The “Long Sustained Electoral Scream” Roundtable

WE ARE SCREAMING and also speculating and also giving you special insight from a very, very special guest.


Ok folks, last call. How are we feeling, what do we predict, how much whiskey are we going to drink (I am going to mix it with cider okay).


I have the novel Luster arriving today in the mail, and I started a free 7 day trial of HBO. These are my coping mechanisms. Perhaps I will also make cookies.


Going to butter myself up so I am too slippery for the National Guard to catch.


How fun it is to have absolutely no idea what is going to happen!

I am wondering if/hoping this will be slightly like January after Suleiman’s assassination, where everyone was convinced Trump would take the United States to war with Iran, but events didn’t actually stack up that way and Trump dropped the whole thing. If Biden can go up to a commanding lead early, then it may be difficult for Trump to outright steal the election. Ultimately Trump’s got the courts, but there has to be a procedural excuse for invoking them—of course the GOP can easily invent one, but if nothing super obvious presents itself, they may decide to go the simpler anti-president, popular-opposition-figure route. Republicans aren’t going to give up power easily, but on the other hand the Democrats are so weak, it may be easy enough to undermine and try for a Tea Party-like resurgence in two years, followed by a tilt at the presidency in four.

Or, Trump could just suspend what scraps of democracy we have left, and dare the Democrats to do anything about it. Who knows! Many things are possible. All I know is I keep thinking about Stephen Miller’s immigration plans for a second term and feeling ill.


In terms of whether this election will contain shenanigans that wildly diverge from previous elections—I am not convinced that that will happen, although it’s totally possible that it could. In some sense, I think the (utterly plausible) worst case scenario is that Trump wins fair and square and then feels emboldened by the renewed public mandate to do worse shit.


I think there’s an extremely small chance that Trump (and maybe more importantly, the cops and paramilitaries that support him) accept any counting of the votes that doesn’t result in a GOP win. A big margin for Biden—who might be the single least-inspiring “resistance” figure short of like, a sickly Bourbon princeling—can be very easily dismissed by claims of box-stuffing, fake ballots, cloned voters, or whatever other type of fraud Republicans can imagine.

When it comes to the courts, I think there’s a presumption that Trump would “need to have a case” for them to hand him a victory. But the courts at multiple levels have been so stuffed with Republicans that all he really needs is the facade of a case—one that might not pass muster with plugged-in politics junkies, but wouldn’t look completely dictatorial when splashed across the front page of a newspaper.

Which is why the media’s role is going to be so important over the coming days. Whatever people see on TV, in the paper, etc., is going to have a huge impact on how they react to what’s unfolding. If you think about the mainstream media’s tendency to treat politics as a sport, you might come to the conclusion that they’ll treat Nov. 3 like the Super Bowl—i.e. a game that ends at a set time, just as it has in the past. But this particular “game” is probably going to have overtimes that stretch on for days or even weeks. On one hand this means the media won’t get the big decisive closure to their election coverage (so they might be tempted to manufacture it, especially Fox). On the other hand, a couple weeks of people nervously glued to their TV screens could be a 9/11-esque bump in ratings, which would give the media an incentive to preach patience even as they stoke massive anxiety in their viewers. Trump will almost certainly try to use TV as a bullhorn to shout I WON/I WAS ROBBED at some point, and how networks handle this is going to have a huge impact on how ordinary people react.


We’re off to a good start, Trump is posting a video of himself dancing to the YMCA as his final message to the voters. 

The one thing that gives me a little bit of hope is that Trump does not really seem to have found a message or argument for himself. I suppose “Joe Biden is a radical socialist” is something he’s managed to get some people to believe, a friend of mine ran into a voter convinced Joe Biden is a cannibal, but it’s so obviously untrue that I am not sure how well it can succeed.

There are some alarming numbers (more people think they’re better off now than four years ago than thought so in 2004 or 2012, somehow, tighter polls in PA and FL than anyone should be comfortable with) so who knows how this will go. I am cautiously optimistic, Trump has seemed a bit desperate.

I do think Nick is completely right about the press having an incentive to create a dragged out fight over Trump’s imaginary claim to victory, which is alarming. But I don’t even want to think about that until we’re there.


I can’t remember who it was, unfortunately, but someone on Twitter pointed out that one of Trump’s failures has been to define Joe Biden consistently. Is Biden a radical socialist or part of the do-nothing, corrupt, business-as-usual Dems? One of the reasons Trump managed to beat Clinton is that he successfully defined her and the media ran with the narrative (and there was enough truth to it to make it stick).


Yeah Trump’s attacks on Clinton over Iraq and Wall Street really worked because they were impossible to contradict. But how are people who just watched a year of Joe Biden fighting to save the Democrats from Bernie supposed to think Joe is now Bernie? It’s totally incoherent.


At Current Affairs, we are much more in the feelings-and-speculation game, but <<my wife voice>> MY HUSBAND happens to be very knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of national electoral politics. So please welcome John, who 1) is potentially the best human being alive 2) will treat you to a brief guide on what to look for tonight as the numbers roll in.


Before I get started, can I just say this is the very first time I’ve contributed to Current Affairs?

During the early hours of this evening our focus should probably be on Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Not necessarily because these will be the three most important states (looking at you, Pennsylvania) but because these are the most likely swing states that should have some relatively definite early results.

We’re also very likely going to read some truly terrifying stuff about them. Like this from Nate Silver:

On the surface that isn’t great! Woe to the Democrat whose candidacy depends on Florida. But it’s actually not that bad. Let’s simplify things and basically say that all three contests are tossups (Biden is actually favored narrowly in all three). That means that Trump would need to essentially win three coin flips just for the chance to win a fourth. Now, of course it’s likely that polling errors in 1 of those states will be correlated with the others, but that’s still an uphill climb.

However, should these states come in for Trump or be inconclusive, then the next contest we should focus on is Arizona, another state that is accustomed to mail-in voting and should process results quickly.

Two more things: don’t be surprised if Trump is WAY out ahead in the early Pennsylvania tallies. If you’re reading this then presumably you know all about the electoral shenanigans their state legislature has been up to this year vis-a-vis the delay in counting mail-in ballots.

Also, as ever, give not a whit of your attention to exit polls. Just grab a beer, turn on the TV at 7, and come what may. Either the high-quality polls this cycle are right and we can breathe a sigh of relief before hating the Biden administration for four years, or they’re historically wrong, in which case…we’re gonna need a lot more beer.

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