The 2020 Election: What We've Learned So Far
On Saturday news networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. As the vote count continued to grow in Pennsylvania and Nevada, Biden crested the 270 necessary votes, even as Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina are still too close to call. In the evening, Biden and Harris claimed victory and addressed the nation, calling for unity and healing. But the election isn’t over yet. The president has not conceded the race, and while reports have circled that the Trump administration is moving on, he has pledged to continue investigating the results.
As several states are still counting ballots, it’s important to remember the process of certifying the results. Although the AP has called the election over the past 150 years, the election will not be officially over until the state secretaries of state certify their counts, the electoral college meets and votes, and the US House of Representatives certifies the election.
Predictably, the uncertainty and unorthodox delays in the vote-counting have led to confusion and skepticism surrounding the final outcome. Fox News called Arizona early on Tuesday evening, which signaled trouble for Trump, but refused to call Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and several other states a larger Trump lead with more votes counting. The major confusion came in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the president had sizable leads Tuesday night and narrow deficits Wednesday morning.
Trump supporters have been justifiably enraged as vote-counters have mysteriously stopped working, delayed reporting, and fixed egregious errors. Many of these irregularities will be addressed in the courts in the coming weeks. Pennsylvania poses the most acute problem and the Trump campaign looks poised to take the issue of late ballots to the Supreme Court.
Despite all of this, it does look like Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. President Trump is rightfully pursuing court battles, recounts, and investigations in key states. As a nation, we’ve got to figure out our elections. Every legal vote must be counted. It cannot be that in the United States of America we run our elections like a third-world country, where transparent voting procedures are replaced by ballot dumps in the middle of the night. The process should be consistent and reliable, transparent and fair, well-documented, and constitutional. This is not too much to ask and the president is rightfully pursuing many of these goals.
Secondly, in an age of changing norms, we must remember that one of the most sacred freedoms we have is the ability to vote for our leaders and the peaceful transition of power. The Trump campaign was not afforded a fair or charitable transition. They were surveilled, accused, and smeared in the media and in government agencies. It’s going to be ironic and aggravating in the coming weeks to hear calls for the president to accept the results of the election from a group of people who have spent the last four years rejecting the results of the previous election.
But the way to fix this problem is not to return the favor but to bring the truth to light. The best way to respond to a Biden presidency will be with all of the maturity and charity that was missing after the 2016 election. The legal battles are necessary and may end up changing the outcome. However, in the meantime, and if Joe Biden is the next president of the United States then our duties as citizens haven’t changed. This goes against Trump’s nature, but it will be a gift to the nation in the long run.
What should we make of the election thus far? Over the coming months, and especially the next four years, the lessons of the 2020 election will become more obvious, but some interesting trends are starting to emerge.
First, the election was far closer than many predicted. The American people defied the pollsters again, and it’s hard to see the results as anything but a referendum on the media and polling industry. Pollster personalities like Nate Silver have raced to defend their records, but it’s unlikely that many people trust polling again in presidential elections. On an even deeper level, pollsters should be held accountable for errors that amount to election interference and voter suppression. The week before the election, a Washington Post-ABC poll had Biden up 17% in Wisconsin.
Second, the make-up of the Republican Party is changing. Although I find Niall Ferguson’s arguments about populism convincing and don’t expect this particular wave to continue, there are elements of Trumpism that are here to stay. Class, not race, is the major divide in American politics. Donald Trump won a more diverse group of voters than any GOP candidate in 20 years. This is what Oren Cass has called the new “multi-ethnic, working-class conservatism.”
While Joe Biden won back the “blue wall” in the rust belt, many of the changes that propelled Trump to victory in 2016 are here to stay. Working-class and minority voters embraced Trump’s “America First” plan, his stance on immigration, and his renegotiation of American foreign policy. In Texas, Dems lost a landslide of Latino voters to Trump. A good portion of the economic gains under President Trump’s expansion and deregulation plan went to lower-income and blue-collar workers. Christopher Caldwell argues that populism is stronger than it looks.
Third, the American people rejected the far left. Voters may embrace the left on a national scale, but they don’t want socialists and leftists running their own governments, and they don’t like identity politics. In the 11 2020 governor races, Republicans added Montana, bringing the total up to 27 states. The GOP flipped both houses of the NH legislature and have unified control of the governorship and both houses in 24 states, compared to the Dems’ 15, and 11 divided states. Groups like the Lincoln Project who campaigned to remove down-ballot Republicans came up short on almost every count.
Joe Biden has made it clear he too rejects many of the tenets of the far left. While his selection of Kamala Harris as his VP undermines these claims, it does look like he will distance himself from Warren’s economic policies and calls to defund the police. However, he’s especially vulnerable to the far left Green New Deal and the Paris Climate Accord, critical race theory and implicit bias training, and late-term abortions. He’s made some initial forays toward the middle. He added Cindy McCain to his transition advisory board and there has been some speculation that with a Republican Senate he will appoint centrists to his cabinet, maybe including one of the Republicans who campaigned for him. Any of these moves toward the center would be opposed by the left side of the party, but it will be a reminder that the Democrats only won what they did by appealing to the center.
Looking to the Future
The attention of the nation now shifts to Georgia where two runoffs could determine the leadership of the Senate for the next two years. As it stands now, the Senate is a 48-48 tie with four races left. Two of those are expected to go to the GOP, but the two other races, Georgia runoffs are going to be the focus between now and the first of the year. Republicans need to win at least one of those races to keep control of the Senate since a tie would be decided by VP Harris. This leaves little room for the GOP with Romney, Collins, and Murkowski having a propensity to break with the party.
Sitting Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue both face Democratic opponents in a vote on Jan. 5. Georgia has become the microcosm of the political realignment taking place in the south. The presidential race is still undecided there, but however it goes, it will be an emotional victory for Democrats. Flipping a Senate seat would be a decisive victory.
In the meantime, McConnell will continue confirming judicial appointees in the Senate and Pelosi is expected to push for stimulus with the Senate and the White House.
On the Trump Side
If Biden and Harris hang on through the court battles and recounts, Trump will have 70 days to finish out his term in the White House. Presidents in the past have pushed through preferential executive orders, made appointments, and granted pardons. Trump will almost surely do every one of these things, including and maybe especially appointing special investigators, firing and replacing key agency heads, and pardoning friends and former members of his administration.
On the Biden Side
In the meantime, Biden is busy cementing his claim on the presidency. Having declared victory on Saturday night, it will be very difficult for the media and the country to accept a reversal. His campaign team is beginning work on the transition, he’s appointed a coronavirus task force, and begun work on filling his cabinet.
He’s also signaled some of the actions he may take on his first day in office. These include rolling back most of the president’s executive orders, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, reopening the relationship with Iran and removing sanctions, rejoining the WHO, ending border wall funding, and strengthening the ACA.