In any other age, the events of this season would almost certainly have made a great change in American politics – or at least a significant, discernible one.
Over a period of weeks, coronavirus death rates plummeted and the country eased public health restrictions significantly. President Biden announced a bipartisan deal late last month to spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the country’s worn infrastructure – the most significant cross-aisle bill in a generation if it sticks together. The Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday that the economy was well on its way to regaining all jobs lost during the pandemic by mid-2022.
And as a blow to Mr Biden’s recalcitrant opposition, Donald J. Trump – the dominant figure in Republican politics – experienced an embarrassing legal setback when he resumed a schedule of campaign-like events. The Manhattan Attorney’s Office charged his company, the Trump Organization, and its chief financial officer with “sweeping and brazen” financial crimes.
Not so long ago, such a series of developments might have tested the partisan boundaries of American politics and caused voters to change their assumptions about the current president, his predecessor, the two major parties, and what the government does to the American people can do to reconsider.
Nowadays it is hard to imagine that such a political turning point is imminent.
“I think we are open to small movements; I’m not sure we’re open to big strides, ”said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Partisanism has made our system so sclerotic that it doesn’t respond very much to real changes in the real world.”
Amid the mounting drama of early summer, a moment of truth seems imminent. It will show whether the American electorate is still capable of major changes of opinion or whether the country is essentially trapped in a split for the foreseeable future, with about 53 percent of Americans on one side and 47 percent on the other.
Mr Biden’s work permit was stable for most of the year in the mid-50s as his government spread a message about fighting the virus and revitalizing the economy. Its numbers are weaker on issues such as immigration and crime; Accordingly, the Republicans have focused their criticism on these areas.
This weekend, the President and his allies held a kind of celebratory tour for July 4th: Mr. Biden went to Michigan, one of the major swing states that made him president, while Vice President Kamala Harris went to Las Vegas to see the a revival of the common life of the nation.
On Friday, Mr Biden stopped just short of explaining that happy days had come again, but he was eagerly waving the latest employment report, which shows the economy created 850,000 jobs in June.
“The last time the economy grew at this rate was in 1984 and Ronald Reagan told us it was tomorrow in America,” said Biden. “Well, it will be afternoon here soon. The sun come’s out.”
Yet there is little confidence from either party that voters are about to en masse behind Mr Biden and his allies, no matter how many events seem to fit in his favor.
Democratic strategists do not see Mr Biden’s fault in this, just the frustrating reality of political competition these days: the president – any president – could remove voters’ skepticism about their party or their cynicism about Washington, but he can’t bring about a broad realignment of the public mood.
Mr Mellman said the political division in the country is currently favoring Mr Biden and his party, with a small but stable majority of voters favoring the president. But even significant government successes – containing the coronavirus, passing a major infrastructure bill – could only make tiny adjustments to voters, he said.
July 2, 2021, 3:38 p.m. ET
“Passing bipartisan bill would have been a turning point in the past,” Mellman said. “Will it be in this environment? I have my doubts. “
Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist, judged the chances of real movement in the electorate to be even more blunt. He said that as the pandemic subsided had helped voters feel better about the direction the country is headed – “Covid reopening will certainly help with the numbers” – but he saw no evidence to suggest that this changed their mindset about their preferences between the parties.
“I don’t think anything has changed in particular,” said Mr. Schriefer. “If anything, people have withdrawn more and more to their own corners since November.”
The stubborn resistance of American voters to external events comes as no surprise to anyone who survived the 2020 elections, of course. Last year, Mr Trump led a runaway pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people and brought the American economy to collapse. He humiliated the country’s top health officials and made fun of basic safety measures such as wearing masks; threatened with military force to quell mass demonstrations; did not outline an agenda for his second term; and delivered one of the most self-destructive debates of any presidential candidate in modern history.
Mr Trump still won 47 percent of the vote and carried 25 states. The rifts of identity-based grudges he dug and deepened for five years – rural voters versus urban, worker voters versus college graduates, white voters versus everyone else – saved him from overwhelming rejection.
A Pew Research Center study of the 2020 election results released last week showed exactly the extent of the electoral movement possible in the political climate of the Trump era and its immediate aftermath.
The electorate is not completely frozen, but any small shift in favor of one party seems to be offset by another small shift in the opposite direction. Mr Trump improved his performance among women and Hispanic voters compared to the 2016 election, while Mr Biden expanded his party’s support in moderate constituencies such as male voters and military veterans.
The forces that made Trump a resilient enemy in 2020 could now protect him from the kind of exile normally inflicted on a deposed former president surrounded by criminal investigation and threatened with financial ruin. Polls show that Mr Trump convinced most of his party base to believe a catalog of fancy lies about the 2020 elections; Encouraging your admirers to ignore your legal troubles, on the other hand, is an old ploy.
The divisions that Trump carved into the voting card are still visible in other ways: Even as the country reopens and approaches victory over the coronavirus, the countries that are furthest behind in their vaccination campaigns are almost all strongholds of the GOP While Mr Trump has encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated, his disdain for public health officials and the culture of vaccination skepticism has hindered easy progress in the right-wing media.
But the social fractures that have made Mr. Trump such a permanent figure have also cemented Mr. Biden as the head of a majority coalition with broad dominance in the most populous areas of the country. The Democrats don’t have an overwhelming majority – and certainly no majority that can rely on overcoming the gerrymandering in Congress, the Senate’s red-state bias, and the opposition party’s traditional advantage in mid-term elections – but they have an equal majority .
And if Mr Biden’s approach up to that point has been good enough to keep about 53 percent of the country tight, it may not take a major political breakthrough – let alone a season of it – to strengthen that coalition by only a small piece of doubt or critic wins. There are strategists in Mr Biden’s coalition who hope to achieve significantly more, either by putting the Democratic Party more firmly in the political center or by competing more resolutely with Republicans on issues of economic populism (or perhaps a combination of both ). ).
Mr Biden’s advisors have already briefed Democrats in Congress on several occasions of their plans to spur economic recovery as the ruling party’s main achievement – one that they want to reinforce with an infrastructure victory.
Faiz Shakir, who led Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, said Democrats needn’t worry about digging deep into Mr Trump’s grassroots. But if Mr Biden and his party managed to win back a splinter of the working class community that had recently shifted to the right, he said it would strengthen them significantly for 2022 and beyond.
“All you have to focus on is a 5 percent strategy,” said Shakir. “What 5 percent of this base do you think you can regain?”
But Mr Shakir warned that Democrats should not underestimate the passion Mr Trump’s party would bring to this struggle, or the persistence of the fault lines he had used to reorganize American politics.
“He animated people around these social and racial, cultural divisions,” Shakir said of Mr. Trump. “That keeps people happy. It is sad, but it is that it is so. “