(Preliminary) Election 2020 post-mortem

It’s probably safe to say our election wholly satisfied no one. For political prognosticators, including amateurs like me, it was frustrating. Based on polling, this had all the hallmarks of a blowout election for Democrats. But it wasn’t. Polling was way off, suggesting that pollsters have to fundamentally rethink polling science. Was it off due to shy Trump voters? The pandemic? Inability to find representative samples of voters simply because most won’t talk to pollsters? We really don’t know and the challenge is made much harder because due to the pandemic exit polls don’t mean much as they predominantly capture view of Trump voters.

Biden looks likely to squeak by with a win. Getting rid of Trump was of course the most important task, and it looks like we’ll succeed there. But we’ll likely not gain the Senate, we lost a few House seats and with a new round of redistricting occurring soon and a deliberately botched census aided and abetted by our courts, Republicans will continue to wield disproportionate power. Republicans marginally improved their hold on state legislatures, which suggests plenty of gerrymandering is in our nation’s future.

Biden’s hope for political comity looks hopelessly unrealistic. With Mitch McConnell expected to retain his title of Majority Leader in the Senate, it’s not hard to see him doubling down on what looked like a winning strategy from this election. He’s likely to stall confirming new judges, and any Supreme Court vacancy is likely to be deferred yet again. McConnell never reaches for the center and always plays the hardest game of political hardball. It’s not hard to see him unilaterally refusing to even bring up for a vote in the Senate any cabinet and agency nominations insufficiently centrist. His base will love him for it.

It’s all quite bleak, unfortunately. The best we can say is that we avoided the disaster of a second Trump term, and the likely authoritarian state that would have resulted. We haven’t saved democracy or our republic but at least the election did not end it. It’s quite clear that perhaps a plurality of Americans is quite happy to remain divided and maybe prefer an authoritarian system of government.

And most of a Biden agenda is likely out of the window too. Public option? Forget about it, along with repealing those huge tax cuts for millionaires. Biden’s power amounts to controlling foreign policy and issuing a lot of executive orders, mostly to repeal those that Trump ordered. If you like government gridlock, more of the same is on the agenda.

Still, there are sprigs of new life out there. America is bluing, just very slowly. If Biden retains his slim lead in Georgia, that’s one southern state that Republicans can no longer count on, two if you consider Arizona a southern state, which Biden looks likely to carry. In addition, Arizona should have two Democratic senators. That seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. It is slowly getting harder for Republicans to retain an Electoral College advantage. But so much depends on who gets nominated.

Trump looks likely to be defeated and at least so far it appears that the Supreme Court won’t overturn the election and that civil unrest resulting from his loss will be minimal. Trump looks despondent and may be coming to accept his loss. It is likely he will want to give it another try in 2024, but it’s unclear if he will be able to. I still expect him to flee the country before Biden takes over. There are too many civil and criminal cases coming his way to risk staying in the country.

So, I’m not happy with the election and most Americans probably aren’t as well. Republican senators though can be reasonably happy. Keeping Trump in the White House was unlikely, their majority will likely be narrowed to a single seat in the Senate, but they are hardly out of the game. Still, they cling to the tiniest majority in the Senate. Any sudden retirement or death in their conference can upset their apple cart.

It’s unlikely, but still possible that Democrats may ultimately control the chamber. Jon Ossoff now seems likely to have a runoff against David Purdue. In Georgia’s second senate seat, Raphael Warnock won a plurality of votes, meaning that seat could flip too in early January. So, a tied Senate and two new Democratic senators in Georgia is not impossible, but unlikely. This would give the Vice President effective control for Democrats. In general, things have been breaking Democrats way as mail in and absentee votes get counted, often by the slimmest margins.

So not much hope, but there is still a slim possibility that Democrats can make some hay from all of this before the next Congress seats.