Joshua Holland

Rudy's Keystone Coup would be hilarious if it weren't tearing the country apart

ABC reports that Rudy Giuliani and Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis are attempting to pull off a crackpot coup d'etat within Donald Trump's crackpot coup d'etat. (An observer on Twitter called it a "coupducken.")

As President Donald Trump's legal efforts challenging the election results continue to hit dead ends, his campaign and legal teams have descended into chaos behind the scenes as many brace for the end of the post-election fight, multiple sources tell ABC News.

Over the weekend, Giuliani and his own team of lawyers, which also includes Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, attempted what was described to ABC News as an internal campaign "coup"— an attempt to wrestle power away from the current longstanding Trump campaign leadership by claiming the president had given them full control moving forward, multiple sources said.

Giuliani's team has taken over office space in the Trump campaign's Arlington, Virginia, headquarters and Ellis, who White House aides have previously expressed concern about, began telling Trump campaign staffers they now report to her.

Ellis told the remaining campaign staff that they should only follow orders from people named "Rudy or Jenna" and to ignore any other directives from campaign leadership, sources familiar with the episode said.

The directive sparked outrage from senior campaign aides including Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller, sources said.

The attempted power grab hit a boiling point on Saturday when Miller, who's been the campaign's chief strategist for months, and Ellis got into what sources said was a "screaming match" in front of other staffers. They both threatened to call the president to settle who he wanted to be in charge, sources said. At one point, Miller berated Ellis and called her "crazy," multiple sources said.

This is a very odd time for anyone who is alarmed and appalled by Trump's relentless attempts to undermine the results of the election and also has a sense of humor.

On the one hand, a number of polls his week have found that a clear majority of Republicans believe Trump's outlandish claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread but unspecified fraud. The GOP is not only assailing our democratic institutions, they're also preemptively delegitimizing Joe Biden's presidency and teeing up a new, more conspiratorial tea party movement. Angry Trumpers rampaged through the nation's capital last week, assaulting counter-protesters. A terrorist plot to shoot up a ballot processing center was foiled just in the nick of time. Georgia's Republican Secretary of State is getting death threats from people within his own party. And Republican elected officials are urging GOP-run state legislatures to disenfranchise their own voters and send Trump Electors to the Electoral College despite Biden winning their states. None of this is remotely funny.

But at the same time, Rudy Giuliani--and the few remaining lawyers willing to work with him--have provided some of the most side-splitting comic relief since Joe Pesci's character in Lethal Weapon. There are a few Hollywood writers gifted enough to come up with that press conference in the parking lot of Four Seasons Seasons Total Landscaping but situating it between a crematorium and a skeevy sex shop was such a deft touch.

Crossover episodes usually seem forced, but bringing Borat into this mess may have been the best mashup since the classic two-part pairing of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

And then Rudy got into a courtroom as an attorney for the first time in three decades and it...did not go well.

Throughout the five-hour hearing in federal court in Williamsport, Pa., Giuliani — a former U.S. attorney and mayor of New York — came under heavy criticism from opposing counsel and appeared unable to answer several questions from [U.S. District Judge Matthew] Brann about legal technicalities.
Brann asked what standard of review he should apply in the case. "I think the normal one," Giuliani replied.
"Maybe I don't understand what you mean by strict scrutiny," Giuliani said at another point.

At a different moment, Giuliani said: "I'm not quite sure what 'opacity' means. It probably means you can see."

The judge responded: "It means you can't."

After arguing that Democrats had perpetrated one of the greatest crimes in history--a case of "widespread nationwide voter fraud" and "an egregious violation, a planned violation"--Rudy was "unable to provide evidence of any fraud, and said later under questioning from Brann that the lawsuit did not allege fraud as a matter of law and that 'this is not a fraud case.'"

Rudy was compelled to beclown himself after a number of white shoe law firms bailed on the effort. It should come as little surprise with lawyering of this quality that the Trump campaign has filed 26 lawsuits and seen all but one laughed out of court.

Again, it's an odd time. We know this hamfisted coup attempt is failing spectacularly, its perpetrators are comical and yet they are laying siege to this 230-year-old democracy. For four years, I have tried without much success to popularize a portmanteau, "hilarifying," to describe the simultaneously hilarious and terrifying crackpot authoritarianism that has marked the Trump era, and this has been a perfect example.

Did Democrats really 'underperform' down-ballot?

The conventional wisdom often coalesces quickly around under examined assumptions, and once it does it can be tough to dislodge. At present, pretty much everyone across the political spectrum shares the belief that Democrats under-performed in House and state legislative races, taking some of the shine off of their victory over Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, but is that really true?

It's certainly the case that they fell far short of expectations, but the problem is that those expectations were mostly shaped by polling, and we know that the polling--especially at the congressional district level--was very, very far off this year. At present, progressives and moderates are trading recriminations based on the assumption that their party failed in some demonstrable way, but if the polling was way off, maybe they performed as well as they should have given the circumstances.

In a normal election, this would be an answerable question. The key context here is that 2020 followed a huge "blue wave" in 2018. Dems netted 40 House seats and over 300 seats in state legislatures, many of which were highly competitive or even Republican-leaning. That provided lots of low-hanging fruit for Republicans, who enjoyed record-setting turnout like their Democratic counterparts. There was clearly some ticket-splitting, with disaffected Republicans voting for Biden at the top of the ticket and GOP candidates further down. We know the incumbent had a 44.6 percent approval rating in FiveThirtyEight's average on the day of the election, the challenger was viewed favorably by about the same number who viewed him unfavorably and that a majority of Americans said they were better off prior to the election than they were four years ago. In theory, one could plug these data into a model without the flawed head-to-head polls and come up with some estimate of what should have been expected in these circumstances.

But that wouldn't work for 2020 because there really wasn't any historical precedent for this election. The 1918 pandemic was over by the spring of 1920. We've never had a figure like Donald Trump occupying the White House. And his approval ratings were uniquely over the course of his presidency, seemingly insulated from events. This has always been a problem for numbers-crunchers and pundits alike this cycle.

One likely explanation for the polls being so far off is that 2020 saw the greatest turnout in the past 120 years, and pollsters' likely voter models didn't reflect that degree of enthusiasm on both sides. Biden led Trump by around 8.5 points in FiveThirtyEight's final polling average, and he is currently ahead in the popular vote by fewer than three percentage points. That margin will grow to maybe four or five points as the rest of the ballots are tallied, and I suspect that Democrats probably fared as well as they might have been expected to against an incumbent who trailed by four or five points in the national polls with a majority saying they were better off than they had been four years earlier.

This is not to suggest that the consequences of Democrats falling short of the expectations set by those lofty polls aren't disastrous. They are. But the finger-pointing probably isn't justified, nor is the narrative that they "lost" the election. It's hard to imagine that Biden's outreach to Republicans or activists' calls to defund the police had much impact on this race, given the unique circumstances in which it was run.

The one decision that one could second-guess would be Democrats' decision to limit canvassing because of the Coronavirus. In hindsight, that looks like a mistake. But in the end, the pandemic, like the faulty polling, was something beyond the party's control.

The GOP's formula for destruction is back in play — here's how Democrats can beat it

The broad contours of the next two years of American politics are pretty clear. They're going to suck for the left. And things could get worse after that. But there is hope.

The GOP's nonsensical claims that widespread voter fraud denied Trump a second term represent Birtherism 2.0. They can't claim that a white guy from Scranton who's been a prominent figure in DC for the past 40 years was born in Kenya, but for the 86 percent of Trump voters who believe that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election, the effect is the same. This belief will animate the next, more extreme iteration of the tea party movement. In fact, some of the Republican operatives organizing these "stop the steal" protests are veterans of that Astroturf campaign.

If Democrats manage the difficult task of sweeping runoff elections for two Georgia Senate seats in January, they will be constrained by the filibuster. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already signaled that he would not support eliminating it. Others would no doubt join him if they weren't the deciding vote.

If, as is likely, Republicans hold onto the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will follow the playbook he developed during the Obama years, refusing to bring bills with bipartisan support to the floor and blockading Biden's judicial nominees. Either way, requiring 60 votes to pass legislature will be the norm.

Given that the pandemic is now completely out of control, McConnell would probably have no choice but to negotiate a bipartisan Covid relief and economic stimulus package, assuming one doesn't pass before the inauguration. Aside from that, Democrats would only be able to make progress through executive actions and during "fiscal cliff" negotiations over must-pass bills to keep the government operating or avoid a debt default. If Dems manage to win control of the Senate, they would also be able to do certain things--like rolling back the Trump tax cuts--through budget reconciliation, which can't be filibustered.

The executive branch wields a lot of power, and with control of the House, Democrats would be able to achieve smaller parts of their agenda. And competent government will be like a breath of fresh air after the past four years. But the party's base wants them to govern. They want a new voting rights act and an expansion of public healthcare and aggressive climate legislation, among other priorities. None of that will be possible, and Democrats--especially progressives--will find themselves frustrated.

This is the formula Republicans developed during Obama's presidency: Demoralize the Democratic base while firing theirs up with a steady stream of disinformation about the administration. With the Democrats' typical decline in turnout for the midterms, the GOP will try to deliver the kind of electoral shellacking in 2022 that they achieved in 2010.

Because they did well in state legislative races this year, Republicans will also have an opportunity to redraw congressional maps in a bunch of states and strengthen the gerrymanders they put in place after the 2010 Census. If the GOP can hold the Senate and claw back control of the House, 2023 and 2024 will be even more disheartening.

But that bleak outcome isn't a foregone conclusion. Dems could govern if they start organizing now, keep their base engaged and break that cycle of turning out for presidential elections and then sitting out the midterms. They have a good Senate map in 2022, and if they ended up with 52 or 53 Senate seats, after two more years of relentless Republican obstruction, they would almost certainly have the votes to kill the filibuster.

There is one reason to think this may be possible: Donald J. Trump. First, because Trump has driven huge Democratic turnout in the 2018 midterms, the 2020 election and in off-year contests in 2017 and 2019. Voting tends to be habit-forming. And whether or not Trump is serious about declaring that he intends to run in 2024, he will remain a loud, obnoxious presence in American politics. It's possible that by remaining the clear leader of the Republican Party, he will help Democrats remain engaged, while at least some of the irregular Republican voters he turned out will stay home if he isn't on the ballot himself. There is reason to be hopeful.

But while the feeling of relief that most Americans are feeling after delivering a defeat to Donald Trump was nice, it will be short-lived. It was a major battle in a longer war. The next engagement will be in Georgia, and then the (broad) left must start organizing for 2022. Thanks to the many veto-points built into our system, progress is never easy.

We're witnessing the birth of a dangerous new strain in the right-wing movement

Donald Trump has a lottery ticket's chance of overturning Joe Biden's decisive victory in the 2020 election. There's no evidence of fraud that would hold up in a court of law. Biden's margins are beyond what might be reversed in recounts. And while the Constitution gives states the power to determine how their electors are selected, all states have laws on their books awarding them to the popular vote winner (aside from a few congressional districts in Nebraska and Maine).

Given that Trump is using these bogus claims of a stolen election to shake down his followers in order to pay off campaign debt and fund his new PAC, some have questioned how dangerous his refusal to accept the results really is. Perhaps he's working toward acceptance, or keeping his base engaged for two upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of the chamber next year. According to reports, many elected Republicans who back his silly claims are only doing so to humor him, and to avoid the wrath of his cult-like supporters, and privately acknowledged that the election is over. "What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?" one senior Republican official told The Washington Post. "No one seriously thinks the results will change."

But this is ultimately a distinction without a difference. The GOP is delegitimizing the Biden presidency so they can launch a new, meaner and more conspiratorial Tea Party movement. Republican operatives, including some veterans of the first Tea Party groups, are behind the "stop the steal" protests now underway across the country. A new poll conducted by YouGov for The Economist found that 86 percent of Trump voters believe that Biden did not win the election fairly, and a plurality of all voters said they thought there was enough voter fraud to swing the results of the race.

Meanwhile, Trump has decapitated the senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon and much of the intelligence community and replaced them with Trump loyalists, many of whom are conspiratorial nutjobs. We don't know towards what end, but it is a brazenly authoritarian move that's inconsistent with the idea that he's just trying to keep donors' dollars flowing.

By following Trump's lead, Republicans are guaranteeing that Joe Biden will be dogged by a new sort of Birther movement. Whether intentionally or not, they are encouraging more political violence from the far-right. They're making the country ungovernable, and that is effectively a soft coup.

Here are 3 key reasons Democrats were caught off guard in 2020 (and why all the finger-pointing is wrong)

It will take some time before all of the votes are counted, the last races are called and we have a granular view of what happened up and down the ballot in the 2020 election. We know Democrats won by a significant margin at the top of the ticket, while underperforming expectations in House races and state legislative contests.

There are three likely reasons for this that should be fairly obvious. First, since the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump set the tone for his party by insisting that the media and Democrats were exaggerating the severity of the crisis in order to hurt him politically, and urged Americans to reopen businesses and schools and act as if these are normal times. The impact of that strategic choice has been catastrophic, but it most likely benefited Republicans in one specific way: They had a robust ground game, knocking on tens of millions of doors while Democrats relied on virtual canvassing and limited personal contacts. That disparity didn't matter much for the top of the ticket in an election that was always going to be a referendum on Trump, but many voters don't know much about their local races and those conversations with canvassers can be key to getting them engaged further down the ballot.

Second, this was a very high-turnout election for both sides, and it followed a massive Democratic wave in 2018. Democrats netted 40 house seats and 309 state legislative seats during the midterms, which left them defending a significant number of purple or reddish seats with freshmen lawmakers. That provided a lot of pickup opportunities for Republicans. As of this writing, most of the half-dozen House seats they have so far flipped were in exactly these kinds of districts. If Biden had won the national popular vote by 8 points, as the polling averages suggested, Dems probably would have expanded their margin in the House and done well in those state legislative races. In the end, he'll probably end up winning it by 4 or 5 points so some of those low-hanging fruit were bound to fall.

Finally, while Never-Trump Republicans didn't materialize in the kinds of numbers that would have given Dems a landslide, there were major campaigns to get them to support Biden. It doesn't take a huge number of disaffected Republicans voting for Biden--or for a third party or write-in--while voting for Republicans for Congress and in state legislative races to create the kind of split between Biden's performance and that of candidates further down the ballot that's emerging now.

And as Eric Levitz argued, Biden probably was denied that 8-point win at least in part because the CARES Act pumped tons of money into the economy--with $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefits and $1,200 stimulus checks going to millions of households--and as a result, a majority of Americans thought they were better off financially than they were four years ago.

I'm fairly confident that this analysis will hold up well as we get more detailed data, but it is deeply problematic in the sense that it means that those down-ballot results weren't the fault of wild-eyed leftists, the neoliberal Democratic establishment or anyone in between. That poses a problem for a certain contingent of very online people who have set their factional differences aside for the past six months to beat Trump and are now itching for a fight. And it's a big problem for outlets like The Hill, Axios and Politico that leverage intra-coalition tensions on both the left and the right for scoops and web-traffic.

So Abigail Spanberger, a vulnerable Democrat who narrowly held onto her seat and has a penchant for punching left, blasted the progressive wing, blaming a GOP attack ad accusing her of wanting to defund the police for her close win and angrily condemning some on the left for identifying as socialists. Whatever one thinks of these rhetorical issues, the fact is that Democrats did not run on defunding the police--that is an ask made by activists--and Republicans have been calling even the most centrist Democrats "socialists" for as long as anyone can remember. As I wrote last week, the conservative disinformation machine is a problem for leftists, liberals and centrists alike.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez fired back, arguing that the Democratic Party lacks "core competencies" when it comes to organizing and running campaigns, and tended to blame progressives for their own ineptitude. I'm sympathetic to these arguments but they elide the party's real problems--gerrymandered districts, a malapportioned Senate and an opposition that embraces pernicious conspiracy theories and has worked hard to insulate itself from democratic accountability by suppressing votes and packing the courts.

Others jumped at rumors that Joe Biden might appoint various Republicans to his cabinet, and revived old grievances about the Biden campaign reaching out to Republicans and stiff-arming progressives.

Meanwhile, just as in 2018, as more votes are counted and more races are called, it's starting to look like Democrats' down-ballot losses won't be as bad as they appeared at first blush.

Intra-party debates can be salutary. But in this case, Democrats and progressives' enthusiasm for forming a circular firing squad appears to be blinding them to the fairly clear factors that led them to underperform relative to the top of their tiocket.

Gloomy Democrats could be headed for a blowout victory

At The Daily Beast, Molly Jong-Fast writes about feeling discontent about her party's likely defeat of Donald Trump. "Liberals like myself wanted a decisive victory against Trump," she writes. "We wanted to show the rest of the world that America wasn't a country of racist idiots. We wanted to strike a blow against the stupidity. We wanted to send a message that Trumpism was a fluke, that we were Obama's America, not Trump's. But Trumpism was not repudiated."

This feeling is understandable. For weeks, we heard talk of 400-Electoral College vote blowouts and debated whether we should expand the courts and add new states. Those were heady days, and a sense of let-down was inevitable as we anxiously watch the votes come in. Sometimes, a decent movie comes out with so much hype surrounding it that when you finally get around to seeing it you think it sucks.

But I'm reminded of the days following the 2018 midterms, when early returns suggested that the Democrats had barely eked out a win. As one Pennsylvania newspaper described it a week later, "a highly-anticipated Democratic Blue Wave trickled ashore, disappointing everyone." It took a couple more weeks before we knew that the Democrats had in fact won by the biggest margin in a midterm election in US history.

This year, we won't get the historic, Reagan-vs-Mondale landslide that many of us had hoped for. We're way too polarized for that at this point. Dems will lose a handful of House seats, in part because that 2018 wave brought them a number of wins in reddish districts that were ripe for the GOP to flip back. They disappointed in state legislative races as well.

But if a thorough repudiation of Donald Trump is the standard, then things are looking pretty good as of this writing. Nate Silver projects that Joe Biden will win the popular vote by a margin of around seven million. He's held all of the states Clinton won four years ago and has so far flipped at least three states that Trump won in 2016 (Fox News and the Associated Press have called a fourth, Arizona, for Biden while other media organizations have it as too close to call). Biden looks very likely to win Pennsylvania, looks good in Georgia and is holding a small lead in Nevada, which is counting slowly. If he holds on to win all of those states where he's favored and manages to eke out a win in North Carolina, where Trump holds a lead, he'll end up at 321 Electoral College votes. Without North Carolina, he'd end up at 306.

And let me pause here to just emphasize that at this moment, it looks very good for a Democrat in Arizona and Georgia. Arizona has gone for Democrats in one election (1996) since 1952; Georgia has voted Democratic three times since 1964, but two of those wins were for a Jimmy Carter, a Georgia peanut farmer.

And while Mitch McConnell is likely to be the Senate Majority leader when the next Congress is sworn in, which would be a nightmare, that body is still in play. In the deep-red state of Alabama, Republicans ran a dopey college football coach who wasn't a sexual predator and easily won back Sen. Doug Jones's seat as expected. But Democrats flipped seats in Colorado and Arizona and North Carolina is too close to call. At present, it looks likely that both Georgia seats will head for a runoff on January 5--twin contests that would no doubt be flooded with cash and activism. That would be a heavy lift, but perhaps fresh off of flipping the state and with Trump still in office throwing temper tantrums but not on the ballot himself, Dems would have a slight advantage. Their candidates are both strong.

The necessary caveats here are obvious. Things could go Trump's way in a couple of the uncalled states. His team is flooding the zone with lawsuits. Republicans could easily hold Democrats to picking up just one net seat in the Senate. But if conservatives, who believe they're always winning when they aren't being cheated, were in liberals' position, they'd be elated.

Democratic infighting over a tight race is missing the biggest problems in 2020

As of this writing, Joe Biden appears to be on track to become the 46th President of the United States, but the resounding rejection of Trump and Trumpism that many had hoped for didn't materialize. The Democrats underperformed expectations even more in down-ballot races.

Even in victory, one of the most predictable outcomes has come to pass: the fragile unity that held together the factions of the Democratic coalition for the past year has been broken. The left is blaming Democrats for nominating a moderate, for their messaging and their ground game. They claim that the party moved to the right to appeal to disaffected Republicans that ultimately proved ephemeral at the cost of revving up their base. Moderates blame the left for identifying as socialists--arguing that it hurt the party among Florida Hispanics--for mocking the "wine moms" of "the resistance" and echoing conservative narratives that paint the Democrats as a party of out-of-touch elitists who have abandoned the working class. Both camps have other grievances as well.

While there may be a kernel of truth to some of these arguments, I don't want to engage in that debate now because it just elides our real problems.

The first is the Electoral College and a malapportioned Senate. We have known with near-certainty since the beginning of this race that Joe Biden would win millions of more votes than Donald Trump, and that has come to pass. The Senate is still technically in play, but the most likely result will be that Democrats fall a seat or two short of making Mitch McConnell Minority leader. And those Democratic Senators in the minority will have won millions of more votes than the Republican Senate caucus.

But the more serious problem for centrists, liberals and the left is the right's sprawling disinformation complex. Fox News, America's top-rated cable network, is the jewel of the crown, but Sinclair Broadcasting dominates local TV markets, OANN and conservative talk-radio is even more unhinged and right-wing websites proliferate like mushrooms after a rainfall. Facebook's gameable algorithms result in Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino and other far-right talking-heads having the most widely-shared content on the platform almost every day.

Racism and partisanship are a helluva drug, but those who get their information from these sources are also fed an alternative view of reality day in and day out. As a result, tens of millions of Americans (mostly white Americans) believe that hordes of antifa are burning down American cities on behalf of a Democratic Party that advocates Venezuela-style socialism (even when they nominate a well-known moderate like Joe Biden), abortion on demand until moments before birth and wants to repeal the Second Amendment and abolish Christmas. They think the center-left Democrats want to tax them to death--working people, not the wealthy--regulate businesses out of existence and criminalize non-conformity. During elections, they disseminate a gusher of outrageous lies and doctored images and videos too voluminous for fact-checkers to even hope to keep up with.

I have long advocated for the Democratic Party to move left because I believe that progressive policies deliver material benefits to working people, but I have no illusions that embracing a superior agenda--whether that means tacking to the left or to the center--or simply honing their messages can overcome this.

It is difficult to see a solution. Everything but fighting words is protected speech. There is a lot more progressive media infrastructure today than when I got into this business a couple of years after the 2000 election, but a massive asymmetry remains. Conservatives, convinced that the legacy media are hopelessly biased against them, have invested untold dollars in media over several decades.

We can get some satisfaction at pointing fingers at each other--and intra-coalition debates are certainly necessary--but the real barriers to progress aren't a creation of either moderates or the left.

The most stressful election of our lifetime

The 2020 election has proven to be the stress-test for American democracy that we expected. Donald Trump has been a historically unpopular president. According to FiveThirtyEight, the approval rating of every president since Eisenhower sank underwater—with more people disapproving of their job in office than approving—at some point in their first term, but Trump was the only one in modern history to do so within his first three weeks in office. The next fastest to hit that mark was Bill Clinton in his fifth month. Clinton rebounded and enjoyed positive ratings for most of his presidency. Trump remained around ten points underwater throughout his first term.

But partisanship is a powerful force, and he closed that gap by several points in the final days of the race. There is some evidence that late-deciders may have broken for him as they did in 2016, although they were fewer in number. And what matters is who votes, and whose votes are counted. Biden may have enjoyed the largest, most stable lead of any challenger in the modern polling era, but as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, we still don't have a winner.

As of this writing, Trump is overperforming his poll numbers, and doing better than expected among Hispanic voters. Biden is doing significantly better among educated suburban whites than Hillary Clinton did four years ago. As a result, both candidates have a couple of paths to victory. The election probably won't be decided for days.

The resounding rejection of Trump and his movement that many Democrats had hoped for won't come to pass. The maps people shared on social media with Biden winning a 400-Electoral College blowout proved to be wishful thinking. It appears that Trump juiced both bases' turnout numbers.

But the numbers crunchers warned us that we might see a "red mirage" on Election Night, with Trump jumping out to a lead that then shifts toward Democrats as tens of millions of absentee ballots are counted. The crucial Rust Belt states that propelled Trump to victory last time—Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin—all report Election Day ballots first, and then tally mail ballots.

Trump's plan to eke out another term despite being historically unpopular has been clear for some time. He demonized mail-in balloting so Republicans would be less likely to rely on it. His hand-picked Post Master general bogged down the mail, causing ballots to arrive late. And a herd of Republican lawyers will challenge late ballots, and any ballots collected via special accommodations for the pandemic. Late Tuesday night, Pennsylvania Republicans filed a lawsuit seeking to stop election officials from "curing" deficient ballots.

Democrats made a concerted effort to get their voters to send in their absentee ballots early. While Republicans painted a dark picture of roving gangs of antifa destroying the suburbs during their convention, Democrats devoted quite a bit of time to explaining the importance of voting early. The mechanics of voting has been a central focus of their communications strategy since. After Republicans successfully sued to have so-called "naked ballots"—absentees that weren't enclosed in a security envelope--rejected in the crucial swing-state of Pennsylvania, left-leaning celebrities stripped down to the buff in a series of videos explaining how to avoid the problem. Democrats were encouraged to read instructions and follow them carefully.

They appear to have had some success. In Florida, at least, Democratic voters were more likely than their Republican counterparts to return mail ballots early. As Nate Silver noted, Democrats had a 23-point advantage in absentee ballots that arrived before October 31, but a 7-point lead in those that arrived in the final days before the election.

Voters crossed their Ts. The New York Times reported that "with many voters casting their first absentee ballots, experts feared a wave of disqualifying mistakes," but "with absentee ballots flooding election offices nationwide, the officials processing them are tentatively reporting some surprising news: The share of ballots being rejected because of flawed signatures and other errors appears lower — sometimes much lower — than in the past."

The press has been all over the Postal Service, cataloguing complaints from letter carriers, tracking backlogs and reporting on sorting machines being taken out of service. Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu and Hakeem Jeffries warned Post Master General Louis DeJoy that it's a felony "to intentionally slow the mail to affect a federal election" and asking the FBI to investigate his actions.

On Tuesday, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the postal service to sweep all mail processing facilities in trouble areas of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arizona to "ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery." DeJoy violated the order, but according to reports, the Postal Service, under pressure, did scramble to deliver as many votes as possible. (A hearing about DeJoy's failure to heed the order is scheduled for Wednesday.)

We don't know if that was enough. We also don't know if Trump will declare victory. But as we wait for the counts to be completed, we can expect every possible vote to be litigated. Both sides have assembled large legal teams, and may fight it out for several days, or longer.

So now we wait. In a country racked with illness and economic pain and divided like it hasn't been since the Civil War, this may or may not be the most important election of our lifetimes, but it is certainly the most stressful.

Five ways that Trump could transform American democracy for the better (seriously)

Donald Trump has more than fulfilled one campaign promise: Throughout his presidency, he has been the disruptive force he said he would be in 2016.

For the most part, we focus on the ways that his chaotic presidency has undermined American democracy by running roughshod over the norms that made it work, more or less, for over 200 years. He's politicized the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, violated the Emoluments Clause and The Hatch Act with impunity and showed unprecedented contempt for Congressional oversight of the executive branch.

One plausible result is that Trump's authoritarianism--and white nationalism--will be embraced by his entire party, the remaining moderates will flee and the GOP will become even more reactionary. With a judiciary packed with partisan judges and a media apparatus providing their base an endless supply of bogeymen to battle, Republicans could abandon even the pretense of competing in a democracy. The left might react in kind, and the country could be ripped apart. It's a dark possibility--one of several.

But there are other, more hopeful outcomes that might follow the kind of shock to the political system that we've seen over the past four years. Here are a few potential unintended consequences of Trump's rise to power that might be beneficial over the long run.

Voting is a habit

In 2018, half of all eligible voters voted in the midterms. That may not sound like much, but it was the highest turnout rate for a non-presidential election since 1914. Turnout also surged for the off-year elections in 2017 and 2019, and that surge favored Democrats.

We are presently on pace to shatter the modern record for turnout in a presidential election, surpassing the 64 percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in 1960.

According to New York Times/ Siena College polling, huge numbers of people who didn't vote in 2016 are voting this year in key swing states, and they're leaning toward Biden by significant margins. (The numbers are such that they aren't just young people coming of voting age.)

Perhaps if Biden wins, these erstwhile non-voters will once again stay home. But studies show that voting is habit-forming--participating in one election increases one's likelihood of doing so in subsequent contests. And win or lose, Trump and his movement aren't going anywhere.

Research has also found that non-voters tended to skew younger and more diverse than the voting population, and hold more left-leaning views about the economy and the role of government.

If, in the future, turnout of over 60 percent becomes the norm rather than the exception, it could very well transform our politics.

New conventional wisdom about voter suppression could emerge

The conventional wisdom about how politics works matters a lot.

After achieving almost presidential-year turnout in the 2018 midterms despite relentless GOP efforts to suppress the vote in communities that skew Democratic, some analysts looked at people of color braving hours-long line to vote and concluded that blatant voter suppression might result in a backlash by pissing off voters and motivating them to jump through whatever hoops are necessary to cast their ballots.

That was the case during the Wisconsin primaries, when Republicans went all the way to the Supreme Court to block mail-in balloting during a pandemic, and were rewarded with massive Democratic turnout that won them a state Supreme Court seat.

This year, GOP efforts to suppress the vote are even more brazen. If the conventional wisdom coalesces around the idea that trying to win by keeping the other side from participating leads them to turn out in force, that would be a powerful incentive to at least moderate those efforts in the future.

A new coalition against minority rule?

The Democratic coalition has long been divided by differences over policy and strategy. Trump has been a unifying force in this regard, and at present, all of the factions of the broad left are working toward a common goal of defeating him and his movement.

That won't last long past the election; soon, we will once again be engaged in heated debates over policy and messaging and all the rest.

But thanks to Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans, there are some early signs of an emerging coalition of progressives and moderates pushing to kill the filibuster, expand the courts and possibly add new states to the union.

As Ezra Klein noted on Twitter last week, "I cannot emphasize enough how much McConnell's actions on Garland and Barrett have radicalized Democratic senators."

At Vox, he wrote:

Over the past few months, I've been talking to Senate Democrats about the future of the filibuster. To my surprise, something had cracked in the ice. Moderate members who used to dismiss calls to abolish the filibuster were taking them seriously, predicting or even advocating its fall. And the reason they gave me was always the same: Mitch McConnell...
Democrats are now considering reforms that are, from the standpoint of democratic governance, overdue, but that were, from the standpoint of Senate traditions and mores, unthinkable: eliminating the filibuster, adding DC and Puerto Rico as states, even changing the composition of the Supreme Court.

Joe Biden is an instinctive institutionalist, but a coalition of progressives and moderates pushing to retaliate for McConnell's overreach would have a very powerful argument.

Biden also lived through relentless Republican obstruction while the Obama administration was trying to manage a crisis that was less severe than that which we face today. Circumstances matter, and addressing the pandemic and the economic crash that it caused is going to be difficult, if not impossible, without heavy government intervention and significant public spending. If Democrats do retake the Senate, Republicans would be unable to get on board without sparking a revolt among their base. That would leave Democrats with the choice of using some hardball tactics or doing nothing for a country facing historic crises. The stars could be aligning for a feistier and bolder Democratic Party to emerge from the Trump era.

But at a minimum, the right's relentless efforts to suppress the vote and disenfranchise voters both in the midterms and during this election has put a new Voting Rights Act front and center on the Democratic agenda.

Polarized courts

Contending with entrenched minority rule can take different forms, but I want to focus on one significant change that seems certain.

For several decades, conservatives have fought an asymmetric war for the courts. It has long been a voting issue for the Republican base while rank-and-file Democrats considered it a second-tier issue. Conservative foundations have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into shaping the courts--funding advocacy groups and journals and academic chairs.

And while the right has long assailed the fundamental legitimacy of "liberal activist judges"--"robed tyrants" thwarting the will of the people--the left tended to criticize individual decisions like Citizens United or Shelby County while accepting the courts' authority in broad terms.

Refusing to give Merrick Garland so much as a hearing, appointing the very partisan Brett Kavanaugh--whose temperament is anything but judicial--and then ramming Amy Coney Barrett's nomination while votes were already being counted would probably be enough to change that. The prospect of what a 6-3 Court might actually do, Republicans' constant gloating over their wins and the relentless efforts by Republican judges to restrict votes during this election make it a certainty.

How that will play out over time remains to be seen. But both parties taking the courts seriously is a sea-change in American politics.

Racial vs education gaps

Trump and his supporters are delusional to believe that he's going to get a significant share of the Black vote. But when the exit polls are released we may discover that he has made some inroads with Blacks and Latinos.

Meanwhile, he has opened up a yawning educational gap among white voters. According to data from the Cooperative Election Study--a sample of over 50,000 likely voters, whites with a college degree favor Biden 58-36, while those without one back Trump 57-36. This has already reshaped the electoral battlefield, with Republicans getting crushed among college-educated white voters in the 'burbs.

Those shifts will likely endure. But the share of the white electorate with college degrees is steadily increasing, while non-college whites represent a demographic that's in decline. Republicans' shrinking base could potentially force them to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, which would be healthy for our democracy over the long run.

The legacy media are normalizing the GOP's brazen attempts to corrupt this election

"Democrats at all levels remained privately terrified of another surprise result, despite far greater confidence in polling that point[s] to a victory for former vice president Joe Biden," reports The Washington Post. "Republicans put their faith, once again, in the president's showmanship as he mounted a final series of irreverent rally spectacles in violation of public health guidance, hoping to motivate a massive late surge of turnout."

This framing completely obscures what is happening in America on the eve of the election.

Republicans are not putting their "faith in Trump's showmanship." As I wrote last week, they're responding to a drumbeat of rosy predictions in the conservative press, where Trump's victory is imminent--possibly in a landslide--based on boat- and truck-parades, dubious theories about "shy" Trump voters and carefully cherry-picked polls from firms with established GOP leans, or "house effects." Most of them are unprepared for defeat and primed to see a loss as prima facie evidence of fraud, and that is a very dangerous situation.

And while it's certainly true that many Democrats were traumatized by the 2016 election, attributing their anxiety only to concerns that we might see an even greater polling error this year elides the fact that we're witnessing not only the most comprehensive voter suppression campaign since the Jim Crow era, but also active attempts to prevent untold numbers of legitimate ballots to not be counted. A lawsuit seeking to trash 127,000 Democratic-leaning ballots in Harris County, Texas, has been the most high-profile attempt to do so thus far, but we can expect more of the same.

Trump, who has urged violent extremists to "stand by," is planning to declare victory on Tuesday night if he's ahead after a partial count, despite the fact that millions of mail ballots will remain uncounted, military ballots tend to come in late and seven counties in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania don't plan on starting to count absentee ballots until Wednesday, according to NBC.

The US Postal Service, managed by a Trump donor with serious conflicts of interest, has announced that mail ballots returned by voters in Detroit, Greater Michigan, Central Pennsylvania and other localities have been delayed due to "COVID-19 and employee unavailability," according to The Hill's John Kruzel. Michigan won't count those ballots if they're received after Election Day. Pennsylvania voters' ballots are supposed to be counted if they arrive by November 6, but the GOP is suing to shorten that deadline. Meanwhile, Trump's hand-picked Supreme Court Justices have adopted a once-extreme legal theory holding that state courts don't have the power to protect voting rights according to their state constitutions.

And after a judge lifted an almost 40-year-old consent decree barring the GOP from intimidating voters with unauthorized "election observers" stationed at the polls, Trump has called for an "army" of supporters to confront voters trying to exercise their franchise, and they have responded.

So there is far more for Trump's opponents to worry about than a polling error. That's probably the least of their worries.

And in a functional democratic republic where a bipartisan consensus held that eligible citizens should be encouraged to participate, and that their votes should be counted, it would be Trump's supporters who would be chewing their nails to the quick while Democrats would be looking forward to this election with excitement.

While Trump has a chance of winning--the leading forecast models peg the likelihood at between 5% and 10%--consider these indicators:

  • According to preliminary data from the 2020 Cooperative Election Study, which surveyed a massive sample of 50,000 likely voters, Biden is leading Trump nationally among those who didn't vote in 2016, or voted for a third party, by a 56-27 margin. And three times as many of Trump's 2016 supporters prefer Biden (6 percent) than Clinton supporters back Trump (2 percent).
  • That trend is reflected in crucial swing states in NYT/ Siena College surveys. In Arizona, more than one-fifth of likely voters didn't vote in 2016, and Biden leads among that group by 7 points; in Wisconsin, he's ahead by 19 points with those who sat out 2016; in Florida, he's up by 17 and in Pennsylvania, he leads Trump by 12 points among the 18% who sat out the last election, according to Greg Sargent.
  • There has been a huge shift in independents over the past four years; Trump won them by four points in 2016, and Biden leads the incumbent among this group by double digits in most polls.
  • And of course, Trump's approval rating went under water--with more people disapproving than approving of his performance--on his 15th day in office, which is unprecedented, and he and his party have trailed Biden and the Democrats every single day of this race by significant margins.
  • While Trump wasn't on the ballot directly in 2018, he sucks up all the oxygen in a room. A surge of turnout led Democrats to their biggest midterm win in history. They also turned out and won key races in the off-year elections in 2017 and 2019.

All of which is to say that it is abundantly clear from every available metric that a majority of Americans, having voted for Hillary Clinton four years ago, have wanted Trump gone ever since. And it is not vague fears of a polling error that is causing them stress--it's the very real possibility that Donald Trump will attempt to pull off a coup.

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