fluke in the second weirdest election of my lifetime, 2016. President* Pennywise is the weirdest weirdo to ever win. That’s the appeal of his opponent, Joe Biden who is a normal human being with normal flaws. My belief is that a substantial majority of Americans are sick of the abnormal incumbent and ready for Gamalian normalcy.

I’m the house optimist at First Draft and this post posits the best-case scenario for 2020. Could I be wrong? Yes. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. Hell, I was wrong about the Democratic nomination contest. The voters of my party picked the tried and tested Joe Biden over more exciting alternatives such as my preferred candidate, Senator Professor Elizabeth Warren. I should have known that in a crisis, people prefer comfort food over molecular gastronomy. Joe Biden is comfort food and that’s what the voters want.

As I wrote last month, Joe Biden presents the perfect contrast to the Impeached Insult Comedian. Joey B Shark is as steady as Trump is erratic. Except for his diehards, whose number have always been overestimated, people are sick of Donald Trump’s shit. That’s why I think 1980, not 2016 is the right election to compare 2020 to. It’s also the best-case scenario for the sort of sweeping win Democrats need to put this election to bed early.

It’s time to do some time traveling, Wayback Machine-style.

My first vote for president was in 1976. I voted for Mo Udall in the California Democratic primary and Carter-Mondale in the general election. In those long-ago days, California was a swing state that leaned Republican in presidential elections. That changed in 1992 when my first home state became solidly blue in national elections.

I liked Jimmy Carter in 1976 but was concerned about his lack of political experience outside the Peach state. The hint of sanctimony he brought to his public pronouncements always bugged me. I was one of those liberals who was reassured by the selection of Fritz Mondale as Veep. I was not the only one troubled by Carter: George McGovern voted for Jerry Ford in 1976 because of Carter’s inexperience. He always denied that it was because of Carter’s leadership role in the ABM “movement” in 1972: Anybody But McGovern.

I realize this goes against the current conventional wisdom of those who were not adults during the Carter administration. I agree that he’s been an outstanding *former* president, but he was a mediocre to poor president and, much worse for 1980, a lousy politician. The words terrible and rotten also come to mind.

In his own time, Carter was often described as the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland. That’s why Ted Kennedy challenged him for the nomination and that’s why I supported Kennedy’s candidacy. To his credit, Carter has moved left since his defeat, but he was mistrusted by party liberals back then. My stock joke during the 1980 general election was that I was voting for Walter Mondale.

Carter’s re-election campaign was hindered by a dreadful economy and the Iran hostage crisis, which made him look like the Mr. Limpet of presidents. Who wants to be compared to a Don Knotts character?

Carter also went from being the man who would be “as good as the American people” to being something of a scold. The 1970’s were a tough time and Carter was out of step with the voters. That led to the Kennedy challenge.

The country had been moving right since 1968. The culture wars were raging as Rick Perlstein wrote in Nixonland, “By 1970, the only thing Americans were sicker of than the Vietnam War were the anti-warriors.”

Race was an even bigger factor in the move right. There was much grumbling among conservative whites about “uppity” and “ungrateful” you know whats. That opened the door to Ronald Reagan’s victory in the 1980 election. That and Carter’s tone-deaf approach to politics.

Because of Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964, Team Carter was convinced that Reagan could not win because he was too right-wing. As a Californian I knew that Reagan was a formidable campaigner and that his cheerful facade presented a stark contrast to Carter’s dour 1980 persona.

Adding to Carter’s political woes was moderate Republican (they existed then) John Anderson’s independent candidacy. He ran because he thought Reagan was too right-wing to win. In the end, Anderson’s presence cost Carter several states including Massachusetts and New York. That’s right, Ronald Reagan carried both of those states twice. That’s why Democrats panicked after the 1984 election and moved to the center.

Election night 1980 was crushing. Carter’s support collapsed in the last week of the campaign so I knew he would lose. What was shocking was how many seats the Republicans gained in the senate: twelve to be exact. Among the incumbents who were drowned by the Reagan wave were such luminaries as Birch Bayh, Frank Church, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Magnuson, and George McGovern. I think McGovern was onto something about Carter, by George.

Many of those incumbents lost seemingly safe seats by narrow margins. One reason was President Carter’s shockingly early concession speech while the polls were still open on the West Coast and Mountain West. I told you he was a lousy politician. Many Western Democrats never forgave Carter for thinking only of himself, not the rest of the ticket. I am among that number.

That concludes my personal history of the 1980 race. It changed the face of American politics moving the country significantly to the right. The Roosevelt coalition was blown up and replaced by the Reagan coalition.

The strategies and tactics used by Team Carter are a major factor in why the elite media has been in the bag for the GOP for the last 40 years. Team Carter were in a tight spot and made everything worse by portraying Reagan as Dr. Strangelove. That aura of incompetence was one of many reasons the country decided to fire the sitting president.

It’s time to return to the present. Hit it, Mr. Peabody.

I believe we’re on the cusp of another change election. Donald Trump’s corruption, mendacity, and incompetence have fractured the Reagan coalition beyond repair. We’ve seen the largest number of defectors from a ruling party since 1972 when many Dems bailed on George McGovern. He did not deserve that. Trump does.

Democrats have an opportunity to flip the Senate the way the GOP flipped it in 1980. We all know who the most vulnerable GOPers are but a 7-11 point Biden-Harris national victory could lead to some major upsets in places such as Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi. Yes, I said Mississippi: Mike Espy is helluva candidate running against a Lost Causer who’s also a ninny.

Most voters in 2020 are used to close elections. As a young Democrat I was on the wrong side of landslides in 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988. I don’t think 2020 will be another 1972 or 1984 but the chances of a ten-point sweep as in 1980 are good.

In 2020, we have an unpopular president* dealing with a pandemic, racial unrest, and an economic crash. In 1980, we had an unpopular president dealing with an international crisis and a rotten economy.

In the 2020 senate races, we have Republican incumbents elected in the 2014 wave election when President Obama was such a liability that he stayed off the trail. In the 1980 senate races, we had Democratic incumbents elected in the 1974 Watergate wave election who ran away from Carter.

I firmly believe that the country is ready to fire the Kaiser of Chaos. I think there are quiet Biden voters who live in areas where they’re surrounded by Trump supporters. Like most of us, they’re tired of Donald Trump’s shit.

There are, of course, substantial differences. Carter was decent man who accepted the election results as would have his opponent had he lost. It would not have occurred to either side to run a Psyops campaign aimed at undermining public confidence in the result. That was unthinkable until the only impeached president to ever run for re-election started stirring the pot in 2016.

Despite the big Axios story yesterday, it remains unclear how much of Trump’s post-election threats are bluster, bombast, and bullshit. He excels in all three areas. Team Biden is prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. The election may not end tomorrow or even Wednesday but we will win in the end. We’re about to learn how many Vichy Republicans are willing to go to jail for their dear leader.

The mere fact that Biden could win the popular vote by 7 points and still lose the electoral college is an abomination that supports my argument to ABOLISH THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE. Democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 elections but lost twice. It’s time for the electoral college to go.

In past years, I would have posted an electoral college map predicting the outcome. I did spend some time fooling around at 270towin.com but I threw my crystal ball away after 2016. I’m willing to say that Democrats will win the senate and the Biden-Harris ticket will win from 313 to 413 electoral votes. In this cycle, I’m obsessed with Texas, Arizona, and Georgia because I’ve spent a fair amount of time in each state.  I refuse to ever predict an outcome again in Florida.

It’s time for them to go. Make it so, America, make it so.

The last word goes to Donald Fagen, Eric Clapton, and Bessie Smith with some florid Florida songs:


2 thoughts on “1980 In Reverse

  1. Excellent post! I’m a bit older than you, and also from California. I’ve always voted Democratic, save in 1980 when I voted for John Anderson. I’m terrified President Pennywise will steal another election, but hopeful that, as you state, enough voters are simply tired of his shit and want him to go away. I think I’d almost prefer that Trump win but the Dems take back the Senate, rather than Biden win but Rethuglicans hold on to the Senate. The best thing would be for Moscow Mitch to be defeated, but that’s unlikely.

  2. My first election was ’72; voted for McGovern but knew he was gonna get clobbered. Got in a heated argument with a friend over it. He blamed my attitude for the loss.

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