The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A vote for Biden is a vote for a one-party state

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden gives remarks during a campaign event at the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry in Manitowoc, Wis., on Monday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Democrats say “democracy is on the ballot” in November. They are right — because a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for a one-party state.

That’s not hyperbole. If Biden wins, Democrats will likely keep the House and retake the Senate, though without the 60-vote majority needed to break a Republican filibuster. That means the only check on their absolute power will be the GOP minority. They are threatening to get rid of that last check by abolishing the legislative filibuster — eliminating the Senate minority’s ability to delay or block legislation. If they do, they can then use their unchecked power not just to ram through their agenda, but also to pack the courts, pack the Senate, pack the House and pack the electoral college.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) — Biden’s closest Senate ally who during the Trump presidency has led the effort to protect the filibuster — has made clear that Democrats will “not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn.” Never mind that they used the filibuster to block President Trump’s initiatives at every turn — from border wall funding to police reform and pandemic relief legislation. When Republicans try to use that same tool, Democrats will most likely abolish it.

Live updates on the Supreme Court vacancy

This would give Democrats the ability to pass anything — on climate, energy, health care, taxes, immigration — without compromise or concessions. They can use the pandemic as justification for a record-breaking spending spree and unprecedented expansion of government.

But that’s not the real threat. As the 2022 midterms approach, Republicans will have their first chance to win back the Senate and stop the legislative juggernaut. That’s when things get really dangerous — because Democrats can use their new power to stop that from happening, by expanding their control over all three branches of government.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen's opinionsFollow

First, they can pack the courts. Even before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the left was never going to be content with simply replacing liberal justices, because that would not change the ideological makeup of the court. They intend to follow through on their threats to “restructure” the court by adding justices to install a liberal majority. But they won’t stop there. They will also pack the federal circuit courts of appeal, neutralizing all of Trump’s judicial appointments and restoring liberal majorities.

Next, they can pack the Senate. They can make the District of Columbia a state, creating two more safe Democratic Senate seats. They could also admit Puerto Rico, adding two more seats. This would make it nearly impossible for Republicans to regain the majority.

Next, they could pack the House, and with it the electoral college. As Martin B. Gold, former counsel to two Senate majority leaders, explains, “you can’t change the electoral college without a constitutional amendment, but you can by statute change the size of the House of Representatives.” Since House seats are apportioned by population, populous blue states would gain the most — and because the size of the electoral college is determined by the size of each state’s congressional delegation, this would increase the number of blue-state electors as well.

Sign up for The Odds newsletter for election updates from data columnist David Byler

This would build a firewall against the inevitable conservative backlash, making it difficult for Republicans to take back the House, the Senate and the presidency. Even if they managed to do so, they would be unable to undo much of the damage. Once confirmed, judges have lifetime appointments. There is no precedent for revoking statehood or reducing the size of the House. Fundamental changes to the structure of our democratic institutions will be put in place by party-line vote without compromise or consensus.

No one party has held such absolute power in the modern era. In 2009, President Barack Obama enjoyed a 60-vote majority, but it lasted only for six months. Filibuster-proof majorities are fleeting; filibuster abolition is forever. Such a move would end the Senate’s role as the constitutional guardrail against what Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority.”

This is why, despite Trump’s urging, Republicans refused to abolish the filibuster, protecting the right of the obstreperous Democratic minority to stymie their agenda. Now, after repeatedly availing themselves of that right, Democrats are threatening to eliminate it — and a few recalcitrant moderates won’t be able to stop them. Biden once called filibuster abolition a “very dangerous move,” but he flip-flopped in July, declaring, “It’s gonna depend on how obstreperous [Republicans] become.” Translation: If the Republican minority tries to kill any of his priorities as Democrats did to Trump, the filibuster is gone. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer says “everything is on the table” if Democrats win.

What this means is that Biden is running on a lie. He promises to restore normalcy and bipartisanship, but his election would usher in the opposite — a dictatorship of the left. The United States can survive a second Trump term, because his power has been checked by Congress and the courts — and those checks will remain intact. But if Biden wins, Democrats will assume absolute power, which they can use to irreversibly transform the institutions that have kept our country centrist and stable. So, yes, democracy is on the ballot.

Here's what the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket needs to do to keep progressive support, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors says. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this column: Here’s the real reason conservatives are fearful of a Biden victory

Jennifer Rubin: Our democracy has turned dangerously undemocratic

Fred Hiatt: Republicans’ and Democrats’ nightmares are not equivalent

Karen Tumulty: Senate Republicans are showing us why they should lose their majority

Eric Mogilnicki and Drey Samuelson: It’s beyond time to retire the filibuster

Letter to the Editor: More reasons to get rid of the filibuster