First, we should examine how realistic it is that there will be legal challenges to the election or that Republicans will refuse to accept the results. The latter does not truly matter if the public at large accepts the outcome. The notion that state legislatures are going to substitute their own slate of electors or that the Supreme Court is going to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for Republicans becomes more unlikely as the margin of the popular and the electoral college victory increases. There is little incentive for Republican state legislators, congressional Republicans and Republican-appointed judges to indulge President Trump’s frivolous claims if the margin is substantial. (That alone should be incentive to push for greater turnout.)
Second, Republicans will need to survey the wreckage if they suffer an embarrassing defeat. Depending on who survives the blue tsunami and the size of Senate Democrats’ majority (assuming they flip control, as expected), Republicans are going to have to decide if they want to keep up the pretense that Trump did not really lose. Republican survivors will need to decide whether to undertake a stance of opposition toward the will of the people and the new president. The majority of Republicans in the Senate and certainly the right-wing media machine that has sputtered to failure in its effort to create an alternate reality will scream for total obstruction. However, depending upon the final numbers, Democrats may only need a small chunk of Republicans willing to forgo filibusters and even support legislative compromise. The prime Republican contenders will be senators such as Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rob Portman (Ohio). I imagine Biden will reach out to them and others to see if there are grounds for agreement. If not, the filibuster likely is a goner.
Third, Democrats will need to determine the contours of an economic relief package. It might be as narrow as the current stimulus bill passed by the House or broad enough to include everything from Biden’s tax plan to child care to a green infrastructure initiative to expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats will start pondering “reconciliation” as a means of getting around the 60-vote cloture rule. Figuring out what can be used for that process and what cannot may be critical to deciding if they jettison the filibuster. (For example, if Democrats can get 80 to 90 percent of what they want in reconciliation or in stand-alone legislation with a few GOP votes, the filibuster might not disappear.)
Fourth, and perhaps most interesting, Democrats will need to consider a raft of reforms necessitated by Trump-era abuses. This could include repeal of many of the “emergency” measures embedded in federal law, restrictions on contact between White House staff and the Justice Department, and measures that would allow the enforcement of subpoenas for administration figures, which may find Republican support with a Democratic president. However, Democrats have a moral and political imperative to go much further to address corruption, lobbyists, foreign influence and voting rights. At the very least, Democrats will insist on passing a new formula to revive the preclearance process under the Voting Rights Act and perhaps requiring automatic voter registration and a ban on certain voting suppression techniques. It will be telling to see whether Republicans decide to continue defending White minority rule or to embrace multiracial democracy. Their survival as a political party may depend on their answer.
The margin of victory matters a great deal in the presidential election and fight for the Senate majority. A larger majority for Biden and Democrats means a quicker end to any post-election Trump shenanigans. Democrats will no doubt test the waters for any evidence of constructive, bipartisan Republican support on major initiatives for the economy and political reform. If they find no sign Republicans intend to depart from their extreme, obstructionist ways, Democrats should do as much as they can — and as fast as they can — after consigning the filibuster to the dustbin of history.