A friend asked this morning what my take is on the continuing 2020 presidential election. Since answering the question forced me to get down to brass tacks, I figured I’d share these two conclusions:
1) Error and fraud happen in every election, so there are always individual incidents on which partisans whose candidate is behind can seize to suggest the whole process was illegitimate. With intensive media coverage, these incidents can be made to look like a bigger deal than they may actually be. The question always is: Did they really make a difference? So far, there is scant hard evidence of anything that made a difference — just generalized complaining about the dangers of mass mail-in voting, which I share, but which don’t prove systemic fraud in any state, much less in all the contested states. (Note: Our editorial points out, while the late computation tide is against the president in Pennsylvania and Georgia, it has favored him in Arizona.)
2) Trump supporters never like being reminded that it was a statistical miracle that the president won in 2016. I supported the president in the election and have supported him through his term when I thought he was right or was being unfairly maligned. But I have always tried to remind Trump supporters of how unlikely his presidency was; their retort has been to talk nonsense about the president’s “landslide victory” in the Electoral College — obviously, they prefer that metric because he comes out ahead, but in reality, it is in the bottom fifth of Electoral College victory margins in U.S. history.
To cut to the chase, in 2016, against the worst candidate the Democrats have fielded in modern history, Trump won with only 46 percent of the vote in what was essentially a two-way race, losing the popular vote by 3 million, even though Mrs. Clinton also fell short of a majority (48%). Out of close to 140 million votes cast nationally, if just 75,000 votes in five counties across three states had gone the other way, Trump would have lost.
This time around, without having much expanded his base (even allowing for admirable gains among Hispanic and African-American voters), with his notable accomplishments struggling for attention against his incandescent flaws, and with the bad luck of a once-in-a-century pandemic, Trump had to run against a slightly less bad candidate. While it’s not over yet, he is thus looking at a slightly less good result . . . under circumstances where he needed pretty much the same result.