Yesterday was a long, uneventful day, a day of waiting for a conclusion that didn’t come. The suspenseful process of counting the ballots for the presidency continued all day and into the night, with the frontrunner Joe Biden holding a good lead over Trump. By the end of the day, Biden had won Wisconsin and Michigan, flipping them blue and preserving his path to victory. Attention then shifted to Nevada (6 electoral votes), Arizona (11), Georgia (16), and Pennsylvania (20) where mail-in ballots outstanding are expected to run mainly in Biden’s favor, but where races remains too close to call. Alaska (3) and North Carolina (15) are also still in play but more likely to end up in the president’s column. At midnight, according to CNN, Biden had 253 electoral votes to Trump’s 213.
Today, the presidential contest will come to a climax, as Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona report additional returns. If Biden holds his lead in Nevada and Arizona, he will have exactly 270 and Trump will have lost. If Biden pulls ahead in Pennsylvania on the strength of the remaining 763,000 mail-in ballots still being counted in mainly urban and suburban areas, Trump will be toast. It will be many days, however, before Pennsylvania completes its count.
If Biden wins, the losing candidate and his supporters may cause mayhem and violence. So far, state officials and the major news outlets (including even Fox) have wisely projected respect for the election process and the people’s will. It is very important to the stability of the country that they have refrained from rash claims for one side or the other, instead reporting only full vote counts while urging calm. Michigan is a prime example, where Governor Whitmer and her dynamic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, have been speaking out on the imperative need to respect every vote and the collective will of the people. The protracted nature of this election count, and the fact that Biden has been leading the bulk of the time, is a good thing, in that it allows voters of all stripes to accept the final outcome as being authentic, if word of a Biden victory comes.
This morning the stock market is surging on expectation that Biden will win, while the Senate will remain under Republican control. Whereas a plunging stock market would signal a foreboding of post-election violence and instability, the surge indicates investors’ confidence that the people’s will in selecting the president will prevail.
Image: C. B. Slemp, secretary to Calvin Coolidge,
receiving word of the election in 1924,
from this source.
The only presidential poll that counts is the one Americans vote in. That being the case, are there ways (other than opinion polling) to evaluate whether Biden will win? In the run-up to Election Day, I’m thinking of the odds of his victory in terms of all that has happened since 2016, when Donald Trump scored an electoral-college victory despite Hillary Clinton’s greater popularity. About 137 million people participated in that election. How will roughly the same electorate behave in the matchup between Trump and Biden?
Of the 65 million people who voted for Clinton, few are going to switch over to Trump this time. Clinton voters remain firmly opposed to Trump–to people who identify as liberals or Democrats, he is completely anathema. Knowing that they constitute a numerical majority, they are highly motivated to defeat him this time. Clinton voters want to see someone of their kind in the White House.
In the past four years, I have never met or heard of a Clinton voter believes Trump is a good guy. So I can’t imagine there will be many defections from that solid Democratic column. At a minimum, Biden can count on capturing at least as many popular votes as Clinton.
In addition, he will enjoy the support of many Americans who did not turn out for Clinton in 2016. Many male voters will turn out for Biden who either went for Trump or refrained from voting in 2016. Some voters perceived Clinton to have character issues; others harbored intense animus toward her, dating from her husband Bill’s presidency. For some, Clinton’s sex was itself disqualifying. Biden is not a better candidate or person than Hillary, but he is male. He lacks the tangential but still consequential negatives that turned off some of the Democratic voting base.
Biden will also likely do better with supporters of Bernie Sanders than Clinton could. Sanders voters shunned Clinton in 2016. This time around, they are somewhat more likely to vote for Biden because of the urgency of defeating Trump, because of Sanders’s urging, and because it’s evident that the progressive agenda is gaining ground within the Democratic Party. Young voters are mobilizing themselves to save the world. They are more likely to cast a vote this time around than to sit it out. And for those who mind Biden’s age and moderation, Kamala Harris represents a conditional promise that the White House will be occupied by a fairly progressive woman of color should Biden die.
Finally, Biden will get the vote of every Trump “resistor.” Notably, black Americans hate Trump for turning a blind eye to racism and police brutality, threatening military action against protestors (whom he branded as terrorists), and encouraging white supremacy. Tens of thousands of blacks who didn’t care about the last election and/or don’t particularly care for Biden will nonetheless turn out for him. It appears they are already vote at higher rates and with more enthusiasm than they did in 2016.
So that is it for Biden’s positive voting base. Now, when we look at Trump’s support what do we see?
Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was narrow–very narrow. The percentage of Americans who approve of him has remained below 50 percent for throughout his presidency. This verdict on Trump has remained remarkably stable: Trump was marginally more popular when he was inaugurated than he’s ever since. Today, he has the good opinion of only 43 percent, and those fans are not necessarily distributed advantageously across the country. As president, Trump has done nothing to “make friends” or broaden his appeal. On the contrary, he has gone out of his way to alienate many Americans, specifically by treating everyone who opposes him as an enemy. Now, the majority who dislike Trump have a chance to act. This majority comprises not just Democrats but infrequent and independent voters who are likely to go for Biden this time around.
Meanwhile, cadres of Republican voters and officials have repudiated Trump in favor of Biden. The open defection of elder statesmen, leading scientists and intellectuals, distinguished civil servants, military brass, and former Republican officials (including a number of former governors) is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the 2020 race. It is a sign of the Republican party’s general decrepitude.
For, while Trump has dishonored the Republican party, the Republican-controlled Senate has shocked and disappointed Americans of all stripes in failing to check Trump or to stand up for the Constitution or the rule of law. Senate Republicans have instead executed the president’s evil will, siding with him and enabling him to prevail in ways that are contrary to our values and the national interest. So Trump will suffer because the entire Republican brand is poisoned. Voting Republican has become synonymous with being provincial, hateful, and anti-modern.
In addition, Trump’s full-bore attacks on the press and journalists (many of them women); reports of his nasty remarks about fallen soldiers and those who have served in the military; his lack of concern for the poor, the ill, and elderly; and his obvious inability to deal with smart women have cost him many votes and sent many once-loyal Republicans to the other side. His explicit attacks on Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and discriminatory approach to COVID relief, which has prompted him to withhold vitally needed aid from Democratic-leaning parts of the polity, are insults and injuries fresh in voters’s minds as they go to the polls.
In the end, how many Americans will decide that their best interest lies in allowing Trump to continue to lead the US? What will they get out of his being in charge for another four years? The social and cultural landscape of the US is withering away, along with its vibrant economy, because Trump has no definite economic or social vision. His lack of executive ability and essentially corrupt mentality have been especially evident since the coronavirus epidemic hit. Biden is more open, more compassionate and fair. He can lead a suffering nation; Trump can’t.
Early voting augurs a historically high turnout for this election. The high volume makes it more likely that Biden will sufficiently improve on Clinton’s margins to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where Trump won largely as a result of apathy. The spread of COVID-19 in rural and red portions of the US will likely dampen enthusiasm and turnout for Trump among Republicans, who are said to prefer voting in person on Election Day.
The 2020 election is a critical one. I believe that most Americans are good, that most accept and want to live by a time-tested political creed of fairness and toleration. I believe that most want the US to be governed by the rule of law. Sadly, millions of Americans support Trump because they do not care about these values enough to embrace social changes they bring. I believe that Americans want to step into the future, that they want to become a fully multiracial and forward-looking country.
It’s hard to know what will happen if voters elect Biden, but if the US doesn’t move forward it’s going to go down.
The only way to rid the nation of Trump is to vote for Biden. It’s a strategic fact driving millions of Democrats, independents, and Republicans to fill out the same bubble on their ballots, temporarily coalescing into a vast and powerful coalition. If they get their way, Joe Biden, perhaps the most underrated frontrunner in US history, will be the oldest person ever elected to the presidency. He is also one of the most knowing national politicians when it comes to our civic traditions, when it comes to the machinery of government and foreign affairs, and when it comes to the people on the Hill, who are the crucial players when it comes to deals.
Saying no to Trump is saying yes to Biden. Implicitly, the contest between the two is an opportunity to reject an “imperial presidency” in favor of a more balanced Constitutional government. Under Trump and his allies, the tripartite organism born of the Constitution has grossly atrophied. The federalism that holds the states and citizens together in one powerful conglomeration is now bitterly resented and railed against, as though the Proud Boys or Wolverine Watchmen or even Anonymous could build up something more viable and fairer in its place.
If Trump wins, what’s left of the republic will swiftly decline. If Biden wins, the republic will survive, but barely. For the scars of Trump’s wreckage to heal, the body politic will need much in the way of restoration and reform. “Build Back Better,” indeed. Forces at work in American society ordain that, if elected, Biden will preside over a political rehabilitation reshaping the economy, the presidency, Congress, and the parties. Paradoxically, then, one of the oldest members of the old political guard stands to authorize and usher in a dramatically new age.
Those who believe the federal experiment is worth continuing will vote for Biden. Blue voters believe that they can resolve the current crisis in a way that promotes Americans’ collective health, security, and prosperity. They believe that saying no to Trump is saying yes to a new and improved United States.
Image: “Condemned to Die” (1894), from this source. Illustration from Puck’s magazine shows reformers building a guillotine for corrupt politicians condemned in the court of public opinion.