The experts got it wrong again. The pundits, the pollsters and the mainstream media once again assured Americans of the predictable Trump and Republican rout on election day. An inevitable Biden Blue Wave from sea to shining sea looked plausible to those who instinctively know better and who magnified their genius by high tech social media platforms.
Yet, despite giddily exuberant polls predicting massive Democrat party gains on all levels, when the dust began to settle, the Republicans held the Senate, gained at least five seats in the House of Representatives, and added a governor.
The presidency would be tougher to hold, but Donald Trump was probably in his best position in the campaign with vibrant overflow election rallies and late narrowing polls. The president had momentum in most of the swing states and if his rollicking rallies were any indication, he had come within striking distance of winning Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Over the past few weeks, the president brought together 10, 15, and 30 thousand people often on two days notice for his rallies.
Biden, the Democrat leader and ahead comfortably in all the major polls held few rallies and when he did had perhaps 30 to 100 people! But what politician anywhere wishes to speak to a small audience when his opponent corrals 15,000 the same day in the same state?
Enthusiasm on the left was against Trump and perhaps supporting Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, not for Biden. Thus, the Fear Factor of another Trump term remained a very strong Democrat electoral motivator. If Biden won, he did so by who he isn’t, more than who he is.
The richest areas of the country have voted and donated overwhelmingly for the Biden/Harris ticket; Manhattan, Martha’s Vineyard, and Silicon Valley.
Donald Trump’s policies delivered the strongest U.S. economy in a lifetime and record low unemployment levels.
Then as if in a surrealistic nightmare, the pandemic hit forcing an almost overnight economic shutdown, putting the economy into an induced coma, and allowing lockdowns to slam expanding growth.
A fast recovering U.S. economy has happily buoyed most Americans. Back in April when unemployment was pushing 20 percent and GDP growth was in free fall, did anybody seriously believe that six months later we would have stabilized the economy with 33 percent growth and declining unemployment below 7 percent?
But all along the lurking iceberg of COVID threatened to beach or sink the Trump presidency.
Why, because a choice between depressing pandemic lockdowns and reopened optimism and growth divided the nervous electorate.
People are psychologically stunned by COVID and remain fearful even though a game changing vaccine by Pfizer may soon be available.
The swing states on which the election hinged are precisely the electoral battlegrounds where the contest would be decided; Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Clearly huge and commanding Trump leads on election night suddenly seemed to evaporate in the early hours mist as bales of mail in ballots started being counted triggering whipsaw emotions. Most of these votes were cast a month earlier before the Trump electoral momentum.
In some states mail in ballots were as common as the blowing autumn leaves; let’s face it,
widespread mail in balloting opens the door for fraud or at least tampering. Because of the virus, many states allowed the mail in ballot option, presenting a clear advantage for the Democrats.
Most observers expected that all states would not be counted election night but few presumed the problem would extend to five or six states. Ballot integrity remains key to the electoral process; assuring voters their choice counts.
The Trump team has initiated massive litigation and demands recounts. But before the media narrative calls this pure petulance, what would the reaction be if Biden’s lead in five states had suddenly evaporated and the situation was reversed?
As a former senator, Joe Biden knows the Republicans could ironically be his best allies against his own Democrat party’s hyper progressive Left. He would have to govern America, not posture.
Tragically COVID may be the winner here either way. The hidden hand of the Wuhan virus has played havoc with America and the world too. The danger runs very deep and people are scared of the “invisible enemy.” Joe Biden plays well to the fears. He doles out empathy.
If elected, Joe Biden must unite a divided nation, no small task given the polarization on both sides and his narrow margin of victory. He inherits a powerful economy, the goodwill and fairness of the American people and yes, COVID-19.
This is 2020 after all.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).