Biden Won. Now What?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because now it's official.
By Daniel Malloy
It’s all over. Apart from the shouting … and the potential constitutional crisis, that is. The Associated Press and major TV networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden on Saturday morning, as mail ballots in Pennsylvania put the state firmly in his column. But President Donald Trump has shown no indication that he will concede. So now what? Your Daily Dose is here to serve.
Concession Speech? Trump’s blazing White House appearance Thursday, in which he hurled baseless assertions of fraud, was reportedly designed to get ahead of Fox News and other outlets formally calling the race for Biden. After Biden pulled ahead Friday morning in Pennsylvania, conservative attorney Jonathan Turley said on Fox News that Trump could have “the greatest moment of his career” by “bringing Americans together, even in a concession speech.” Now, that would be the ultimate 2020 twist, but we’re not betting on it.
The Legal Landscape. Trump has alleged a massive fraud and his team has filed a flurry of lawsuits, but none have yet turned from innuendo to facts that held up in court. Friday afternoon, the president issued a lawyerly statement demanding “full transparency” into vote counts and certification. “We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government,” he said. But the way the counts are going, he’d have to invalidate more than 10,000 ballots in multiple states.
Pressure State Legislatures. He hasn’t gone there yet, but the next phase for Trump could be to formally urge GOP governors and legislators to go against their official ballot totals and appoint Trump electors to the Electoral College, for Congress to certify in January, sparking a constitutional crisis. Chatter on the right picked up on this tack Thursday, and Fox News host Sean Hannity floated the idea to Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said “everything should be on the table.” How would those lawmakers react? Pennsylvania Republicans have already said no dice … or at least they did before the election. In either case, it’s time to read up on Electoral College procedure.
Testy Transition. Trump’s administration will likely try to implement as many policy changes as possible, such as undermining civil service protections for federal employees to hit back against the so-called deep state. He could also destroy documents, in contravention of the Presidential Records Act, to hide anything unseemly and make things harder for a Biden administration. But there is a limit to how much Trump could do, given how the transition is legally controlled largely by career civil servants — not Trump appointees. And then there are always the true wild-card options, like a new military incursion overseas.
Pardon Time. Issuing 11th-hour pardons is a time-honored presidential tradition, with perhaps the most infamous being Bill Clinton pardoning hedge funder Marc Rich of tax evasion after his ex-wife made copious donations to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Trump hasn’t exactly been shy about pardons and commutations, using one for confidant Roger Stone. Steve Bannon or Rudy Giuliani could be up next. Even if people haven’t been charged, Trump can still pardon them, as was the case for the past presidential pardons of Richard Nixon, Vietnam War draft evaders and former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The biggest question here is whether, facing all kinds of legal exposure once he leaves office, Trump would elect to pardon himself — and if it would hold up. Read OZY’s 2017 look at self-pardons.
lessons from past contested elections
2000: Bush v. Gore. This election wasn’t decided by the Supreme Court until Dec. 12, 2000, when it halted Florida’s recount. Democrats believe they would have won the race had they taken a more aggressive tack sooner, and Gore’s early — later retracted — concession to Bush when the networks called Florida cost them. Biden’s team has indicated they have learned these lessons and will have Biden act as the incoming president even as Trump continues with lawsuits or sowing doubt. For more on the 2000 race, check out OZY’s The Campaigns That Made History on HISTORY. Watch Now.
1932: FDR vs. Hoover. This wasn’t a contested election — Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a landslide, with 417 electoral votes — but it gives us a window into a messy transition. President Herbert Hoover steadfastly refused to take any actions to stem the free fall of the economy, doing everything in his power to put the brakes on a New Deal before Roosevelt could take office. In the wake of the political rivals’ noncooperation, the transition period was shortened, and the presidential inauguration was moved from March to January.
1920: The Ocoee Massacre. The worst incident of election violence in U.S. history occurred with a massacre of Black people in the little town of Ocoee, Florida, a century ago. In a special miniseries of OZY’s hit history podcast, Flashback, with guest host Eugene S. Robinson, hear from the descendants of some of the survivors — and explore how the massacre still haunts the country today. Listen Now.
the biden agenda
Joe and Mitch. During the Obama administration, Biden as vice president often found himself negotiating last-minute budget deals with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The two men who served together for decades will now have the most consequential relationship in Washington, assuming McConnell remains majority leader — which would appear to require Republicans to win one of two January runoff elections in Georgia. A GOP Senate means much of the Biden agenda is off the table, so what could get done?
COVID Relief. The first order of business for Biden — assuming a lame-duck Trump and Congress have no interest in striking a deal — will be an economic rescue package. Senate Republicans have shot down the notion of a package topping $1 trillion in recent months, and we’ll see if the economy deteriorates by January, but expect this to be a tortured negotiation not unlike the 2009 stimulus — except that Biden will need to woo substantially more Republicans this time. With both parties eager for more spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure, there may be opportunities to mirror the stimulus in other ways.
Foreign Policy. Biden will be an unusually active foreign policy president, given his long history in international affairs and his pledge to heal ruptures with longtime allies and to rebuild the State Department. Foreign policy is often something presidents turn their attention to after being frustrated by Congress or as a legacy builder in their second term. In Biden’s case, he will likely face a GOP Senate from the jump and is widely expected not to run for reelection — meaning he will have even more reason to leap onto the global stage. Look for him to rejoin the Paris climate accord and try to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal, though it’s unclear whether Tehran has any interest in playing ball at this stage.
the future of polling
How Bad Was It? The easiest punching bag once the results came flowing in was the pollsters, who had almost universally pegged leads for Biden in the key states. The RealClearPolitics average of all polls found Biden about 0.9 percentage points ahead in Florida, while FiveThirtyEight (which weights for quality ratings of pollsters) had Biden ahead by 2.5. He lost by 3.4 points. The same story unfolded from Wisconsin to Ohio to Texas: The polls, particularly so-called gold-standard media polls with live call surveys, underestimated support for Trump. This wasn’t the case everywhere: Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina polls ended up pretty close to the tight results, and as mail ballots stream in, the final results will look a lot closer to the polls than they did on election night. But in all, it appeared at least as big a polling miss as the 2016 election — even if Biden is the overall winner.
What About OZY’s Forecast? Our final numbers, in partnership with the data firm 0ptimus, gave Biden an 88 percent chance of winning, and pegged him at 320 electoral votes. If Biden ends up winning Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, as seems likely, he ends up with 306 electoral votes. Our numbers were further off for the House (where we predicted a small gain for Democrats, but where they will lose several seats) and the Senate (where we predicted a 53-47 Democratic majority, and it appears Dems will need to pull off the unlikely feat of winning both Georgia runoffs to get to 50).
What Has to Change? Pollsters need to do a better job of reaching non-college-educated people, who form the bulk of Trump’s base. Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group, the GOP pollster who predicted Trump to win this time and ended up closer to the final results than many major pollsters, has tried briefer phone calls and surveys where respondents reply via text. A lengthy phone survey “is going to skew toward the very, very conservative and the very, very liberal and the very, very bored,” he said before the election.
Is It Just Trump? An intriguing note: the polls — except in Florida — were pretty spot-on about the 2018 midterms. So this nearly industrywide miss could be a function of not being able to properly gauge Trump’s support.
Should We Stop Trusting Them Altogether? Or perhaps stop believing they’re so precise. Polls come with a margin of error, which works both ways — meaning that a poll showing Biden ahead 50-42 with a 4 percentage point margin of error could also theoretically indicate a tied race if Biden loses 4 points and Trump gains 4. Turnout is also incredibly hard to model: If pollsters’ expectations about who is going to vote is off by just a couple of points, it can skew results even further. And don’t forget that this year’s pandemic made turnout modeling even more difficult, given the historic levels of participation and the surge of mail-in voting.
what would a biden cabinet look like?
Secretary of State. Biden’s global focus means he will have an intense working relationship with his secretary of state and is likely looking for familiarity. Susan Rice, the Obama administration national security adviser and vice presidential contender, is a clear favorite, but former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power might have an easier time getting confirmed in the Republican Senate. Longtime diplomat William Burns, now head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is also a top candidate. Looking for a wild card? How about former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the onetime Foreign Relations Committee chairman who was harshly critical of Trump before leaving the Senate and would be a sign of outreach to Republicans.
Secretary of the Treasury. Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, is considered the front-runner here, a centrist who has made overtures to the left, not unlike Biden himself. Progressives would much prefer Sen. Elizabeth Warren in this role to implement at least a version of the “big structural change” she talked about on the presidential campaign trail. One complicating factor: Massachusetts’ Republican governor would get to appoint Warren’s Senate replacement until a special election could be held, a terrifying thought for the Democrats if the Senate ends up 50-50.
Attorney General. Sally Yates, who famously stood up to Trump’s immigration orders at the beginning of his administration, is seen as the top pick here — and would be another one who disappoints the left, as she was stingy with pardons while serving in the Obama administration. Also in the mix: Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who has an extensive record of civil rights prosecutions and just lost reelection, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, an aggressive litigant against the Trump administration.
Secretary of Defense. Michele Flournoy is widely expected to be tapped for this role, and would be the first woman to hold the defense secretary post. A trailblazing, high-ranking Pentagon official during the Obama administration, she is considered a “liberal realist” — favoring the use of force at times but not excessively interventionist.
Team of Rivals? In addition to Warren, other former presidential hopefuls could also be in the mix. Andrew Yang discussed a possible administration role on The Carlos Watson Show, floating a newly created tech-related post rather than a Cabinet role like commerce secretary. Pete Buttigieg has been discussed for U.N. ambassador.
rising stars to watch
Karen Bass. The knives are out for Nancy Pelosi. After surprise losses in several seats shrank the expected Democratic House majority heading into January, Pelosi got an earful from her members on a conference call. The 80-year-old speaker had pledged to step down by 2022 to secure the necessary votes for the speakership after a challenge two years ago. Now she could face renewed pressure to step aside. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York is often discussed, and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio challenged Pelosi last time. But keep an eye out for Bass, the popular but low-key former speaker of the California House who was on Biden’s vice presidential shortlist, to emerge as a consensus candidate. Watch Bass on The Carlos Watson Show.
Ashley Hinson. As House Republicans made surprising gains, a theme emerged: a rising tide of women. The House GOP caucus will add at least 10 newly elected women to its ranks, bringing it to a historic high. Among them is Hinson, a 37-year-old former TV journalist who notched an upset win over Rep. Abby Finkenauer and comes with ample experience for cable TV hits from the Capitol.
Greg Gianforte. He arrived in Congress with a bang in 2017, pleading guilty to assault for body-slamming a reporter who asked him about health care. But Gianforte was able to move on and rack up a conservative voting record, earning an endorsement from President Trump, and win the Montana governor’s race on Tuesday, picking up the state for Republicans in the only governor’s election to change parties this year. The former tech entrepreneur vows to streamline energy permits and reform the tax code.
- Daniel Malloy, OZY Author Contact Daniel Malloy