This is hard, isn’t it? Like you and me and everyone else we know, I was confident in 2016. Arrogant, in hindsight. We cracked open the champagne before any results were declared. Madam President, come through. We all know that she didn’t. Skip to four years later, and we were afforded no such optimism. Deservedly so, perhaps. Because polls can be wrong. Pandemics can exist beyond tightly budgeted films about zombies. The old rules of politics are getting older.
And so, surrounded by five laptops and three housemates, we sat quietly. We pored over results (we’re a bit like that in this good home). Our cynicism was warranted. Florida fell to Donald Trump, with the crucial home county of Miami city returning less-than-stellar results for Joe Biden – worse than the vote for Clinton four years ago. We were surprised once again.
How did this happen? For a start, the polls were off. 2016, seen as a bug, was actually a feature. Polling, for whatever reason, is broken: they’re asking the wrong questions, to the wrong people, and suspicions run high. Pollsters aren’t trusted by the people they answer to, and the people who answer their questions. Biden, largely seen to hold a commanding lead in polls, found himself on a knife edge on election day that did not cut the mustard. Georgia, North Carolina, Texas – all states seen as promising for Democrats – didn’t go for Biden.
What’s more, this won’t end in civil war. Again, not like the news expected. In a close race, Trump was expected to announce a premature victory, but Biden has no real claim to a win unless the votes are counted, and these are expected to be delayed till at least Thursday. Coronavirus has meant early postal votes were made, and depending upon state laws, they might not be counted till election. They might not be accepted after election day either.
Instead of lobbed molotov cocktails, it’ll be litigation. Both campaigns have thousands of lawyers on standby to duke it out in the courts like one of the duller episodes of Ally McBeal, because that’s how American politics works.
It’s easy to be doom and gloom as I pour another Real Housewives-sized glass of Absolut, lime and soda, but for liberals, all is not totally lost. Though Florida broke for Trump, Biden has seen promising returns elsewhere, the campaign telling The New York Times that it was “encouraged by some of the gains, especially in suburbs, that could have national ramifications.” Turnout in Detroit is up, which may be good news in Michigan (a Rust Belt state Clinton ceded to Trump). Arizona could flip. And, though Miami was a massive have-your-wedding-and-30th-birthday-cancelled-in-one-year level of disappointment, Cuban-Americans in Florida aren’t always representative of the Latinx vote at large, wary of the socialist dictatorship on the island to the south of the state, and thus wary of anything remotely left wing. A friend who did some good deed phone campaigning also said that older, more conservative Latinx photos see pro-choice candidates as detrimental to longstanding Catholic beliefs. Anecdotal evidence isn’t cold hard date, but it does sort of make sense. Thanks to a baked in patriarchy, Trump’s machismo is obvious, but also holds some appeal (to really hammer home the point, he tried to do something I can only vaguely liken to dancing as The Village People’s ‘Macho Man’ blared out at rallies).
Glimmers don’t solely exist in the remnants of this tumbler, or so says the suspiciously energetic optimism of a Biden press secretary.
But make no mistake: the Democrats have much soul-searching to do. Because they have not beaten back the most unpopular, most divisive, most scandal-plagued president of all time. Everything was in their favour, too: a younger, more educated country, billions in fundraising, and a galvanised base. It seems, however, that Not Being Trump is categorically not a good enough reason to motivate voters to get out and go to the polls. Biden was of a yesteryear. ‘A better time’, or so the sun-kissed ads and the mention of Barack Obama in every third sentence would have you believe. Perhaps that time just wasn’t good enough for so many. Whether rightly or wrongly, Trump has upended the old way of thinking. Presidents don’t have to be nice. Nor do they have to tell the truth. They just need to make people believe something, and though MAGA is on its second outing, it is still much more commanding than ‘Build Back Better’. Whatever that actually means.
It isn’t over until it’s over. According to the national political writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer – one of perennial swing state Pennsylvania’s leading newspapers – there are still 2.2m mail ballots to be counted. Save your hope, though. There’s every chance it died with the hopes of a Madam President all those years ago.
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