Hello my beautiful babies. Tuesday is election day, and it seems like the end of the Trump presidency is nigh. Before we get into the obvious topic, two quick notes:
This story on Trump trying to squash an investigation into the Turkish bank, Halkbank, would normally be a giant, enormous, Shaq-sized big deal. But it came out a week before the election, so it’s getting very little attention. It proves, in a nutshell, that Trump’s complaints about Hunter Biden are mostly projection. Lawfare also has a great explainer here.
There are some great, “Why I’m not voting for Trump,” pieces from conservatives being written. Ramesh Ponnuru, Jay Nordlinger, and Kevin Williamson in National Review all have good reads. I was alerted to these by Jonah Goldberg’s Substack, which is also great. Tom Nichols has an elegy for Never Trump Republicans.
Now, the obvious: Who’s gonna win? The answer is actually almost as obvious as the question: Joe Biden is the heavy, heavy favorite to win the election. We are past the final stretch; Trump is basically out of money; and Biden has a huge lead in the polls. He currently leads by around 8.5 points nationally, which is more than his lead at the beginning of October (8.2 points), but less than his peak lead following the first debate and Trump becoming patient meatball hero for COVID-19 at the White House. Lots of pollsters are releasing their “final polls” of the race, because it is unlikely that things will change substantially from here until Tuesday. So, I wanted to release this issue Sunday evening, as opposed to tomorrow, for two reasons.
First, the New York Times/Siena College released a whole new group of battleground polls on Sunday morning, and all show substantial leads for Biden and it’s important to get those into the forecast. Second, there is a possibility that some polls will come out tomorrow, but there is a heavy chance that those polls feature a process called “herding,” which is what happens when pollsters naturally try to get their polls to sync up with what they expect the election night result to be (Nate Silver talks about the process briefly in this podcast). While polls do tend to tighten as an election gets closer, it’s unclear how much of that is herding and how much of it is genuine tightening.
When you get into the state polling, things do not look much better for Trump. While things are tighter in states like Pennsylvania than they are nationally, Trump is currently trailing in North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. If you simply toss the states where Biden is leading in the averages of all polling results into his column, your map ends up looking like this:
So, I know what you’re thinking: “Weren’t the polls wrong in 2016???” The answer here is somewhat complicated, but while the polls contained an error that does not mean they were wrong. Baked into any poll is a margin of error, i.e., a certain number of points that the poll could be off by. Generally, the larger your sample, the smaller the margin of error, but it’s important to remember that every poll has a potential for an error. In 2016, Trump was one normal polling error away from winning. So, here is what the map looks like this year if Trump gets the same polling error he got in 2016:
I got to talk about this with my close and good friends Adam and Beth Kail on their podcast, which you can listen to here, but ultimately Trump needs the polls to be off by a lot more than they were in 2016 in order to win.
A thing we talked about on the podcast is that most people are unaware that there was also a polling error in 2012; the error just happened to favor Obama. Here’s what the map looks like if the polls are underestimating Biden the same way they underestimated Obama in 2012:
You can see why Biden is in a much better position than Trump (and also Hillary Clinton). Currently, FiveThirtyEight gives Trump about a 10% chance of winning reelection; the Economist gives him a 4% chance; and Decision Desk gives him an 11.3% chance of winning reelection. All in all, Trump is out of time: He is extremely likely to become a one-term president later this week.
However, I think there is one more obvious question: Is Trump going to cheat? Here, I think the answer is actually more obvious than the question: He is already trying to cheat. Just today, one of his campaign advisers was on TV saying that efforts to count absentee and mail-in votes amounted to Democrats trying to “steal” the election. His Campaign and his legal team are in court right now trying to reduce the time allotted to count mail-in ballots. And then there are the truly alarming actions in Texas:
Ultimately, the judge tossed out the request. But Matt Yglesias highlights the primary issue with this story:
To put it in the plainest possible terms: Republicans waited until over 100,000 ballots had been cast via the drive-up voting centers that had already been created by local government and then tried to invalidate them. I think it is important that every conservative, liberal, Biden voter, Trump voter, etc., openly state that this is a horrible act that counters any Republican claim that they are a serious Party (or, at least the local Republican Party in Texas). Every eligible voter should have their vote counted whether they vote for Trump, Joe Biden, or Kanye.
The GOP’s attacks on the democratic process also fall into the category of, “It’s a bold strategy Cotton,” because there is a real possibility that Democrats will have a trifecta in 2021, and with that control comes the ability to essentially wipe out 40 years of conservative gains in the courts (and add two states and likely 3-4 Democrat senators). Progressives have been murmuring about court-packing for a few years, and those cries got louder once McConnell announced he would be replacing RBG, but those cries got loudest when courts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin sided with the GOP to limit the ability to count mail-in ballots.
I think a major test of the “seriousness” that I talked about above will come on election night, when Trump inevitably declares victory before the election has been called. He will also almost certainly not concede to Biden on election night, or possibly even a few days after. So, we will know if the GOP wants to be a part of the future of this great experiment if they tell Trump to be quiet and acknowledge Biden as the winner of the election. And if they don’t, Dems have an even stronger argument to send them back to the Shadow once they gain power.
I am a prayerful person, so I am praying for peace on Tuesday. But I really do think it’s important to say it clearly: The soul of America is on the ballot on election day. If Trump is reelected (and if you think Biden has it in the bag you are wrong) on Tuesday, then the majority of voters will have to cope with the fact that the rest of the country is willing to ignore Trump’s corruption; his cruelty; his incompetence; and his disregard for the American experiment itself, just so they can follow the cult of one man. And as we’ve seen in places like Hungary and Turkey, cults of one man do not play well with liberal democracy.
I am supremely confident that America will still be America if Biden wins. While I think we could possibly be OK if Trump wins, I do not have the same supreme confidence. Pray for peace.