The Most Chaotic Timeline

Eating crow, with caveats.

Well,

That was something.

There’s an old adage that if you have to eat crow or something so foul that it makes crow seem like an essential part of a healthy breakfast, it’s best to take big bites and chew only as much as necessary to get it over with.  

I am fully willing to do so if necessary. Indeed, last night I was looking through the cupboard to find the best hot sauce to go with a sh*t sandwich or perhaps a fecal falafel. And I may still have to belly up to the table come Friday’s “news”letter. But as of now, I see no reason to put on that bib.

Still, it’s worth reviewing what I got wrong—along with most folks. Call it an amuse-bouche de corbeau.

While I always caveated that Trump could win, I was wrong in thinking it was obvious that Biden would. It remains to be seen what the final electoral vote tally will be—and it’s still theoretically possible for Trump to eke out a win—but it is obvious already that this could have gone either way.

It was wrong to believe that the pollsters had a clear picture of the electorate. I will not be surprised if Biden ends up winning the national popular vote by 5-7 points, which would be a very, very partial vindication of the topline projections. Also, because the Florida results played out early and were a surprise, I think a lot of people went into the rest of the night more inclined to believe that the polls were wrong everywhere. It remains to be seen how off they really were. If I showed you a map two weeks ago with a modest victory for Biden, flipping Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona, and coming close in Georgia and North Carolina, with Pennsylvania as a question mark, you would have said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much where the polls are.”

Well, as of right now, that’s the most likely scenario.

But whether it was public polling or, as Josh Kraushaar notes, the respective parties’ own internal surveys, the public opinion business took another massive reputational hit. The GOP gained seats in the House. The Senate races were not what the models suggested. Susan Collins never led in a poll but ended up winning. Not only was Texas not close for Biden, but Democrats didn’t pick up a single seat in the Lone Star state despite all the hullabaloo.  Biden’s lead with seniors and suburban voters was real but much smaller than some polling suggested.

I was probably wrong, to some degree, to heap as much scorn as I did on the shy Trump voter stuff. It also appears that there were more late-deciders than the polling suggested. Public Opinion Strategies ran a post-election survey last night of 1,600 voters. It’s just one survey and, given the givens, it would be weird to take this one as gospel. Still, among its findings:

  • Late deciders broke heavily towards President Trump. Among voters who decided in October or later (11 percent of the electorate), Trump won by 16 points (51 percent Trump/35 percent Biden/14 percent Third Party Candidate).

  • Former Vice President Biden did win seniors, but by just one point (48 percent Trump/49 percent Biden).

  • There were more “shy Trump voters” than “shy Biden voters.” Nineteen percent of Trump voters said they kept their support for Trump a secret from most of their friends, compared to just 8 percent of Biden voters. 

Make of all that what you will. Let’s move on to some other observations.

Trump’s power grab.

President Trump’s statement last night was outrageous, full stop.

I don’t really care about the parsing some water-carriers are doing. Before the election, President Trump all but shouted that he would try to declare victory based upon the Election Day tallies alone. No reasonable person concerned with the proper functioning of our democratic processes supported him on this. And before you say, “What about so-and-so,” let me cut you off. If they lent support to that gambit, they were either unreasonable or unconcerned with democratic legitimacy. And if you’re hung up on the word “democratic”—“we’re a republic, not a democracy,” yada yada—refusing to count legal votes so you can claim an Electoral College win is just as illegitimate in a constitutional republic as it is in a democracy. The nomenclature can’t save you.

Anyway, last night he did precisely what he said he would do. Of course he did it dishonestly, but that’s the point.

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said this morning. “This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So, we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.”

The voting had stopped. What he means by “voting” is counting votes.

And he spent all Wednesday morning tweeting that the counting of votes is a “fraud.” The first tallies in most of the southern states last night were of early and mail-in ballots. In the contested northern states, the Election Day totals were reported first, and he wants people to believe that those were the only legitimate votes. They’re all legitimate votes. This is banana republic bull. Sure, it’s possible that some idiotic Democratic hacks somewhere might try something stupid going forward (and I fear for the country if they do and get caught at it, given how ready people are to believe the fraud narrative). But the votes already collected but not counted are as real as Election Day votes.

Pretending otherwise is a violation of his presidential oath and it should be condemned.

And, yes, I know that Biden’s team is saying stupid things and they shouldn’t. Bob Bauer, Biden’s lawyer, said, “We're winning the election. We’ve won the election. And we're going to defend that election.”

But if you’re playing moral equivalence games here, you should check yourself. It’s one thing for some partisan legal hack going into Florida Recount Beast Mode to say this stuff. It’s quite another for a president to say it, particularly one who has so consistently shown contempt for constitutional order he is sworn to defend. Trump likes to say that America is respected around the world thanks to him. This behavior earns the respect of despots and demagogues and earns the rightful contempt and scorn of democratic societies.

Pence’s dissent.

One last point here: It’s worth noting that when Mike Pence stepped up to the microphone after Trump, he didn’t get Trump’s back. He said:

“While the votes continue to be counted, we’re going to remain vigilant. ... The right to vote has been at the center of our democracy since the founding of this nation, and we’re going to protect the integrity of the vote. But I really believe with all of my heart, with the extraordinary margins … and the way that [we] launched this movement across the country to make America great again, I truly do believe as you do that we are on the road to victory, and we will make America great again, again.”

There’s nothing in there about stopping the counts or votes being stolen or manufactured. I would not be surprised if Trump was furious with Pence for not parroting Trump’s rhetoric. I don’t think this was a profile in courage. I think it was a sign that Pence understands that going along with Trump on this is dangerous to his political future. So he did what he always does: fall back on harmless cliches. Alas, no one told the flack managing the Trump campaign’s email account. I’ve already gotten several urgent messages (ostensibly from Pence) warning that:

It’s only a matter of time before the Democrats try to steal the Election and manipulate the results. They’ve made it clear they’d rather destroy our Nation than have four more years of our President’s incredible leadership.

“He” also informed me that if I donate now, my contribution to this anti-theft effort will be matched “1,000 percent.”

The good news.

Here are some things I am pleased by.

It’s not assured yet, but it looks like the GOP will hold the Senate (I shudder to think how much money will be spent in the Georgia runoff). Mitch McConnell proved that the skills he acquired in the jungles of Bolivia while securing the cocaine pipeline to Kentucky were more than adequate for getting reelected. This means, if Biden wins, that none of the Democrats’ crazier ideas will see the light of day. It was unlikely the Democrats would pack the court or add new states to the roster. But now it’s literally impossible for at least the next two years, and probably far longer.

It also means that Biden can claim no mandate other than some gauzy efforts at “healing” and taking the pandemic seriously. I mean, he can claim more of one, but none of that matters if McConnell and a GOP-controlled Senate are there to offer sweet, sweet gridlock.

Moreover, divided government has a history of providing better governance. If Biden wins, this will be the first time since 1988 that a president won’t have both houses of Congress when he enters office. This trend has been one reason why new presidents have tended to overreach in their first two years. Biden will have a built-in excuse not to do likewise. 

It’s worth recalling that 1988 was a good time for grown-up governing. Say what you will about Poppa Bush’s betrayal of his “no new taxes” pledge, it was done in the spirit of responsible government. George H.W. Bush also handled the reunification of Germany and the savings-and-loan crisis with quiet, grown-up professionalism and statesmanship. I think Bush was a better president than Biden can be. But divided government will allow Biden to say “no” to the base, and work with his friend Mitch McConnell on the things that actually need to be done. I won’t like much or even any of the Biden agenda. But a little normal politics would be good for the country.

More good news: This election was a pretty clear repudiation of unvarnished progressivism. “House Democrats were optimistic that the expected friendly environment would boost not-ready-for-prime-time candidates who ran unsuccessfully on left-wing platforms in 2018,” Kraushaar writes, “That optimism was shattered on Election Night.” He runs through some House races where socialist hotheads lost, but even at the national level, the fact that Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric—whatever its substantive flaws—didn’t backfire on him is not good news for the “AOC Plus Three” crowd.

Finally and relatedly, there’s some good news in the Trump coalition. I want to write about this at greater length, but it looks like he overperformed—and/or Biden underperformed—with blacks and Hispanics. Many stupid things will be said about this on the left and the right. But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that almost anything that cracks the lazy cliches and identity politics certainties of both the left and the right is welcome. America will be a better place if the people who assume that ideology is a genetic trait closely correlated with melanin content are proven wrong.

Over the last four years, I’ve been accosted by racist poltroons—in person and by every other form of communication save carrier pigeon—who insist that Trump offers our only hope for stopping the importation of “mud people” from turning America into a Third World socialist country. So I’m going to take a moment to relish the fact that the voters who helped deliver Florida to Trump were actually brown-skinned immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants from socialist countries who didn’t want to see America grok itself to what they left behind. Even among many non-racist and well-intentioned liberals and conservatives, there is an assumption that immigration is the only issue when talking about Hispanics. As I wrote back in September, this was always a faulty assumption.

As for the left, it has been an article of faith that demography is political destiny and that all it will take to gain permanent power is to wait for the white majority to become a minority. It turns out that you have to work for the votes of “black and brown” people too, not just as black and brown people, but as actual people. If both parties take this to heart, that would be very good news indeed.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.