This was not the vaccine we needed to Trumpism.
Polls, demographics, election results. It did not go as planned.
First of all, congratulations to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their team. It looks like, at the moment of writing, he is on course to become President elect to the United States. That was objective number one, and they should achieve that. For nearly a year they have faced pressure to push and pull in every direction, moving resources from state to state at the behest of the latest questionable poll. To stay their course on a path they believed would be successful takes discipline. Replacing Donald Trump with Joe Biden is, in itself, a massive achievement.
I would extend a similar sentiment to all Democrats down the ballot, including — in fact, emphasising — the role of volunteers. It was not their fault polls were hopelessly optimistic.
However, in the words of Max Boot of the Washington Post, “Trump himself may lose, but Trumpism was hardly repudiated”. Politically, this wasn’t the landslide victory some expected or hoped for; demographically, Trump out-performed any other Republican candidate in history with non-white voters; and financially, mediocre results were eye-wateringly expensive.
The races in Kentucky and South Carolina emphasise this point particularly well. Both Amy McGrath and Jamie Harrison were, at times, looking fairly strong in their albeit underdog campaigns against Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. The result however was the two campaigns raised a combined $200 millions — two hundred million dollars — while losing by a combined 35 points. It was a similar story across the country — Sara Gideon in Maine, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, Steve Bullock in Montana, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina — all outraised their opponents. All lost. When Lindsey Graham said donors “wasted their money”, it is hard to disagree.
Is this going to be what it takes now? Do Democrats have to raise unprecedented levels of money across the country, to give hours and hours of their life, to make millions of phone calls and campaign against a historically inept candidate that itself burnt through one billion dollars, all to scrape out the closest of victories all the while failing to flip the Senate? That is a deeply grim proposition.
Demographically too, for nearly a decade, both sides of the aisle have been sounding the alarm about inherent short-sightedness of Republicans appealing to a demographically dwindling base of white, non-college educated, rural males. What business would alienate emerging markets, while doubling down on one that is shrinking? The Democrat hope of “sit back and wait” has inspired their confidence in places like Texas, Georgia, and Arizona, in a similar way that has made Nevada and New Mexico more solid Democrat.
That is all looking a bit silly now. According to exit polls, “about 11% of African Americans, 31% of Hispanics and 30% of Asian Americans voted for Trump, up 3 percentage points from 2016”. There are tangible impacts to this. Early on election night, Miami Dade become the focus on everyone’s attention, with the result being Democrats lost 10 points from 2016. Going from 63% of the vote to just 53%. The marginal chipping away in places like Sumter and Duval were nothing compared to the bleeding in Miami Dade.
Starr county in Texas as well produced a similarly remarkable result. In 2016, Democrats carried it with nearly 80% of the vote thanks largely to performance in Rio Grande. It now looks like Joe Biden will only win 52% of the county-wide vote. As per the Texas Tribune, Biden achieved only “about half of Hillary Clinton’s 33-point margin” in important counties along the southern border. There is lots of talk about Trump’s base being made up of white, non-college education males — which is perhaps a fair assertion — but it evidently does not reveal the entire picture.
And finally, politically, it was not meant to be this close. I will look at the data later as it emerges in more detail, but in the meantime, it is crystal clear that the polls got it wrong. Historically wrong. Catastrophically wrong. Just one week before election day, an ABC poll in Wisconsin put Biden up 17 points. In reality, he has won by about a single, solitary point.
Warnings about Trump have not been heeded. Whether they are reasonable or not, voters are either not listening or not believing. But this administration downplayed, or at times, outright denied, the existence of COVID-19 that has taken the lives of nearly 250,000 Americans while fundamentally changing the lives of many more. The President himself is dressed in sleaze, with multiple sexual assault allegations to his name. When he is not calling for his opponents to be put in jail, he is lying about their agenda. When he is not paying taxes in the United States, he is paying them to China instead. Yet still, after all this and more, still, the Democrats were not rewarded with a Hoover/McGovern/Mondale style shellacking some thought was justified.
Much of the data needed for a comprehensive autopsy of this election is not available yet, but it does look like fairly clear that Biden will win the Presidency, and the Republicans will maintain control of the Senate. I am pessimistic about what a Biden administration can do without unified government enjoyed by Trump, Obama, and Bush in their first terms. There are results coming in still, but unless something completely unexpected happens, the aforementioned picture looks accurate, and underwhelming.