Twelve years ago, when the Republican Party nominated John McCain as its presidential candidate, he got less than 46 percent of the popular vote and only 173 Electoral College votes. Whatever happens on Election Day this year, almost no one expects President Trump to do worse than that.
According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight poll-based prediction, we enter the final weekend before Election Day with an 89 percent likelihood that Joe Biden will win. Basically, the odds are 8-to-1 against Trump’s reelection. Yet the president’s supporters are undaunted, recalling that Silver’s final 2016 forecast gave Hillary Clinton a 71 percent chance of being elected and yet Trump beat her in a result that broke the Democrats’ so-called “blue wall” in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Miracles can happen in politics, and Republican voters are praying for another divine intervention next week. Bombarded by a barrage of discouraging news coverage — even Fox News seems to be part of the “Landslide Joe” propaganda team now — the conservative faithful quite desperately seek omens that may portend more hopeful tidings.
Well, there’s this: Four days before the election, Joe Biden today is making a campaign trip to Minnesota, which, as Trump campaign communications chief Tim Murtaugh points out, is “a state that hasn’t gone to a Republican candidate for president since 1972.” Also on Biden’s campaign schedule today are stops in Wisconsin and Iowa. My friend Matt Margolis took a look at the poll data and concluded that the Biden campaign itself clearly doesn’t trust the numbers:
In 2016, the last two polls out of Minnesota had Hillary Clinton up in Minnesota by a healthy margin. The Star Tribune poll had Hillary up 8 points, and the KSTP/SurveyUSA poll had her up 10 points.
She won by 1.5 points, a mere 44,765 votes.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the RCP Average has Joe Biden up a mere 4.7 points, and Trump’s been gaining on him in the past two weeks.
In other words, polls in Minnesota four years ago overstated Democrat support by roughly seven percentage points, an error larger than Biden’s current poll lead over Trump. If polls can be as drastically wrong as they were in 2016, the miracle that Trump supporters are praying for is certainly not out of the question.
These are not the only omens pointing to a potential repeat of the 2016 miracle. Chris Bedford and John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist spent a week traveling through Wisconsin and Michigan, coming away with anecdotal evidence that “Trump’s support here is not reflected in the polls, and he might well win both states.” Having spent a few days in Ohio last week myself, I can testify that the Buckeye State looks rock-solid for Trump, even though the RealClearPolitics average of Ohio polls has the state tied, and Quinnipiac claims Biden is leading by five points there.
Republicans certainly are not alone in doubting the poll numbers. Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore declared flatly on Thursday: “Don’t believe these polls.” In an appearance on the Hill’s morning podcast, Moore said, “the Trump vote is always being undercounted,” because Trump’s supporters are wary of talking to pollsters:
Whatever they’re saying the Biden lead is, cut it in half right now in your head. Cut it in half and now you’re within the four point margin of error….
I wake up every morning with the assumption that Trump believes he’s going to win and that’s good enough for me…. He thinks he’s going to win and I know he’s an evil genius and he’s smarter than all of us.
Talk about living rent-free inside somebody’s head! What Trump did four years ago has rendered many Democrats non compos mentis, gripped by a condition of paranoid psychosis characterized by paroxysms of dread and anxiety. If conservatives are discouraged by the daily drumbeat of anti-Trump news coverage, we at least can enjoy the spectacle of liberals freaking out over the possibility that once again Trump will somehow pull off another 2016 upset.
Before we go any further in the direction of optimism, however, let us pause to consider the worst-case scenario. Suppose that the incessant stream of negative news and the vast blitz of billionaire-funded Democratic campaign advertising proves sufficient to drag Joe Biden’s aging carcass across the finish line. In the past week, four different polls (CNBC, CNN, Reuters, and the Economist) have shown Biden with a double-digit nationwide lead. Overall, the RealClearPolitics poll average Thursday had Biden leading nationally by more than seven points, 51.1 to 43.7. Maybe the polls are wrong, but what if the margin of error isn’t enough to stop Biden from being elected?
No big deal. We lose an election. We’ve lost elections before and survived. What made Trump’s victory in 2016 so important was that, first of all, Hillary Clinton was in effect running for Obama’s third term. Her defeat was not merely due to Clinton’s personal unpopularity, nor to Trump’s celebrity persona, but rather that many voters rejected a continuation of the policy status quo. Trump’s populist “America First” message proved more popular than the so-called “globalist” agenda that had been embraced not only by Democrats but also by an influential element of the Republican Party. What broke the fabled “blue wall” four years ago were blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin who wanted a policy that made their jobs a higher priority than abstract principles of free trade. Bipartisan agreement in Washington in favor NAFTA, GATT, and other multilateral trade deals were never popular with American industrial workers.
If somehow Biden wins next week, it would be the height of folly for him to interpret this result as a referendum in favor of a return to globalism. Thanks to Trump’s victory in 2016, Republicans have glimpsed the possibility of an expanded coalition based on an agenda of economic nationalism. Four years ago, nearly 63 million Americans voted against the globalist status quo, and if even if that core constituency is not enough to win Trump a second term, it would be most unwise for Biden to pursue an agenda that forfeits everything gained by Trump’s policies.
Not that Biden is likely to last four years in the White House, of course. The symptoms of his decline into senescence are impossible to ignore, and you can check the #JoeBidenIsSick hashtag on Twitter if you have overlooked those symptoms. His recent speech in Pennsylvania is so full of slurred words, garbled syntax, and factual errors as to be “disturbing” and “frightening,” as one blogger characterized it. Biden is a man far gone in decline. Let us recall what happened to the Whig Party, which twice in the span of a decade elected presidents (William Henry Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848) who died of natural causes in their first term. Harrison, who was at age 68 the oldest president elected up until that time, fell sick shortly after his inauguration and died barely a month later. What are the chances that Biden, who will soon turn 78, would be a formidable candidate for reelection in 2024, should he survive until then?
What we must realize, then, is that the prospect of a Biden presidency offers great hope for the GOP to rebound quickly from a defeat this year — if, indeed, that is what happens, and maybe it won’t happen at all. But even conservatives who are completely pessimistic about next week’s election are not suggesting civil unrest if Trump loses, whereas Democrats seem to be planning anarchy should Trump win again. “Democrats Won’t Cede the Streets This Time” was the headline on an article in the Atlantic last month, and predictions of post-election “chaos” are everywhere in the media. This is just further evidence of how Trump Derangement Syndrome has driven liberals over the cliff into an abyss of madness.
Having considered the pessimistic option, let us return to the signs of hope. To start with, consider the recent comment by respected pollster Jim Lee, who dismisses as “garbage” the polls showing Biden ahead by double-digit margins. Appearing on WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Lee said he expects a very close election: “I think Pennsylvania clearly is a battleground. I think the election is going to be decided by a very small electoral vote outcome.… If the turnout is going to be what I think, Trump wins it.” Democrats have two big reasons to worry about Pennsylvania, first because of Biden’s recent debate admission that he plans to “transition” (i.e., shut down) the oil industry, and second because of the riots that broke out this week in Philadelphia. Even if most polls show Biden still ahead in Pennsylvania, Trump is still in the game there, and here’s the important takeaway: Trump can lose Pennsylvania and still win the election. Biden? Not so much.
A quick bit of Electoral College arithmetic makes this clear. Suppose that we can ignore the “blue wave” scenario that would tip Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa into the Democrat column. That gets Trump to 203 Electoral College votes. If he can also win North Carolina, that gets him to 218, and winning Florida would get Trump to 247 Electoral College votes – just 23 short of the 270 needed to win a second term. Winning Arizona would put him at 258, and if he could pick off either Wisconsin or Minnesota (10 more Electoral College votes), he would then need just two more electors (from Maine or Nebraska) to reach the magic 270 number, even without Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, or New Hampshire.
A narrow Trump win is therefore entirely feasible, even if pollsters tell us it’s a long shot. But Trump never had much chance of becoming president in the first place, according to the pollsters. What is nearly certain is that Trump will get more votes than did John McCain during the low-ebb year of 2008. So long as he exceeds that dismal performance, Trump is winning no matter what the final outcome. His “America First” agenda has proven far more successful than his critics have been willing to admit, and that agenda must be the future direction of the Republican Party. There can be no return to the pre-Trump status quo ante of bipartisan globalism.
Conservatives should be cheerful, knowing that liberals are living through a nightmare of anxiety over their fears that somehow Trump will beat the odds to win again. Back-to-back miracle victories may seem too much to ask for, but plenty of prayers are being offered for divine intervention, and who knows? Four more days and we’ll see. In the meantime, just tune out the bad news and ignore the polls. As I keep telling friends: Keep calm and vote Trump.