A few quick reflections on the election after the election:
The Election Came Off Exactly as Trump Predicted
Donald Trump insisted that his constituents vote in person, that if he lost it would only be because of fraud, and therefore the winner must be declared on Election Night. For a number of reasons, it was widely predicted that Republicans would vote in person, Democrats would vote mainly by mail, and that it would take days to process the mail-in votes. Trump’s entire game-plan all along was to discredit those Democratic votes which would be counted last. In fact, it was so predictable that Republican legislatures in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania refused election commission requests to allow for canvassing and processing of mail-in votes prior to election day. The result was exactly as expected: a massive back-log of mail-in votes that would not be counted until after the in-person ballots were counted, allowing Trump to try to call the election early on Election Night and then claim all other votes were fraudulent.
It Was Clear Trump Lost When He Claimed Victory
When Trump called victory and cried fraud on Election Night prior to tens of millions of votes had even begun to be counted, it was clear that even Trump knew he had lost.
Crying Wolf – The Modus Operandi
Trump always lashes out, cries, whines and blames everyone else when he loses. He did the same when he lost the Iowa primary to Ted Cruz back in 2016. Trump has never taken responsibility for anything in his presidency. He blames everything on everyone else all the time. He often threatens lawsuit or demands investigations. It’s always pure theater. The lawsuits never happen and the investigations always miraculously disappear (think of his demands to investigate Hilary or FBI wrongdoing, most of the time the evidence makes Trump look even worse).
No one in American history has ever been treated as unfairly as Trump, right? During the past four years, everyone from local and federal law enforcement to (Obama appointed and Mexican American) judges, the DOJ, State Department, Pentagon and Intelligence community, the Chinese government and the entire establishment press have been systematically corrupt for the sole purpose of victimizing Donald Trump. Forget police killing innocent people, the fact that more Americans are imprisoned in the US than in any other country (the vast majority for non-violent crimes), or that now over 200,000 Americans have died of Covid . Forget that the Republican party has “gutted Voting Rights Act, sabotaged USPS, closed polling places, purged voters, attacked mail voting, tried to throw out ballots & fabricated evidence under oath”. Trump is America’s biggest victim.
The Press Does Not Decide Who Won
Neither does Donald Trump, who demanded to be called victor on Election Night. The custom (but not the law) in American politics is that when it becomes absolutely clear that one candidate has a share of the votes beyond the margin of error, then normally the following happens: (i) the press calls one of the candidates the winner, and (ii) the losing candidate gracefully concedes. But the presidency is only granted to a candidate when (i) each state has certified the winner in its respective state, (ii) the electoral college meets, (iii) the elector college gives the votes to Congress, (iv) Congress counts the electoral college votes, (v) the candidate is sworn in. When it appeared that Hillary would demand recounts, Trump surrogates went ballistic.
A Biden Landslide
This election saw record turn-out, and even though Trump got more votes than any other losing candidate in history, it appears that when all is said and done, Biden will have won by +5 million votes, the highest percentage in half a century, and the largest margin won by a presidential candidate challenging an incumbent since FDR.
Furthermore, Biden appears to have split the ticket. Republicans voted for him for the presidency but then voted for Republican congressmen down ballot. That means that Biden in fact helped Republicans win congressional elections more than Trump did. It’s hard to see how fraud would have been possible on the top of the ballot but not the bottom.
The Election Results Will Not Change
In any election, especially close elections there are always a number of irregularities, and states have mechanisms for addressing them. This is why it take states days to review, collect and recount ballots before certifying their final results. In states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia we would expect to see recounts, in accordance with local law, where the vote margins are below a certain thredhold. In the states where Trump is contesting the election results, the vote differentials appear to be well above the threshold where a Trump challenge would overturn the election results. Even Republican loyalist Carl Rove admits Trump will not be able to overturn the election results.
There is No Fraud
While there may be irregularities that are corrected by the normal processes, not a single state election commission has presented any case of voter fraud on the scale that Trump is claiming or in any way that would change the outcome of the election. In fact, election officials are directly contradicting Trump. Here is the Philadelphia City Commissioner (a Republican) saying that his team has seen no evidence of fraud and that he is receiving death threats for “counting votes … in a democracy”.
And in one case Trumpsters were hanging their hats on, the postal worker who alleged witnessing vote tampering has since recanted. He had been paid $130,000 by the GOP.
Trump is Not Entitled to His Day in Court
We keep hearing the simplistic soundbite that Trump is entitled to his “day in court”. That is just not correct and isn’t how our judicial system works. First Trump needs to establish a basis under state law (in each state where he is contesting the election results) for bringing a claim. There are series of things that a court will look at when they decide whether to hear a claim, like whether (i) there is a cause of action , (ii) the court has the power to remedy the claim, and (iii) the remedy would in fact change the outcome of the election. In other words, the courts don’t just give people their “day in court” because the plaintiff is upset with something not going his way. Entertaining grievances just because is a waste of tax-payers’ money and the judicial system’s resources.
As a result, Trump’s ability to overcome a motion to dismiss seems incredibly unlikely. In other words, Trump almost certainly will not get his day in court. So far Trump is losing case after case in state courts, and law firms are dropping him.
Who’s Going to Pay for Trump’s Lawsuits
In addition to the normal barriers that courts put on litigants to avoid their dockets being filled with frivolous lawsuits, lawyers’ fees are usually one of the biggest deterrents to litigation. So who is going to pay Trump’s legal fees? Certainly not Trump. We do know that Trump is hoping to con his supporters into donating to his legal case (but in the process they’re mainly just paying off his campaign debt). Now we see that Attorney General Barr is trying to pull in the DOJ to get tax-payer money to cover some of Trump’s fishing expedition. So whenever you hear Trump or his supporters say he is going to fight this, follow the money to see who the real sucker is.
Tax-Payers Have Had to Pay More because Trump is Trump
During Trump’s entire presidency, tax-payers have had to fit the bill for Trump’s constant visits to his golf clubs and resorts (mainly because he didn’t like Camp David or hanging at the dumpy White House). This would not have been the case with any other president. So if putting up with Trump’s fraud claims is about humoring his narcissism and inability to accept losing, then again the tax-payer and the entire government infrastructure is stuck with fitting the bill for an eggshell president.
What’s Trump’s End Game?
Narcissism aside, we are often told that Trump is above all else transactional. Pretend for second that you believe that Trump is a master dealmaker. In that case, Trump’s entire temper-tantrum isn’t because he actually believes there is fraud or has any intention to litigate but rather he is using his concession as leverage. So what would Trump want in exchange for a deal to concede? Maybe state and federal immunity for him and his family? Maybe he is just trying to milk his supporters for money to cover his costs. Maybe it is pure narcissism after all, and he is trying to convince himself that he is not a loser but the greatest victim in American history. The greatest I say!
What’s the GOP’s End Game?
It is undoubtedly clear that Trump will not succeed in altering the final election results in court. It is also clear that Republican Senators who just won will be in office for the next six years and therefore don’t need to pander to Trump anymore. I can then only think of two reasons why an elected Republican congressman would roll with Trump’s cry-baby narrative: (i) Republicans need to rally Trump’s most ardent supporters in order to win the Georgia senatorial run-off and thereby retain their Senate majority, and (ii) there is no new Republican front-runner to take Trump’s place. The ones shouting the loudest are the ones who are contending for that role.
What Happens to the Biden Coalition?
Bide won not be inspiring the Left but by building a coalition of those who could not stand Trump any longer. These included the entire array of Democrats from progressives like AOC and Sanders to right of center Democrats like Biden himself. It also included the Lincoln Project folks, Never Trump Republicans and foreign policy hawks. The success of this coalition also meant that many Republicans who voted for Biden, down ballot voted for Republican congressmen. In other words, Biden’s sweep of the presidential election did not translate into a Democratic sweep of Congress. The younger generation of his party leans progressive but Biden has always leaned right. If Biden sides with Republicans, he’ll lose his party’s base, and if he sides with the progressives he’ll lose the Never Trumpers. When push comes to shove, Biden’s intuition will take him to the right, and no matter how he leans, Mitch McConnell will always push him further to the right. It is just a matter of time before the Democratic party is in chaos.
The Old Man and the Transition
When my eldest son saw Biden on TV a few weeks ago, his reaction was, “that guy is so old”. Biden appears too old to maintain the rigorous schedule of a younger president like Clinton or Obama. I am not convinced he will last the full term. This reminds me of when Pope John Paul II passed away and the Vatican named the elderly Benedict XIII to replace him. Sometimes you need an old person to act as the short-term buffer when the democratic institutions and society cannot handle the need for radical change that the times demands.
Coke vs. Pepsi
On the eve of the election I was watching French television making fun of US politics. One of the jokes was that the American presidential election was between two candidates: one who was right wing and the other who was right wing. At the end of the day our entire political spectrum has been reduced to nothing more than an irrational tribal choice between two groups that are about as different as Coke and Pepsi. And when all is said and done – regardless of trumped up issues like abortion or guns geared to make voters choose a brand – both govern in exactly the same way and for the benefit of the same elite corporate and private interests. This year the difference – which did feel important to me – was that one party was represented by an offensive cartoonish conman with no respect for anyone or anything other than himslef. The other guy really didn’t matter.
Along the lines of what Van Jones said, Trump losing makes it so much easier to sell to our kids that lying, cheating, insulting, calling people childish names, and disrespecting others just doesn’t pay.
UPDATED November 13, 2020:
A TV Gig
In my original post, I stated that Trump being transactional was likely withhold conceding in exchange for something: maybe for immunity from prosecution or simply for his ego. Now that it is absolutely clear that Biden won, Trump has no leverage left. All he can do is try to salvage his winner-persona with his loyal fans. Over the last decade — according to leaks of his tax filings — Trump has only made money from his salary as a TV personality while his real estate ventures have largely been failures. I’m pretty convinced now that Trump’s endgame is a Hannity-like TV show where he can pontificate to his loyal followers and finally rake in some easy cash. Not his own network to compete with Fox, but a talk show where he parlay his victimization-persona to a group of loyal followers.