Two Days In: Catching Up with the Election, Narratives, & PPFA’s Divinity

All right, ten straight days is probably all you’re getting out of me. I have a real job and, though few believe it, a real wife and kids.

Let’s look at where things stand with Presidential Politics for America’s “Five Headlines of the Day.”

Headline Number 1: PPFA’s Presidential Prognostication is Perfect… Perhaps

You’ll recall my final prediction for the race was Biden 290, Trump 248 in a map that looked like this:

So far so good. Most outlets currently have the race at Biden 253, Trump 214, with no calls from four or five states: Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, and, according to some, Arizona. (Some, like Fox News and the Associated Press, gave Biden an earlyish call on Arizona to bring him to 264, which would make him one state away from victory. I think it was a premature call. Still, although Trump is gaining, I expect Biden to maintain his lead there.)

That makes me at least 45 for 45 on states, 1 for 1 on districts of Columbia, and I even nailed the #Me-2 and #Ne-2. I’m particularly proud of intuiting the results of several states that reflected polling toss-ups and even gave Trump a couple states that suggested Biden leads. (Yes, I’m clearly compensating for having missed Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin four years ago. Deal with it.)

Moving forward, our best bets are North Carolina to Trump (I don’t see nearly enough Democratically favorable ballots out there for Biden) and Nevada to Biden (he has a lead there with mostly Democratic ballots remaining). If Biden does indeed win Arizona and Nevada, he wins the election with 270 electoral votes on the nose.

At that point, all that’s left is Pennsylvania and Georgia, which provide more possible paths to Biden’s victory and, perhaps, some padding on that victory. Of the two races, I feel best about Biden overcoming Trump’s early vote lead in Pennsylvania with so many remaining likely Democratic ballots, which would get Biden to my 290 prediction.

Georgia could go either way, which surprises me. At my midnight update on the night of the election, I had already penciled the state in for President Trump — and the New York Times needle felt good about it, too — but I and the NYT underestimated the Atlanta vote. The needle swung and now gives Biden a 64% chance to take the state, which, with Pennsylvania, would provide Biden 306 electoral votes. Such a total should help thwart litigation from the Trump Campaign, but that’s no certainty.

So, if Georgia goes against me, I suppose maybe my divinity isn’t as pure as I had hoped. More homoiousios than homoousios, if you catch my diphthong.

Headline Number 2: Polling gets a matching black eye

Although it’s a tad early to evaluate the difference between polling and final results — after all, they’ll be counting for weeks in some states, even if they’ve already been called — there does seem to be a narrative that polling was bad again. I reckon Biden’s likely only going to win the popular vote by 4 or 5 points (it’s currently 2.4 and there’s a lot of mail-in and California ballots to count), not the 7.2 points predicted by Real Clear Politics’s average of the polls.

It’s worth noting that 2020 pollsters were wrong in different ways than in 2016. Four years ago, the average of national polls, for example, were wrong only by a point, but state polls in crucial swing states were off by a handful of points, which swung the election. In this election, the national polls were off by more than in 2016, yet still have (likely) correctly predicted the winner nationally and in enough key swing states. It’s hard to know whether to chalk that up as a win for the polling community, but I say they still have some soul-searching to do.

I expect we’ll see a great deal of introspection from pollsters in the coming weeks about why they continue to underestimate Trump’s support. Theories abound, but data is hard to come by when the people we need to hear from don’t pick up their phone.

Headline Number 3: There’s a Reason This Website Isn’t Called Congressional Politics for America

I wrote a lot of words over the last week, so I had a good chance to randomly blurt out some nugget of wisdom on the race for the Senate. That occurred in my Six Days Out post when I said, “Republicans have closed well in tight statewide races, not just in the 2016 presidential but also in the tight 2018 Senate races, where they won seats in Texas, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee despite close polling.” It appears this analysis was prescient, and although it helped me pick many Senate states, I didn’t rely on it enough.

Let’s check in on my final Senate predictions. Green means I got it right, red means I got it wrong, purple means we don’t know yet. Some of these results aren’t official but all signs point to them being official soon.

  • Democrats: 35 seats not up for re-election + 10 safe seats: 45
    • Plus MI, CO, AZ (some confidence) for 48
    • Plus ME and barely NC (low confidence) for 50
  • Republicans: 30 seats not up for re-election + 9 safe seats: 39
    • Plus AL, MS, KY, TX, AK, KS, and SC (some confidence) for 46
    • Plus MT and IA (low confidence) for 48
  • January 5 runoffs: both Georgia elections

So I was right that we’re headed toward a 50-48 result with two runoffs, but my misses in Maine and North Carolina mean I reversed which party had which number. Republicans Susan Collins and Thom Tillis are going back to the Senate. (The first is official, the second almost certain.)

Democrats needed a net gain of three seats for a majority in the Senate, but thus far have only gained one. Their last hope to win control of the chamber is:

  1. Remaining Georgia ballots push Republican David Purdue under 50% and force a run-off with John Ossoff, which will pair it with the Loeffler-Warnock’s runoff to give us the two I was expecting.
  2. Then Democrats would then have to win both of those just to get to 50 seats
  3. And hope the Biden/Harris lead holds up to give them the VP tiebreaker.

It’s a lot to ask and an unlikely result.

Over in the lower chamber, I predicted the Democrats would add a few House seats, but it looks like they’ll lose a few. Still, it’s too early to call. At the very least they’ll maintain their majority.

Headline Number 4: So Many Narratives, So Little Time

Headline Number 5 will get to the most relevant narrative of the day, so let me first just identify some annoying dueling narratives from the punditocracy.

Both start with a premise that is fairly self-evident: the American people delivered mixed messages. We have a likely (but not certain) Democratic victory in the presidential election while the party has likely (but not certainly) lost seats in the House though has maintained its majority while the party gained at least one seat in the Senate but likely (but not certainly) remains in the minority there. In other words, this was certainly not a “blue wave” or “landslide.”

However, though the premises of these narratives are the same, their conclusions are quite different. Those narratives are:

  1. The mixed results of this election show that the country rejects the polls, the media, and the woke left (but I repeat myself).
  2. The mixed results of this election show that establishment Democrats missed an opportunity by not combating a clearly unpopular president with a true progressive that would draw clearer distinctions and activate more voters.

Neither argument is provable, and both face numerous counterarguments. Pushing back on #1:

  • The only contest that was truly national was the presidential election. House and Senate races are contained races in districts and states — and only 35 states for the Senate at that. In the only truly national election, the more left candidate, Democrat Joe Biden, will comfortably win the popular vote and likely the Electoral College. The Republican lost.
  • Though their margins are off, the media and its polls will have been right that he won the popular vote and the Electoral College.
  • This Democratic candidate won more votes than any person in the history of the United States. His popular vote percentage is already north of 50% and will likely break 51%. Since the 1980s, only one other presidential candidate has cleared 51% of the vote.
  • This Democrat, as I have discussed, is not the ambassador of the woke left. His election was not a referendum on the woke left.
  • Democrats will maintain a comfortable majority in the House
  • Democrats gained a seat in the Senate, losing their fluke seat in Alabama but winning two in Colorado and Arizona, and they’re even forcing run-offs in the once ruby red state of Georgia. Meanwhile, the presidential race in the mega state of Texas hadn’t been this close this century.

That’s not some sort of Republican victory or Democratic rebuke by any stretch. Yet, pushing back on #2:

  • That’s crazy.
  • I guess I need more than that. How about: that’s insane.
  • Have I mentioned how well Joe Biden did? It’s clearly not easy for a Democrat to win in the Electoral College. A Democrat has won the popular vote in four of the last five elections but had only two terms in the Oval Office to show for it. Yet Joe Biden has (likely) pulled it off.
  • Meanwhile, Democrats losing House seats and ultimately not gaining control of the Senate does little to suggest the progressive movement fielded better candidates that were popular enough to win primaries and general elections.
  • Therefore, to hypothesize that a more ideological candidate would have won over a decidedly purple country seems like a stretch.

And yet, the worst narrative of them all is still to come…

Headline Number 5: Tempestuous President, Predictable Man

He’s literally now tweet-shouting “STOP THE COUNT!” We knew this was coming. We said this was coming. The President was not going to accept the results of election night. He was going to cry foul. He was going to latch on to any discrepancies pushed by people who want him to win and use them to demand an overturning of the results. We knew this was coming, and he’s doing it.

Regardless, just like in 2016, we have the complainer crowd, and we have the crowd that fire back, “You lost, get over it.” The only difference is who’s on what side. That’s modern American politics for you.

Initially, when he first started burping out his tweets, my plan was to respond to each one in this space and point out where his alternative facts were baseless, flawed, misleading, mischaracterized, outright lies, et cetera.

But then he just. kept. tweeting. As has become the norm of his presidency, he says so much stuff that it’s impossible to respond to all of it.

So I’m just going to pick one. It might be my least favorite tweet of his presidency, and I have a witness that can attest I paused Jeopardy — JEOPARDY! — when I read it for the first time, just so I could calm my heart.

When he “claims victory,” it’s like he wants the American version of the Great Schism, with the people unclear on who to follow.

But that’s not how it works. Watch, I’ll show you.

PPFA hereby claims it has won every state in the country.

Did it work? Am I president now? What if I tweeted it?

This guy is unbelievable. Of course, the problem here isn’t that he’s claiming he won the election or any single state (his son, press secretary, and campaign twitter handle had already tweeted out some bad misinformation: that Trump has won Pennsylvania), it’s that he’s convincing a lot of people there’s a plot afoot, a coup against their dear leader. Far right sources amplify all of these voices and, working in concert, have convinced a lot of people.

Trump hopes to make his case to the courts. It’s not entirely clear what his case may be; so far he’s thrown so much of his own feces against the wall hoping some will stick that it’s now dripping under its own weight and making the room stink. Other gripes from the Trump campaign accuse all sorts of chicanery: dumped ballots, mystery ballots, more votes than voters, and more. Legitimate discrepancies are being examined and are unlikely to hold up.

The President, of course, has a PhD in the dark arts of conspiracy theories, so he’ll push everything he can find. Still, it’d be a weird conspiracy to steal the presidential election but not win a majority in the Senate and lose seats in the House, wouldn’t it? As long as you’re manufacturing ballots, why not manufacture Democratic party-line ballots in North Carolina and Georgia and win up and down the board? “Because then it’d be too obvious”? Please.

Frankly, it doesn’t yet seem like a Constitutional question for the Supreme Court to decide. The Constitution reserves the power to hold and run elections to the states. This year, states passed laws allowing people to vote by mail and drop-boxes, and they would like to count every vote to make sure no one is disenfranchised. State courts have upheld assorted challenges to these laws.

Bush v. Gore is our closest comparison, but it’s a bad one. The Florida Supreme Court had granted a request by the Gore Campaign to recount votes in some heavily Democratic counties. The Bush Campaign appealed to the US Supreme Court, which determined that A) a recount in these counties, which had different methods of voting (remember hanging chads??), would violate the Equal Protections Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment since ballots in some counties would be treated differently than ballots in others, and B) the Florida Supreme Court trampled on Article II, Section 1, which SCOTUS said gave state legislatures, not state courts, the authority to make decisions on elections.

In this election, we’re not even at the recount stage. They’re counting votes for the first time. I doubt a federal court would say stop or throw them out. It’s possible Trump’s lawyers could find a weird situation in a state or two that would trigger the judiciary system, but a whiny President with a Twitter account is no such trigger.

As always, there’s much more beneath the surface here. The President wants them to STOP THE COUNT because mail-in ballots are more Democratic, but with Biden’s lead in Nevada and Arizona, stopping the count now would give Biden both states and the election. More broadly, the President wants to muddy the results beyond recognition. That way, even if he doesn’t get his day in court, or even if he does but that day doesn’t go well for him, he still has one last hope, and his stink-raising is trying to position himself to maximize that last hope.

As you can imagine, his most ardent supporters are gobbling up all the feces he’s throwing. They’re all over the place raising accusations on his behalf and ready to follow his lead. If the President rouses enough rabbles in enough places, these rabbles could begin pressuring their state governments to pick electors that would be favorable to President Trump.

In other words, he might not be angling for a legal reversal but a political one. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution allows states to seat electors of their choosing. Since then, many states have passed laws saying these electors should be tied to the state’s popular vote. But they can also pass laws changing their mind.

So even if the President can’t convince the courts that his BS is legit, all he has to do is convince Republican-held legislatures in states won by Biden that his BS is legit. Those state legislatures answer to the rabble in their next election, so they’ll be under pressure to acquiesce. In other words, just like his impeachment trial was always more a political question than a legal one, so, too, could be the seating of electors.

Do I think that’s where we’ll end up? Do I think we’re headed toward the most egregious moment of American political history since secession? No.

But I wouldn’t take it off the table, either.


2 thoughts on “Two Days In: Catching Up with the Election, Narratives, & PPFA’s Divinity”

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