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Alfonse D'Amato

The 2020 election: a mandate for moderation

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The election is in the history books. As the dust finally settles on the presidential race, it appears that Joe Biden won with the same razor-thin margin by which Donald Trump did in 2016. In both cases, a shift of less than 100,000 votes in a few states could have tipped the election the other way. Maybe the biggest surprise was the polls predicting a Biden blowout that again missed the mark by wide margins, just as they did in 2016.

Given the devastating impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s health and economy, it’s amazing that President Trump was able to come so close to being re-elected. He did better than polls predicted with Latino and African-American voters, who, I believe, may be less liberal than Democratic leaders think.

It’s a tribute to Biden’s steadiness that he wended his way to the presidency through a bruising primary thicket and Trump’s strong closing campaign to win. And that Kamala Harris — a woman of Indian and Jamaican heritage — will serve as vice president is a historic first.

But if I could give my old friend Mr. Biden some advice, it would be to recognize that the results of the election do not confer a mandate to veer too far from the political center. Republicans did not lose a raft of Senate seats, as polls also incorrectly predicted. They suffered a loss of only one seat, and as things stand now they hold 50 seats, while the Democrats have 48.

There will be two runoff elections in January in Georgia to determine Senate control. Democrats need to win both of those races to create a 50-50 Senate tie, which could then be broken by Vice President-elect Harris’s vote. That’s a tall order in a closely divided state like Georgia. Look for voters there to send at least one of the two GOP incumbents back to the Senate, helping Republicans retain the majority.

The situation in the House is also instructive. It appears that far from losing seats there (as the polls and pundits again incorrectly predicted), the GOP didn’t lose a single seat, and instead will gain as many as 12, leaving the House closely divided. Here on Long Island, Republicans fared well, with Trump winning both Nassau and Suffolk counties; a big win for U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin; and Andrew Garbarino winning the seat held by retiring Rep. Peter King.

Within the Democratic House majority are a significant number of moderate Democrats who are not eager to see their party move too far left. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi fails to heed this call for moderation, she could very well lose her majority in the 2022 midterm election, as she did in 2010. It’s worth noting that history is not on her side, as the sitting president’s party has lost seats in every midterm election but one since World War II.

Republicans also exceeded expectations in states across the country. They picked up a governorship, didn’t lose a single state House, and flipped control of three formerly Democratic legislatures. In New York, GOP candidates did remarkably well. A successful effort led by prominent Republican Ron Lauder helped produce wins in several State Senate races, ensuring that GOP senators can play a significant role in key bills and in critical state budget negotiations requiring “supermajorities” to override gubernatorial vetoes.

All of this leads me to conclude that President-elect Biden would be well advised to concentrate his efforts on defeating the coronavirus and rebuilding the U.S. economy. There’s great progress being made on developing a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine. Let’s get it produced and distributed to every American. And there’s still a need to help businesses and workers who are dealing with the frightening economic impact of the epidemic. Let’s get them the help they need.

What will not be helpful is a misguided push to increase taxes on American businesses and workers during a fragile economic recovery. A vast majority of economists agree that raising taxes in a recession is counterproductive. Saddling American taxpayers with increased capital gains taxes that stifle investment would be especially damaging. And this is no time to hike business taxes, either.

The tax relief enacted in 2017 helped produce an economic boom only Covid-19 could undo. Biden’s campaign slogan was “Build back better.” Let’s build on the economic progress we made before the coronavirus hit, and build on the American electorate’s mandate for moderation.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.