Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
For anyone who cares about the U.S Constitution, it appears like the ‘nightmare scenario’ is materializing. With results still coming in, Donald Trump is claiming victory. Even Ben Shapiro has decried this as “irresponsible”. The significance of Trump’s statement is not in its legal force; to be perfectly honest, it is quite simply bullshit. Trump has no ongoing litigation, and in any case even if a decision now came down to the Supreme Court the Court (who’s rulings on ballot counting last week have already given Democrats joy) would laugh at the notion that just because you want the election to go a certain way, it must. Its significance is not even in laying the groundwork for contesting the legitimacy of the election; Trump has been doing that for months, and today called the election a “national fraud”. I find it hard to not point out the irony that, after winning two of the last five elections despite losing the popular vote, considering the uproar over the ‘hanging chads’ decision in 2000 and the Merick Garland/Amy Conney Barret contrast, it is a Republican President complaining about democratic deficit and stolen elections.
The significance, however, is that it is the first volley in what will be an intense battle. The hope is that this will be a legal battle. But by losing Florida, Joe Biden has made it a lot easier for Trump to translate his paranoia into the minds of voters. The first step is to claim victory on the night; done. The second is, if Trump loses Pennsylvania or Michigan, to say “Look! Now they are changing the result to stop me”! With a record number of mail in ballots, which tend to favour Democrats, what looks like a “Red Shift” today can become a “Blue Surge” in the coming days. Biden will not concede like Al Gore did in 2000- and nor should he, especially if he is the likely winner. The problem is if Trump convinces his supporters that he is the likely winner neither side will back down. Having told Proud Boys to “Stand By” during the first debate, and having called for an “army” of poll watchers it is more than possible that the ‘President of Law and Order’ will fight his battles on the streets, not in the courthouse.
But Trump was not the only candidate giving a dishonest speech. Joe Biden, urging his supporters to be patient, said that “we knew this was going to go long”. Certainly, everyone knew this was a possibility. Yet Biden and Democrats had dared to hope for a Blue Wave. This national repudiation of Trumpism has not materialized. Biden had multiple paths to the White House. His ‘free shots’ included Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida- states Trump had to win, but Biden could afford to lose. Up and down the ticket, Republicans have performed better than expected- and will probably now hold the Senate, having also made gains in the House.
Biden should still win this election. Indeed, he still has multiple paths to do so; should he win Arizona, where he leads, he can afford to lose another Midwestern state. He is behind in Michigan- but with over 1m ballots from Democrat fortress Detroit to count. He also holds a 0.3% lead at the time of writing in Wisconsin with 97% of the votes already counted (the remaining votes are delayed, farcically, because of a lack of ink). He can afford to lose Pennsylvania and reach 270- Trump, for Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, cannot. But this election is about more than 270; it is about trust in the result, and what comes next. By losing Florida, Biden has opened the door for skepticism to become a conflict. By claiming victory, Trump has walked through the door and trampled mud through the carpet. A battle is probably coming; let us all hope it is a legal one.