Talking Points

Democrats aren't worried enough about losing elections the old-fashioned way

President Biden's terrible August has given way to a miserable September. The Des Moines Register reports today that just 31 percent of Iowans approve of his job performance, down from a high of 47 percent in March. Iowa isn't quite the swing state it used to be — its voters supported Donald Trump the last two elections — but the results are consistent with a national downward trend in the president's poll numbers. Biden just isn't very popular right now.

Which raises a question: What happens if the GOP actually, legitimately wins the next presidential election?

Democrats have not prepared themselves for that possibility — which is understandable given the GOP's election machinations. We're still learning new details about Trump's efforts to sidestep the Constitution and stay in the White House after last November's loss, which his party is still contesting. Republicans nationwide are making unfounded accusations of voter fraud a standard tool in their campaign toolboxes. GOP-controlled state legislatures have cited baseless worries about "election security" while passing a host of new election laws intended to erase Democratic advantages in voter turnout. Democrats have responded by labeling the new laws "Jim Crow in the 21st century," but probably won't be able to pass federal voter rights legislation without filibuster reform. Meanwhile, Republicans have won a plurality of the presidential popular vote just once since 1992. Taken together, these trends have understandably created a lot of alarmed commentary that the GOP might steal the 2024 election through some combination of voter suppression, lies, and legal shenanigans.

Biden's sinking poll numbers suggest another possibility. Voters might look at his presidency and simply decide to give Republicans — whether it's Donald Trump or some other candidate — another chance at the White House. 

Would Democrats actually accept such a result? Possibly not — the events and commentary of recent months may have primed them to believe the GOP can win the White House only by manipulating the electoral process. Republicans already believe the same thing about Democratic victories. The problem, of course, is that you can't really have a democracy if neither side believes its rival can fairly win an election. Graceful losing is a necessary part of the process. Without it, American democracy will be fragile even when it works.