Celebrate the Facts!
With 51 days to go until Election Day there are good signals amidst a lot of noise about strategy and potential outcomes. Joe Biden is running out the clock avoiding mistakes while Donald Trump is thrashing to avoid becoming a zombie candidate against formidable obstacles. The Trump campaign, at a cash disadvantage, has curtailed or reduced television advertisements in swing states while ramping up direct appeals for fundraising to recipients in states that are safe for him. As in 2016, Trump has devised a plausible strategy to thread the needle and hold onto power for a second term, but corporate media outlets are slow to catch on.
The predicted outcome, depicted in the Electoral College map above, is derived from polling averages and demographic trends. In this setup, Biden plods to a safe margin of 320 delegates in the Electoral College and prevails in the popular vote 52% to 46%. In this relatively conservative scenario, Biden will flip Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin Democratic on his way to a sound but not resounding victory.
The Trump campaign has doubled down on core themes of white nationalism and law-and-order along with offering promises of a COVID vaccine before the election with plenty of hand-waving about future prosperity starting in 2021. This appears to be a direct appeal to increase enthusiasm and turnout among his base – a key to his 2016 victory – but lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place.
Regardless of claims and promises, Trump faces huge headwinds:
Trump 271 Strategy
Aware of the tremendous odds against reelection, the new Trump campaign strategy involves every effort to obtain wins in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida, which would give him 271 Electoral College votes in the scenario depicted in the above map. Biden would flip Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona from 2016, and still prevail in the popular vote 52% to 46%, but only come up with 267 Electoral College votes.
Evidence this strategy is in effect is present if one looks at the Trump campaign’s visits – he was in Pennsylvania and Florida last week and was in New Hampshire on August 28. Trump’s appearance in Nevada this weekend was a feint – the real purpose of the trip was meeting with big donors at his hotel in Las Vegas for much-needed fundraising.
Trump will continue to focus efforts in Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire with defensive measures in North Carolina. In North Carolina the race appears to be a coin toss so Trump will have to fight hard to retain those votes.
Trump appears to be down in Florida but will attempt to tie Biden to Fidel Castro to enhance turnout in the already conservative Cuban community while appealing to more rural white voters with law-and-order and white nationalist dog whistling. Based on the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election, Republicans appear to be under polled so that race could be tighter than it appears.
Pennsylvania appears to be close also - within 4 points – and Trump will use the law-and-order appeal and paint Biden as a tree-hugging anti-fracker to turn out rural Pennsylvania voters and try to counter Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which will come in overwhelmingly for Biden.
Litigation Plausible Scenario
In this scenario, Trump prevails in Florida and New Hampshire but fails in Pennsylvania and only gains 251 Electoral College votes. Trump then will litigate the Pennsylvania election results, attempting to invalidate mail-in votes and overturn the election, giving him 271 Electoral College votes. To get to the plausible table here Trump will need to be close enough, say within a percentage point, certainly a possible outcome, then shave the Democratic vote by invalidating mail-in ballots.
Anyone doubting Trump’s willingness to litigate virtually anything has not followed his spectacular career in which he has been either plaintiff or defendant in over 3,500 lawsuits, becoming perhaps the most litigious person in the history of the world, although this does not appear to be a Guinness Book of World Records category.
The Trump campaign has already set the plate by filing suit in the Western District of Pennsylvania federal court arguing against mail-in ballots and a wide variety of other matters. Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan put the case on hold until October 5 pending state courts deciding, or at least narrowing, the issues raised by Trump's campaign. Anyone who is under the impression a court cannot decide a Presidential election wasn’t around for Bush v. Gore, a decision of the United States Supreme Court that stopped a recount dispute in Florida's 2000 presidential election and arguably handed George W. Bush that election.
If one state’s results can overturn the results of the election, one can reasonably surmise Trump will litigate in federal court, and that litigation will be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could decline to hear the case, or perhaps find in a clear majority, say 7 to 2, the case was without merit, thereby settling the issue with authority. More than one state in play makes the litigation strategy more problematic so the more resounding the lead in the initial tallies the lower the likelihood for extended discussion.
And of course the unsteady state of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health is a wildcard that should not be discounted. Mitch McConnell would be pleased to seat Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz, both recently floated as Supreme Court nominees by the Donald Trump, to an empty seat, helping out the odds for a possible Trump victory should a case arrive at the Supreme Court.
Donald Trump’s schedule can be accessed at https://factba.se/topic/calendar. Polling information is provided by https://fivethirtyeight.com/ and by https://www.realclearpolitics.com/. Information and graphics on the Electoral College available at https://www.270towin.com/. Information on Trump mail-in voting litigation is provided at https://whyy.org/articles/federal-judge-stays-trump-campaign-lawsuit-over-pennsylvania-voting-rules/. Information on Trump and litigation is presented at https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/attorney-and-author-on-his-portrait-of-donald-trump-through-more-than-3500-lawsuits.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.