Last week, in an entry posted just before the elections, we posed a slew of “food for thought” questions for readers without suggesting any answers. Now that the elections have taken place, we’ll flip the script and offer some assessments.
1. Race for the White House - A straw poll of the 2020 presidential race was conducted at the 2/22/19 SAFE board meeting, prompting the following predictions:
President Trump will run for reelection, with some sentiment for (1) naming Nikki Haley as his running mate in place of Mike Pence, or (2) turning to Haley as a backup candidate if Trump somehow gets knocked out of the race [e.g., as a result of adverse findings in the Mueller probe].
It was unanimously predicted that the Democratic candidate will be a female – 3 votes for Kamala Harris (progressive) & 1 vote for Amy Klobuchar (moderate). Two predicters thought Bernie Sanders would be in the running, one mention for Joe Biden [who had not yet declared his intention to run], no one expects Michael Bloomberg to be a factor. Indicated progressive shift in the Democratic Party could augur well for the GOP. Trump can only win again if Democrats keep moving leftward, Jonah Goldberg, townhall.com, 2/13/19.
All attendees predicted that Trump would be the ultimate winner, and only one thought Biden might be the Democratic finalist. We can claim credit, however, for foreseeing that Kamala Harris would be on the ticket (albeit as the V-P candidate). Who knows, she may wind up serving as president after all.
Fast forward to last Saturday (Nov. 7), when Biden was declared victorious by the AP and Fox News with a margin of over 4 million popular votes and electoral votes to spare (e.g., Biden 290 to Trump 214, with 31 electoral votes for GA and NC still to be awarded).
So it’s down to completing the counting of ballots, probably recounting votes in several states, and resolving legal challenges. Based on what has been reported thus far, it's unclear that any of the legal claims will change the outcome.
•Trump representatives were denied access to watch mail-in ballots being counted in various locations, which is clearly a violation of the voting laws in PA, MI, etc. However, can destruction/creation of ballots be proven as a basis for adjustments? Probably not, and in the absence of such proof we doubt the courts would support a drastic remedy like throwing out a state election or disallowing ballots that had been counted without observation.
•There was a software error that flipped 6,000 votes from Trump to Biden in one Michigan county, and Dominion Voting Systems equipment (which includes components made in China) was also used in other counties in Michigan, Georgia, and elsewhere in the country. "Glitchy" Dominion Voting Systems, tied to Pelosi's, Clinton, widely used in battleground states, world tribune.com, 11/6/20. Dominion Voting Systems software is also used in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Minnesota and in Maricopa County, Arizona. [The firm] has ties to prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Bill and Hillary Clinton. And attorney Sidney Powell (who has also been representing Michael Flynn) claimed, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on 11/8/20, that this issue could have very well altered the outcome in the presidential race and needs to be fully investigated.
Powell added that some 450,000 ballots have turned up in Pennsylvania, Michigan, etc. that were marked for Biden but didn't indicate votes for any other candidates, also an inherently suspicious circumstance that needs to be pursued. Sidney Powell: People with links to powerful Democrats using Dominion voting machines to "steal" votes, Joseph Simonson & Daniel Chaitin, Washington Examiner, 11/8/20.
•Some non-resident voters improperly voted by mail in Nevada, but from the sounds of things not enough to change the state outcome. A Postal Service supervisor in PA allegedly instructed employees to backdate the received date on mail-in ballots so they could be counted, and there are also reports of dead voters including half a dozen in PA who registered after they died. Again, we’re not sure that the numbers involved would materially affect the outcome.
It’s been suggested that the main purpose of filing the lawsuits was not to win the election but simply to save face for the president. Trump isn’t contesting election to win it – but to avoid admitting defeat, Philip Klein, Washington Examiner, 11/5/20. We think this misses the point, however, which is that the handling of the voting in some state elections was exceedingly sloppy. Even if the outcome remains unchanged, the issues that arose should be litigated in order to create a record of the reforms needed before future elections take place.
Meanwhile, the civil unrest that was feared if Biden lost has been stilled – at least for the time being – as the apparent outcome is pleasing to radical leftists. Despite media suggestions to the contrary, there never was any material threat of violence from the right. If by any chance the lawsuits hit pay dirt, however, look for the temperature on the streets to change in a heartbeat.
Biden has been proceeding in a statesmanlike manner, as exemplified by the address that he delivered on November 6 when his message was that he wasn’t declaring victory yet but expected to be doing so soon. Meanwhile, everyone should know that he intended to make things better. Biden address to the nation, transcript, 11/6/20. No matter who you voted for, I’m certain of one thing: The vast majority want to get the vitriol out of our politics. We’re certainly not going to agree on a lot of the issues — but we can at least agree to be civil to one another. We must put the anger — and the demonization — behind us. It’s time for us to come together as a nation and heal. It won’t be easy, but we must try. My responsibility as President will be to represent the whole nation. And I want you to know — that I will work as hard for those who voted against me as for those who voted for me.
The next night in his victory speech, the now president-elect reiterated his intentions to help the nation heal and to work as hard for those who voted against him as for those who voted against him. He also claimed a “mandate” to lead the country “in the great battles of our time,” which he rattled off without much discussion. It was a bit as though everyone was being asked to sign a blank check. Biden victory speech, transcript, 11/7/20. Control the virus – build prosperity – secure your family’s healthcare - achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country – save the climate - restore decency, defend democracy, and give everybody in this country a fair shot. OK, barring unexpected developments, sounds like Biden is indeed the winner. Why didn’t we see this coming, either in February 2019 or later? We didn’t know President Trump would be impeached, but that development probably didn’t affect his chances. The big surprise was the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, a crisis that wasn’t the president’s fault but nevertheless happened on his watch and didn’t play to his political strengths.
As the elections neared, we systematically reviewed the stance of the candidates (and their respective supporters) on the campaign issues, awarding Trump a comparative edge on policy. This part of our analysis was seemingly vindicated by the relative narrowness of Trump’s loss in the presidential race (based on most of the polling results that were ceaselessly reported in the run-up to the election, the outcome should have been a Biden blowout) and by the results of the congressional races (Part 2, infra).
Finally, we may have been guilty of a bit of wishful thinking, as happens to the best of political observers.
2. Congressional races - Based on the available polling, it was generally thought that Democrats would increase their majority in the House of Representatives and most likely take the Senate as well. This would make it possible for Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster rule in the Senate and ram through an ambitious “progressive” agenda.
The Biden agenda (as negotiated with Sen. Bernie Sanders et al.) was expected to include universal healthcare (Medicare for All in slow motion); phaseout of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy (inspired by the Green New Deal); major tax increases that would be more than offset by spending increases for various social programs; reversal of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iranian Nuclear Deal, and Paris Climate Accord; and a commission to reform the judicial system (which would predicably clear the way for packing the US Supreme Court). In sum, this is hardly the sort of smaller, more focused, less costly government approach that SAFE advocates.
In the event, Republicans exceeded expectations in the House races. There have been no reports of losses, and the GOP expects a net gain of 5+ seats. A near doubling of the number of female Republican members is also seen as a propitious sign.
As for the Senate, Republicans have suffered a net loss of one seat in races that have reportedly been decided, resulting in a 48-48 tie. Republican incumbents were reportedly leading in Alaska & North Carolina, and there will be two January 5 runoff races in Georgia (so those “urgent” funding requests will keep coming for a while). With luck, Republicans will wind up with at least 51 votes, as will be needed to retain Senate control. If the outcome was 50-50, Democrats could call on Vice President Kamala Harris for a tiebreaker vote.
Clearly, the congressional results were encouraging for Republicans – suggesting that American voters were less attracted to a progressive policy agenda than Democrats had been hoping. There is even a chance that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be replaced, perhaps giving someone with more moderate tendencies a chance to change the climate in that chamber.
3. The path forward – There has already been a lot of talk about how the Trump presidency will be remembered in American history, and no doubt books will be written about the subject, etc.
One story making the rounds is that Trump might run for president again in 2024, to the delight of Trump’s political base and the consternation of his political enemies. Query whether Trump would make a viable candidate under the circumstances, however, and also why he would want to offer his services to the country again after the shabby way in which he has been treated over the past four years. Maybe he’d be happier making deals and building things in the private sector.
As a variation on the continuing mission theme, what are the pros and cons of the president holding rallies, etc. in support of the Republican Senate candidates in the Georgia runoff elections? This action will play out while he is still in office and could materially affect the legacy that he leaves. And it’s already clear that Democrats will do their utmost to win these races. Big out-of-state money expected to pour into pair of Georgia runoffs set to decide Senate control, Barnini Chakraborty, Washington Examiner,11/8/20. Assuming agreement that the president’s involvement would help, we think he should jump into this fight with both feet.
What happens to the issues that Trump brought to the fore in the national political conversation but won’t have time to finish. Boosting the economy by keeping taxes low and cutting regulatory red tape – draining the swamp - enforcing immigration laws – ensuring that international trade agreements won’t hollow out the US economy - preventing China from sabotaging US interests – maintaining a strong military, but stopping “endless foreign wars.” While the president didn’t solve all of these problems, he brought them up and now they will need to be addressed rather than continuing to be “swept under the rug.”
Here’s an analogy suggested by what has happened in the UK since the 2016 Brexit vote that shocked the political establishment and has disrupted British politics ever since. What comes after Biden vs. Trump? Ask the UK, Joseph Sternberg, Wall Street Journal, 11/5/20.
[Here in the US] we have not handed the formation of policy responses to radicals on either side. Whoever wins will have done so only by the skin of his teeth, either with an embarrassing popular-vote loss or a contrary Senate. Either way, we’ll be left with some faint hope of immigration reforms without the deportations, and economic changes without the socialism. Barring that, we’ll have the gridlock voters seem to find preferable to obvious policy errors. The voters have spoken. Every politician has lost in one way or another. Nature is healing.
One thing that shouldn’t happen when Trump leaves the White House is a reversion to normalcy because everyone has been “behaving badly” and the most important thing for all concerned is to get along. In comparison, based on this line of reasoning, the issues didn’t really matter nor who won the presidential election for that matter. Election will be meaningless unless we change, Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press), News Journal, 11/4/20.
“No matter who wins the White House, half the country will view it as Armageddon and vow to fight the oppressors.” [The writer offers] no magic answers, but “if the winners gloat and the losers threaten, we won’t be any better than we’ve been the last six months.”
Although Mr. Albom exaggerates the potential benefits of getting along, he rightfully blames journalists for allowing the standards in their profession to deteriorate to the current low level.
I used to be proud of the media, seeing “an independent press as the only thing standing between big power and big money running rampant over the citizenry.” Now it seems that we’ve joined forces with them. Partisanship never worse – subtlety a memory – who needs balance?
Compare a subsequent column, which effectively demonizes the over 70 million Americans who voted for Trump on grounds that they must be bigots or fools. As for the media, they were just reporting the news. Trump’s massive vote total breaks my heart, Michael Stern (USA Today), News Journal, 11/6/20.
[N]early half of “our country” voted to reelect Trump after four years of unmitigated misrule. Tax cuts for the wealthiest – fights universal healthcare – lethal mismanagement of a pandemic – use of Department of Justice for political gain – personal financial windfall.
[And Mr. Stern] recognizes the country that did this as the same country that “built itself largely on the backs of slaves” and did various other awful things. There was no defining difference of principle between the two sides, simply a “contest between our better and worse angels.”
Sure, the polls were wrong. This simply means that a lot of Trump voters didn’t want to admit what they planned to do. “I fear Trumpism and the ugliness it reflects is here to stay.”
Note for Mr. Stern. We would suggest that you read and reflect on Mitch Albom’s column. And remember that the media exists to serve the people, not the other way around.