Tuesday, November 10, 2020

At the finish line, sort of

Saturday morning marked a perfect storm for the climax of the endless Presidential campaign. The actual voting had taken place on Tuesday, but a number of issues (mail voting, close state elections, etc.) delayed the announcement of an outcome until Saturday - even if the outcome was apparent by then. 

I was in the shower when my wife yelled out the news - "Pennsylvania had been decided." I finished my business and headed to the television for confirmation. Sure enough, the analysts had decided that Joe Biden had done enough to claim victory. 

The news came at exactly the right time for an unprecedented celebration, mostly because of the timing. Usually we find out the identity of the next President around midnight on a Tuesday at the earliest. This time, there was an entire Saturday afternoon in front of us, with nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures in the Northeast waiting. So the news reports soon switched to scenes from big cities, where there was literally dancing in the streets. I can't remember anything like it in the political scene. Note: It is not a good sign about your public standing when people react to your upcoming unemployment by acting as if we had just finished World War III.

One such scene came in Washington, as the White House soon was surrounded with celebrants. One person, perhaps Puerto Rican, symbolically threw a roll of toilet paper over the fence and on to the lawn, and thus completing a circle. Speaking of that, Lafayette Square was again full of people. The last time that area was in the news, it was because the authorities in June had kicked peaceful protesters out of the area with gas and riot sticks in order for President Donald Trump to walk a block to a church for a bizarre photo opportunity. Perhaps some of those same protesters were back five-plus months later to celebrate Trump's loss. It was a case of payback, American style.

World reaction followed suit. While reports that fireworks in London and bell-ringing in Paris were used to mark the outcome have been mostly discredited, they did fit the story line. More to the point was the language used by political figures. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted it out nicely - "Welcome back America!" - as if she anticipated America's return to full status in the world community again. Maybe the system of alliances that has worked so well since World War II is ready for a comeback.

Since then, Biden has made a couple of speeches about the moment as he prepares to take over the executive branch of the government. Trump, meanwhile, has refused to concede because of alleged corruption in the voting process. We should have seen this coming, since he warned us about it in the campaign - raising the question, "How did he know ahead of time?".  He made similar claims during the campaign of 2016 - remember the story of people getting bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally for Hillary Clinton? - only to file them away when he actually won the election. 

These claims have produced some comic moments. The highlight came when Rudy Giuliani gave a news conference about some alleged problems in Philadelphia not at the Four Seasons Hotel, but at Four Seasons Model Landscaping in an industrial part of that city. This led to predictable but hysterical comments about "Lawn and Order" and "Make America Rake Again."  People with my sense of humor will be driving by the place for a quick photo for years to come.

There has been very little evidence backing Trump and Co. up on this. Still, Republicans for the most part have refused to accept Biden's almost inevitable victory. (On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said, "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” which probably won't age well even if he was trying to be funny.) Perhaps all of them have forgotten just how difficult it is to fix an entire state election result. Biden is leading by five figures in four of the battleground states. Someone could fudge a handful of votes here and there, but to coordinate an effort in that many places would be more than daunting. Election counting in this country isn't exactly designed to handle a very, very tight decision smoothly - look at Florida in 2000 - but most of the time, especially when there are a large number of votes, we come up with the correct winner. 

We can only guess at the reasons why so many are not accepting the inevitable result. Trump no doubt is smarting over this loss to Biden, and will take a look at running in 2024 - even if he'll be 78. If he wants to run again, he'll have to keep his supporters fired up and believing that he'll be back to make up for this injustice. Yes, the risk is that our faith in free and fair elections - one of the bedrock principles of a democracy - may be damaged in that process, but Trump hasn't paid attention to such issues in the past. Maybe Grover Cleveland used such a technique to win non-consecutive terms, even without a Twitter account. However, I'm sure his rallies weren't as well attended.

The legal defense fund led by Trump for the fraud investigation is interesting for the fact that the money mostly will go to Trump's Political Action Committee and the Republican party. Maybe Trump can throw himself rallies for four years to keep himself occupied and relevant. On the other hand, he is facing nine figures in personal debt as well as some serious legal troubles in the  future. Can he pardon himself before January 20? It's an interesting legal question, since even Biden is unlikely to be as generous as Gerald Ford was when it comes to transgressions by a Presidential predecessor. 

There are a couple of points about all of this that have been overlooked. Let's face it - Trump probably should have been reelected this year. His path to victory as of February appeared to be pretty clear. All he had to do was address the nation and say, "Put on a mask." Trump knew the dangers involved in the Covid-19 virus, based on the taped conversation with Bob Woodward. Instead, he played down the threat ... and then doubled down on his actions when he criticized those who took precautions in various forms. Trump didn't change his message as the virus came roaring back in the fall, even as thousands who had connections to his mostly maskless rallies became carriers and hundreds of those people died. "Come to my rally and risk your life" is never a good look. Trump couldn't even keep the White House safe from Covid-19. That approach to reelection might have been a tipping point, thanks in part to media reports that kept the death toll fresh on our minds. A large majority of those 230,000 deaths could have been avoided, which hardly seems like a good talking point. 

Meanwhile, Biden finally has reached the White House after years of trying. In one sense, a difficult job awaits him. Even if Democrats claim the Senate through run-off elections in Georgia, the margin will be very tiny and it will be difficult to get much of substance passed. Trump had two years of having the House and Senate in his favor, and his only piece of major legislation was a tax cut that made rich people richer and gave the economy a small and perhaps unnecessary boost. Senate leader Mitch McConnell can't wait to figure out a way to block the next Supreme Court judge nomination - whenever it is. The progressive wing of the Democratic party will figure it deserves a bit of a reward for its role in the election result, but some of their ideas will be difficult to sell to the rest of the legislators and the public. That could lead to some good-sized arguments if Biden doesn't run in 2024. Joe was about the only person who could do bring the coalition together, and the challenge will be to make sure it holds. 

As for the Republicans, they'll start searching for a way to win the Presidency the next time. Leaving Trump out of the picture for a moment, there will be those who think they can follow Trump's act by simply repackaging his policies slightly but putting more of a smile with it. That will be a tough balancing act. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Lindsay Graham and even Pompeo may be anxious to try. Mike Pence could be on that list, but he may simply head back to Indiana to follow Dan Quayle's trip into Hoosier obscurity and life as an historical footnote. 

In the meantime, maybe Biden's position isn't so bad after all.  The first several months will feature the tasks of the distribution of a vaccine and the restoration of the economy to full power. That's not an easy job, but it probably will have bipartisan support. But Biden may become a success simply by cutting down on the chaos. You probably can make up your own list of easily obtainable goals. At the top of the list: Don't lie to the American people. In other words, run the government with honest and quiet efficiency.

As John Lennon once said, "We're only trying to get us some peace." That would be enough for many of us.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)