This one’s for the masochists out there. I know some may view this as a fool’s errand or that these thought experiments are only a source of undue anxiety and nothing more. It’s hard to disagree with those points precisely, but nevertheless, I think it’s important because no matter the outcome of this election, it won’t be like other ones. We won’t have news trickle in throughout the night and then have a winner by the following day. There’s a real possibility that we won’t know for sure until weeks later who won and in that time, anything could happen.
Our closest comparison is Bush v. Gore which happened two decades ago. It would be the understatement of the year to say the political climate was a bit different then as compared to now. Additionally, the internet was barely a thing and social media didn’t exist either. Most didn’t really find out about what happened in Florida until several days later. There wasn’t the exhausting minute-by-minute commentary and playback that we have today.
So first let me outline a few important factors that I think are inevitable no matter what.
1) Trump will claim the election is rigged.
Even if he wins, he will claim the election was rigged as the reason he didn’t win by bigger margins or didn’t win the popular vote or whatever. Let’s be honest he still brings up the 2016 election and that was four years ago. He will claim the election is rigged. In fact, given any typical election, Trump will undoubtedly say it’s rigged. That should be some law of the universe or at the very least a law of politics. We can count on that.
2) It is virtually guaranteed we won’t have a full count until at least a week or two later.
This is typical for “normal” election years as well. The count is never actually finished on election day. What happens is that by using a lot of fancy data and math, media companies and other experts call the election in favor of someone when it becomes in their mind impossible for whoever they didn’t call it for to catch up.
This normal process will be the subject of immense scrutiny this year and, if I have to, I will get down on my hands and knees to beg news agencies and media companies to be arbiters of calm and for the love of God, don’t jump the gun on an election unless you’re sure. It’s incredibly important that the count goes as smoothly as possible, especially when one side in particular is chomping at the bit to cry foul over just about anything.
The same goes for you too, viewers at home. It’s incumbent upon all of us to stay calm and encourage others to do the same as well. The election depends on it. So much of politics is built on perception. Politicians live and die on it. Races are won and lost because of it. Optics is everything.
No jumping the shark. I mean it.
And now, without further ado…
OPTION 1: There are sure-fire indicators on election day and the days following that Joe Biden will win in a landslide, once every vote is counted.
This timeline becomes likely if we see things like Texas and/or Ohio flip blue. I’m talking about states that both swung wildly for Trump in 2016 and have been GOP strongholds for several decades. If the polls carry any weight, this future is possible. Beto has been killing the game getting Texas mobilized for the election combined with the fact that strong Texas Democratic candidates are running up and down the ballot. Joe Biden just dropped several million dollars in ads on the Lone Star State. The fabled myth of a blue Texas is within our grasp. The same goes for Ohio and even Kansas and Iowa. We are slated to make some wins there. The question is only how many seats will we take. Joe Biden is even neck and neck with Trump in Ohio. Something that was previously unheard of for almost any Democratic presidential candidate in recent memory.
The reason these indicators are important though is that we know Trump will claim the election is rigged no matter what. That’s a given. The variable is how many people at least initially take his claim at face value. If Biden comes out swinging looking like he’s about to win Texas or Ohio or has huge in-person vote totals across the state that puts Trump far behind them, then not even the Supreme Court or Mitch McConnell can save him.
OPTION 2: There isn’t a clear swing either way on Election day or in the next couple of days following.
This option is extremely likely for a couple of reasons. The first votes to get counted in a lot of states are the votes cast in person, and research tells us that in-person voting tends to swing Republican. That’s the trend. Additionally, because of the pandemic, the amount of mail-in votes will be astronomic compared to previous years, so there’s even a likelihood that Trump could pull ahead initially and then slowly lose his lead as more mail-in votes get counted.
If this scenario occurs Trump will likely do two things: declare victory as soon as he has even the slightest of leads and then challenge any further count in a variety of states. Now, this plan hinges on the court challenges with the hope that whatever challenges they lob, something will stick and make it through the state courts to the state Supreme Courts and ultimately to the Supreme Court of the United States.
For this strategy to work, Trump needs a few things to work in his favor. He needs specific instances of vote counting in multiple states that can be reliably contested in a court of law. He needs to be able to credibly claim those instances violate the Constitution, and they need the results of the stoppage of a vote count to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
So again, in order for this strategy to work, the vote count needs to be close, the Trump campaign needs to be able to prove how such actions violated the law or the Constitution, and the results need to be enough to swing the election in Trump’s favor. If the vote count isn’t close, then it won’t matter.
And for those worried about whether the Supreme Court will just decide he’s the winner. They can’t. There’s no mechanism for them to blatantly decide a winner, but what they can do is decide on the legality or constitutionality of actions taken by state entities. That’s what it’ll come down to and even then, the Supreme Court — *knock on wood* — will be wary to take any action that could be seen as influencing the election. One can credibly hope that John Roberts and the other Justices have taken the lessons of Bush v. Gore to heart. If not, the legacy of the Roberts Court will be in tatters. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Steven famously wrote in his dissenting opinion on the Bush v. Gore ruling, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
OPTION 3: Option 2 happens. Trump brings the lawsuits. The courts rule in his favor, handing him the victory.
This option sucks, but not enough thinking has been done on this outcome. This could happen. In an ideal situation, Democrats will have taken the Senate even if Trump wins under this scenario, but regardless, Democrats across the country need to know that this scenario is possible.
If this does happen, we can’t stay quiet. We will need the energy of the aftermath of 2016 x 1000 to continue onwards. Cruel policies are flying under the radar every day under this administration and this will only get worse should Trump win again. Giving up or running away isn’t an option.
If I’m honest, I think this option is highly unlikely even if Republicans do confirm Amy Coney Barrett on to the court before election day. I don’t think there’s any world where Trump wins by a landslide. The only chance he has is if it is close, and I already outlined in option 2 why that is a bit of a long shot.
Our job is to make sure it’s not. Trumps’ one strength in 2016 was the fact that he had no record and he was facing an opponent whose record had been maligned for thirty years. Now, the fact that he can’t escape is that he has a record and that voters, who don’t remember anything that happened pre-quarantine, are realizing finally how horrendous and insane he is. They see Trump in charge, people losing their jobs, people dying to COVID, and businesses crumbling.
We can deliver such a blow to Donald Trump and Trumpism that it never comes back. We can fix our broken systems, make our elections more democratic, and our laws more empathetic, but to do all of that we need to win in November. Let’s keep fighting.