Opinion: Why Democrats’ Senate win in Nevada may be a blessing in disguise for the GOP — and the nation

To paraphrase a prominent American politician, Saturday’s late news from Nevada was a big effing deal.

That politician was Joe Biden, who whispered that salty line (in fuller form) to then-President Barack Obama a dozen years ago at the signing of the Affordable Care Act, only to have it captured on a hot mic.

Biden would be forgiven if he had shouted it again from the rooftops of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he’s attending an Asian summit, when he learned that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was projected to win reelection in the Silver State, guaranteeing Democrats’ continued control of the US Senate.

It was the latest turn in an astonishing midterm election week during which Democrats defied history and a raft of downbeat metrics to score unexpected victories across the country.

Few pundits, politicians or pollsters would have guessed that on the same night that Cortez Masto secured the Senate for the Democrats, Republicans would still be scuffling to win the necessary seats to seize back control of the House of Representatives.

Republicans taking the House was thought to be a slam dunk. Now if they get there, it’s clear it will be by the barest of margins — a slim majority hard to control and difficult to defend when the House is up again in two years.

Senate Republicans also were confident going into Election Day about their chances to break the 50-50 deadlock that has given Democrats control of the Senate on the strength of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Now Harris’ vote may not even be needed if Democrats and Sen. Raphael Warnock tackle Herschel Walker in the Georgia runoff on December 6 and claim a 51st seat.

No one needs to explain to Biden the meaning of control of the Senate, where he spent almost half his life.

Democrats will continue to control the agenda on the Senate floor and in committees, which is no small thing — particularly if Republicans take the House.

What’s more, the Senate has sole authority to confirm judicial nominations and key executive appointments, which is critical, even if a Republican House blocks other major Biden initiatives.

Anyone who doubts this should consider how GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority blocked Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, for eight months in 2016, denying Garland a hearing, much less a vote. McConnell and the same majority speeded then-President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett through in a matter of weeks before the 2020 election.

By allowing Trump, and not Obama, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and speeding Barrett through in record time, McConnell and his Senate majority changed history.

Barrett and the two other conservative justices Trump named have profoundly reshaped the high court and opened the door to radical decisions such as the ruling that upended abortion rights, a half-century after the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed them. (Ironically, the court decision overturning Roe caused a backlash that may have had much to do with Democratic victories in Nevada and elsewhere this year.)

Biden, who has filled vacancies on the bench at a record clip, will now have the chance to put his own, lasting imprint on the federal judiciary.

After losing his majority in the 1945 parliamentary elections in Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill supposedly received assurances from his wife, Lady Clementine, that it was a “blessing in disguise.”

If so, Churchill was said to have replied, it was rather “well disguised.”

It may be that Republicans will find the results a blessing in disguise in one respect.

The voters of Nevada and the nation may have done Republicans and the country a favor by freeing the GOP of Trump’s iron grip.

Trump’s intervention in primaries across the nation saddled Republicans with a series of losing candidates, chosen for their fealty to him and the election denial canard, rather than a broader appeal. Democrat John Fetterman captured an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania the Republicans now hold partly because of the weakness of his carpetbagging, Trump-anointed opponent, Mehmet Oz. And that was just one of many examples.

In Nevada, where Republicans had high hopes to defeat Cortez Masto, their candidate, Adam Laxalt, was hurt by his embrace of Trump’s bogus claims of a stolen election, particularly in Clark County, around Las Vegas, where nearly 75% of the state’s voting population lives.

Normally, midterm elections are harsh on the party of incumbent presidents, particularly when public views of the economy and that President’s performance are negative. Past elections portended big losses for the Democrats in 2022.

But this year, the typical referendum on the ruling party and President became equally a judgment of the opposition and its putative leader, Trump. It was a repudiation of election denialism, extremism and coarseness.

That verdict was not lost on some Republican politicians who, out of fear and opportunism, have stuck with Trump despite knowing better. Watching their quick post-primary exodus from his camp, led by Rupert Murdoch and his right-wing media empire, has been something to behold. For them, trespasses against democracy and decency may be tolerated, but losing cannot.

Trump is an unparalleled escape artist, and his continued sway with primary voters will hold some Republican politicians in place. They may continue to heed his insistence that any cooperation with Biden in Congress is tantamount to treason. But fear of Trump must now be weighed against the cost of Trump, and the result may be that more Republicans in Congress will have a freer hand to work with Biden on select issues. While I’m not betting on it, that would be a blessing for the country.

The verdict from Nevada came while Biden was overseas, meeting with his peers from around the world and poised for a sidebar meeting with China’s Xi Jinping.

The President might have been hobbled going into these discussions by a thumping in the midterms. It would have intensified growing doubts among our allies and adversaries about the durability of American democracy and about Biden’s political viability.

Instead, they should be mildly reassured.

The people had their say, thumbed their nose at the purveyors of conventional wisdom and dealt a blow to Trump and extremists and election-denying Republicans.

For all the legitimate concerns about our democracy, voters in Nevada and across the nation remind us of how awe-inspiring it can be.

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