Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory over Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election last Tuesday was significant. When it occurred, it sealed a 51-49 Democrat majority in the Senate, which was seen as a big deal.
That’s because 51-49 would make it much easier for Democrats to move legislation through their chamber without having to worry about assuring sometimes difficult party unanimity on every issue, and because the margin would give Democrats control on all Senate committees, making it easier, for example, to confirm federal judge appointments more quickly.
But all of that was thrown into some doubt three days later when Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced she is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent. While not yet clear, Sinema’s shifted allegiance probably won’t change the power balance that was in place just before her announcement since Sinema’s vote with Democrats was never a sure thing.
But whichever way Sinema goes, the Warnock victory boosts the Democratic Party and raises expectations. With control of the White House, the Senate and only a very modest Republican majority in the House, Democrats are going to have to deliver on their promises if they want to hold the Senate and regain control of the House in 2024.
Beyond its impact on Senate numbers, the Georgia runoff has other significant implications: It is another blow to the dwindling popularity and diminished star power of former president Donald Trump. Quite apart from the ever-mounting legal challenges Trump and his company are facing, Walker is the fourth Trump-backed Senate candidate to lose a very winnable race.
As in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, Georgia was a state in which a quality Republican candidate would reasonably be expected to win. But like several other Trump candidate choices, Walker was not a quality candidate. He was, of course, a very talented and popular football player. But when it came to politics, policy and issue detail, Walker was wanting. He lost the election even though every other statewide Republican candidate in Georgia sailed to victory.
Ever since the stunning collapse of the Republican Party’s anticipated “red wave” in November — much of which is attributed to the Trump allegiance of election deniers and others on the far right of the party — more and more Republicans are talking about the need for new faces to lead their party and their 2024 presidential ticket.
The good news for Republicans is that they have a deep bench with a full range of choices to lead their ticket. The bad news is that Trump will not get out of the way graciously. As a result, Republicans will need to navigate a complicated minefield in their own nomination process.
This brings up another potential dividend of the Warnock win: President Joe Biden can spend the next two years focused on doing what the American people elected him to do. And given his well-developed political savvy and skills, he has the tools to get that done. Biden has the time and the support to build on his successes. He should spend the next 24 months finishing that important work.