llustrations by Hannah Robinson
Donald Trump is in trouble. He may have recovered from COVID-19, but his campaign is riddled with disease. Trump trails in some national polls by double digits. Worse still, Biden leads in 10 of the 11 swing states– a lead which is growing in seven, including in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The Economist gave Democrats a 2/3 chance of flipping the Senate blue in September. Trump’s subsequent hospital stay has not helped him either; desperate to make the election about anything other than the virus, nothing but the virus was the focus of news cycles for a week- something which favours Democrats.
So, is the race over? Many urge caution- whilst Biden’s lead has widened since the first debate, lots of Americans have already voted. Then again, Trump is so far behind that he needs to close the gap- fast. For veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Trump needs two very strong performances in the last debates- one of which Trump has already refused to do. Put it this way, even with widespread voter suppression efforts, I see no reason to change my mind; 4 months ago, I wrote that Trump was set for a one term presidency. Now, I am almost certain he will not legally win the election.
The problem for the Democrats, is that Trump might not necessarily want to. He wants to remain President, of that there is no doubt- but he might see his best hope of doing so lying in a refusal to give up power. It has been widely publicised that Trump has refused to promise a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. Both sides see this election as life or death; whichever candidate loses, there will be riots and protests. This suits Trump; Democrats are fractured on issues of law and order and race. Trump is very clear where he stands, so much so that he was tried to make the election about law and order. Edward Luce writes that this is ineffective because protests have died down and antifa is “not playing the suburbia-threatening role it has been allotted”.
But what if it did? What if, as is likely, Trump loses the election and then trashes the result? What if, as is possible, delays in postal ballots mean that where Trump is the winner of some states on the night, he loses them when the Electoral College goes to vote on December 14th, the date of the ‘real’ US election? With Trump refusing to leave despite having lost, and with it remaining unclear whether the Supreme Court and elected Republicans would back Trump or Democracy, any protests (“RIOTS” to Trump), would turn focus from the pandemic to Law and Order- and onto Trump’s ground. The US has had electoral crises before; the election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877 facilitated segregation. This coming one might lead to widespread violence in a country paralyzed with internal division.
What will happen is unknowable- but it keeps me up at night to speculate about which of another American Civil War or a Trump win on November 3rd is more likely (at the moment, my money is on a series of violent episodes followed by Republicans removing Trump). Watch this space, because absolutely nothing is off the cards if Trump loses.