Biden Will Win. Republicans Should Understand Why.November 2, 2020
Joe Biden is going to win.
I have been wrong before. I will be wrong again. And maybe I’m wrong today. But we do not have any significant data to suggest Donald Trump was ever in a position to win reelection, or that he is closing the campaign with any sort of momentum needed for a come-from-behind victory.
Four years ago, we did have such data. In the RealClearPolitics national polling average, Hillary Clinton’s lead shrunk nearly six percentage points between Oct. 18 and Nov. 3, before ticking up a bit at the end. Her share of support throughout the duration of the general election campaign never reached 50%, an indication of soft support.
Moreover, the Trump train was clearly accelerating in those final two weeks, if you looked at RCP’s state poll averages. Clinton’s Michigan lead plummeted from 10 to 3.6 points and her Pennsylvania lead narrowed from 5.6 to 2.1 points. In Florida and North Carolina, Trump erased Clinton’s small leads completely to become, however barely, the front-runner. Trump also took the lead in Ohio in mid-October and never looked back.
(Wisconsin was the one state he flipped where the polls did not show a late surge. But as RCP President Tom Bevan noted to me on Twitter, there were no Wisconsin polls taken after Nov. 2, which was six days before the election. In turn, there was no ability to detect any late surge.)
Today, Trump is enjoying no such acceleration. Biden’s RCP national lead, as of early Monday morning, is at a healthy 7.2 points, roughly the same as it was 10 days prior. Since the end of the party conventions, Biden’s lead has remained between 5.9 and 10.3 points. Going back nearly 14 months, his lead has never been smaller than four points. And his average share of support as of Monday morning is at 51.1% and was above 50% throughout October. Biden’s lead has been, and is, strong, sturdy and stable.
His battleground state advantages are smaller than his national margin, but they are still leads in most states and Trump is not aggressively closing the gaps. Look at the trajectories, starting from two Mondays ago through Monday morning. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina, Biden’s lead has not changed in either direction by more than half of a percentage point. The only battleground states where Trump has gained more than one point on Biden are Arizona (2.1), Iowa (2.7) and Minnesota (1.9).
The RCP averages now give Trump a paper-thin lead in Iowa and a miniscule 1-point deficit in Arizona. Still, the modest gains in those states don’t track with the national trajectory, so they may indicate nothing more than statistical noise. And even if we presume that Trump wins both, he’s still not ahead in enough other states to win 270 electoral votes. Without forward movement, he can’t get there.
Now, what is the point of making so certain a prediction? Why not allow for the possibility that the polling industry has collectively missed the mark? Why not just wait and see what happens?
Because we all should understand that Trump’s defeat has been long in the making, and was starkly visible to the naked eye for months.
Do not embrace any spin that he could have won if only the pandemic didn’t spike in the last week, if only he stayed on message in the last week, if only his campaign spent its war chest more wisely, if only there was more coverage of the Hunter Biden laptop story, or if only there was more coverage of the third quarter GDP number.
I fully expect these excuses and then some, though I expect the claim that Trump would have won if not for the pandemic to be repeated most of all. In his own telling, to a recent Erie, Pa., crowd, “We had this thing won. We were so far up. We had the greatest economy ever, we had the greatest jobs, the greatest everything. And then we got hit with the plague and I had to go back to work.”
Nope. Trump was never ahead of Biden in the RCP national average, which has been tracked since September 2019. And according to RCP’s presidential job approval average, Trump has the unique distinction of never holding an approval number higher than 47.3% (forget about 50%) and almost never earning an approval number higher than his disapproval rating. (Trump was above water by just 0.1 points for one day, the very first day RCP began tracking his job approval: Jan. 27, 2017.)
Trump has been weighed down by these numbers despite a growing economy for much of his presidency. The discrepancy between his poll numbers and economic numbers strongly suggests that most Americans have been so repulsed by his divisive, self-serving and just plain mean behavior that they didn’t care how fat their wallets were getting. They just want him gone.
Trump loyalists may blame the coronavirus for his political misfortune. But the truth is the pandemic presented the president with a rare golden opportunity to reverse his fortunes. If anything, his deft handling of a major crisis could have turned his terrible numbers around. Trump could have wiped the slate clean, shelved the insults, worked cooperatively with all governors, elevated experts and consistently encouraged mask-wearing so the nation could safely open up as soon as possible. The only things that prevented him from such responsible crisis management are his own character and his own abilities.
He also could have used the tragic killing of George Floyd to change public perception of his handling of race issues. After all, Trump did enact criminal justice reform, and was eager at his convention to show off the people of color he pardoned. Instead, he continued to fan the flames of racial division. Even though he has desperately tried to pin all subsequent social unrest on Biden and the Democrats, the incumbent has clearly taken the blame for presiding over chaos. One of the few times Biden’s RCP national lead reached double digits was in the weeks following Floyd’s death.
Consider that in the first debate, Biden bluntly called Trump a “racist” — one of the harshest words ever used by one presidential candidate to describe another — and no one batted an eye.
Of course, regardless of my confidence in the final outcome, Biden supporters should still campaign their hearts out on this final day, and try to generate as big a “blue wave” as possible, to win control of the Senate and strengthen the new president’s mandate. Trump supporters should also not take my word, and do everything they can to prove the pollsters wrong.
But if I am proven right, Republicans should not spin themselves and make excuses. They should accept that Trump lost this race a long time ago because he did not take governing seriously, and because he tried to divide a nation that, in its heart, does not want to be divided.
In turn, for the GOP to remove the stain of Trump from its reputation, Republicans will have to show their seriousness of purpose by working with President Biden on good faith compromises, and by rejecting the corrosive politics of polarization.