If the election were this Tuesday, Joe Biden would win at least 321 electoral votes. Sunday morning I went through every state poll on fivethirtyeight.com and toted them all up. It came out Biden 321, Donald Trump 121. And that was without the six states where the margin based on more than one poll was three points or less—Texas, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, and Alaska. If Trump won them all, he’d still be at a losing 217. If Biden were to win them all, he’d hit 417. No one has topped 400 since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
That’s an interesting year to invoke, because it’s also the last time someone came from this far behind this late to win. Michael Dukakis had a 17-point lead coming out of the Democratic convention that July 18-21. Trump is only 8 points behind.
Still, there’s one huge difference between 1988 and now: This wasn’t nearly so polarized a country then. In that America, it was possible to flip one-fifth of the electorate in the campaign’s closing weeks. In today’s America, it’s a highly debatable proposition that even one-tenth of voters are moveable. That means that Trump will be a desperate man in these next 100 days. I see three ways he might still win. They’re all terrifying.
One: Cops versus protesters. Right now, playing Mr. Law and Order isn’t working for Trump. Polls have consistently shown support for the protests that have been ongoing since the murder of George Floyd. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. People tire of these things. And while the vast majority of protesters are peaceful (you should read Nick Kristof’s weekend piece on Portland if you haven’t), and the cops or troops or whatever they are have been adding to the violence in some instances rather than controlling it, there are always a handful of idiots who hate the man and will play into Trump’s hands. Some windows were smashed in Seattle over the weekend, and a fire set.
Portland and Seattle are far away and it can be hard to get East Coasters to pay serious attention. But what if this spreads to Washington and New York? And gets worse as it spreads? As I wrote last week, there’s no doubt that this is what Trump wants. He’d love for there to be a little antifa action within blocks of the White House or right near Trump Tower.
He’d likely overplay his hand, as he did with his little Bible stunt in Washington last month. He thinks it’s still 1969 and the only real Americans are the hardhats who go beat up the hippies. He doesn’t realize that the hardhats’ share of the electorate has dropped from around 45 percent back then to maybe 33 percent this year. He’s also going to have a hard time tying Biden to street violence, because people know that Biden has been an establishment and strongly pro-cop public figure for 50 years.
Still, an explosive event—the killing of police officers, say, or some totally out-of-control late October rioting—could turn undecided voters (8 percent right now) toward Trump.
Two: Lies and smears. You know about Bill Barr and John Durham, and if you forget about Durham, you should think about him at least twice a week, because he’s bound to hit soon with whatever is it he’s going to announce. I’ve written previously about Barr’s apparent plan to rig the election. Some shoe is going to drop—indictments of John Brennan and James Comey, maybe, who knows.
Simultaneously, we’ve got Ron Johnson of Wisconsin running the Senate probe into Hunter Biden and all things Ukraine-related. He just sent out close to three dozen subpoenas last week. Fortunately for justice, Johnson is almost as dumb as Trump, so there’s a decent chance he’ll bollix this up in one way or another. Unfortunately, Lindsey Graham, though a sniveling coward, is not stupid, and he’s running the Senate’s deep state investigation. Among them, they’re bound to turn up something. Not something legitimately alarming, but something they can distort into sounding nefarious to people who don’t pay much attention.
And let’s just note the corruption here. Never in my lifetime, probably never in our history, have the Department of Justice, so-called, and the United States been so nakedly engaged in using their publicly granted power to elect a presidential candidate. Barr, Johnson, and Graham bring astounding dishonor on themselves and this country.
Three: He rigs the economic numbers. Remember the phrase “Chicago numbers”? It got a little bit of a workout back in 2012, when some conservatives started alleging that Barack Obama’s Labor Department was posting phony jobs numbers to make things look better than they were. Jack Welch tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers…these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”
“Chicago guys,” like that’s a thing. Embarrassing. And of course he had zero evidence because there wasn’t any. But it wasn’t just Welch. Once he said it, all kinds of people picked it up. The next year, a New York Post business columnist claimed that census workers in Philadelphia had doctored some interviews to make the numbers in the run-up to the election look good. The Census Bureau inspector general looked into it and… found zero evidence for the claim.
Trump, however, would order the numbers doctored in a heartbeat. That much is obvious. Whether people would go along is another matter. If there are any firings at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in coming weeks, we’ll know he’s trying to get the honest people out of the way.
So, there you have it, his three possible paths to victory. He’d probably need them all to happen.
I don’t want to jinx anything, and I remind myself that there wasn’t a single day in 2016 when I didn’t think Hillary Clinton was going to win. But Trump’s odds at this point are awfully long. Go back and look at that list of toss-up states in the first paragraph. If Trump is sweating George and Texas, he’s in trouble. Even Arkansas is close! (It was just one poll.)
So no, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But let’s say this: Total and utter repudiation of Trump and the Republican Party is precisely what they deserve and precisely what this country needs to start digging out of the moral gutter Trump and Barr and McConnell and McCarthy and Graham and the rest of them have dragged us into.