The last full day before Election Day, in a chaotic, calamitous year. On the menu today: Downtown stores in America’s biggest cities are boarding up their windows in expectations of Election Night violence, but one Atlantic columnist thinks the home address of the ringleader of the rioters is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; the final prediction on the Electoral College; and the calculation of how dramatically the map changes with just a two-point shift away from Biden and toward Trump.
A Mood of Dread as Election Day Approaches
Los Angeles: “From Beverly Hills to Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles, crews have been busy adding plywood and protective fencing in front of businesses and residential complexes.”
Chicago: “In preparation of potential unrest in Chicago leading up to and following Tuesday’s general election, Macy’s State Street has boarded up windows at the iconic location.”
Washington, D.C.: “Despite the wet weather Sunday morning, workers near Black Lives Matter Plaza were busy erecting more plywood barriers over some buildings’ windows. If you didn’t know any better, you could be forgiven if you thought they were prepping for a big storm about to blow into the nation’s capital.”
To Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum, the cause of all this is simple and straightforward: “When conservatives celebrated Trump’s election 4 years ago, did they know that in 2020 we would board up shops, prepare for riots and the arrival of militias, game out ways he might steal the election, protest aggressive vote suppression? This is what he has done to America.”
Are downtown stores boarding up their windows because they fear President Trump or his supporters will rampage through the streets? Trump voters do exist in these cities. In 2016, Trump won 769,743 votes in Los Angeles County. He won 494,548 votes in New York City. He won 12,273 votes in the District of Columbia. He won 453,287 votes in Chicago. [Insert a Jussie Smollett “this is MAGA country!” joke about Chicago here.]
But these Trump voters are vastly outnumbered by Democrats, and while it’s likely that you could find at least a handful of Trump voters participating in the urban violence and unrest of earlier this year, it is not MAGA-hat wearing blue-collar whites who have spent the summer and fall running through the cities looting stores. Perhaps Applebaum and those who concur with her would insist that the violence we’ve seen in U.S. cities this year is all the work of “outsiders,” “provocateurs,” and others who disagree with causes of the Left, and who seek to discredit them through violence.
Indeed, there are groups such as the Boogaloo Bois, which the Department of Justice describes as “a loosely-connected group of individuals who espouse violent anti-government sentiments. The term ‘Boogaloo’ itself references an impending second civil war in the United States and is associated with violent uprisings against the government.” They are characterized as “far right” but they are anti-police, seek to overthrow the government, and want to supply weapons to Hamas — views that are not synonyms with “pro-Trump.”
In a new report, Amnesty International concludes that U.S. police forces are doing an insufficient job at protecting anti-police protesters from counter-protesters. The organization contends that in approximately 200 clashes between different groups of protesters, the police did not deploy in sufficient numbers, did not separate groups to deescalate tensions, did not prohibit or prevent threats of violence, or halt acts of violence. It’s almost as if during these clashes, the police were abolished.
Still, no provocateur or outside agitator can succeed if his target audience isn’t receptive to the message and ready or eager to participate in violence. You can send the most effective provocateurs and rabble-rousers in the world to Amish communities or Vatican City or some Buddhist temple, and they’re probably not going to have much success.
If portions of New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles go up in flames Tuesday night, it will not be because the slim minority of Trump voters within the city limits took over the streets. It will be because significant numbers of people — many with left-of-center views, and probably quite a few with no clear articulated political philosophy at all beyond criminal opportunism — chose to smash windows, set fires, and generally behave like rampaging barbarians eager to smash civilization.
We should remember that when the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Title in October, the city’s downtown saw 76 arrests after celebrations turned unruly. When the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series later that month — what a month for that city’s sports teams! — “at least eight people were arrested, multiple officers were injured, a semi-truck was looted and a police vehicle and some businesses were vandalized.” There is no particular political dimension to post-championship riots. Some people just like to loot and vandalize and are just waiting for an excuse. If their candidate loses, they’ll look for something to smash. If their candidate wins, they’ll look for something to smash. If the vote count is close enough to trigger an automatic recount, they’ll look for something to smash.
But acknowledging all of this would mean that some evils in this world cannot be attributed to Donald Trump. Everything in life is much easier when the answer to every question and every problem is the pure evil of your political opponents. It’s a fairly simple formula: When there is right-wing violence, it is the fault of Republicans for inspiring it. When there is left-wing violence, it is the fault of Republicans for provoking it.
On The Editors, Charlie, Rich, and I went through our possibly mockery-inducing final assessments of the presidential race and key Senate races. (In the latter category, we didn’t weigh in about Michigan, where my heart sees an upset victory for John James, but my head sees incumbent Democrat Gary Peters hanging on.)
I envision Trump carrying Texas, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Ohio, although I think Trump’s margins will be below his 2016 margins and well below the usual for a Republican in those states, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Biden eke out a win in any of those. I think Biden wins the “blue wall” states — Wisconsin and Michigan — pretty comfortably, and Pennsylvania, although Pennsylvania will be close and who knows how long the final vote count will be tied up in lawsuits. I think Biden wins Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. I also think Biden wins the congressional district around Omaha, Neb., and the second congressional district in Maine. All of that adds up to 306 electoral votes for Biden, 232 for Trump.
In the Senate races, the GOP starts with 53, picks up Alabama to get to 54, then loses Maine (close, but Susan Collins loses on ranked-choice voting), Colorado (Cory Gardner’s a great candidate running in a tough state in a terrible year, I hope he runs for governor in two years or something), North Carolina (apparently Thom Tillis is hard to reelect without the wind at his back), Arizona (ditto Martha McSally), but keeps the seats in Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, and both Georgia seats. That comes out to a 50-50 tie, which, if my presidential race prediction is right, means Kamala Harris spends the next two years breaking a lot of ties. (This also means that any Democratic senator from a state with a GOP governor will not be selected for a cabinet job.)
I think there’s very little movement in the balance of the House.
My assessment is partially based upon the cumulative and latest polls, partially based on what I’m hearing from plugged-in Republicans, partially based upon what we can gleam from the early vote, and partially gut instincts.
How Wrong Would the Polls Have to Be for Trump to Win Again?
My grim assessment for Trump’s reelection bid comes with the recognition that it wouldn’t take that big a shift from the current polling numbers for the president to reach 270 electoral votes again, and an election repeat of 2016 is quite possible.
I know lots of people like to say, “the polls were wrong” — and in 2016, many pollsters’ final surveys showed Hillary Clinton ahead in states she lost on Election Day. But I think many people forget how much Trump had narrowed the gap in that final week or so in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he was leading in most polls in North Carolina and Florida.
The final RCP average in Michigan in 2016 had Hillary Clinton ahead by 3.6 percentage points, and Trump won by three-tenths of a percentage point — a difference of 3.9 points between those figures.
The final RCP average in Pennsylvania had Clinton ahead by 1.9 percentage points, and Trump won by seven-tenths of a percentage point, for a difference of 2.6 points.
That final RCP average in Florida was Trump leading by two-tenths of a percentage point, and Trump won by 1.2 percentage points, for a difference of one point.
That final RCP average in North Carolina had Trump ahead by one point, and Trump won by 3.7 percentage points, for a difference of 2.7 points.
The most spectacular miss came in Wisconsin, where the final RCP average was Clinton by 6.5 percentage points, and Trump won by seven-tenths of a percentage point, for a difference of 7.2 points.
In those first four key states listed above, Trump did, on average, 2.55 points better than the final RCP numbers. If you throw in Wisconsin, he did 3.48 percentage points better than the RCP numbers.
If you predict Trump performs 2.5 percentage points better than his current numbers in the RCP average, he wins Arizona, Florida, Georgia Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. That gets him to 258 electoral votes.
If you predict Trump performs 3.5 percentage points better than his current numbers in the RCP average, he wins all the states listed above and is within one tenth of a percentage point in Nevada and within a point in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
If Trump performs 4.4 percentage points better than his current numbers in the RCP average, he wins Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and reaches at least 284 electoral votes.
ADDENDUM: On Friday, Mickey and I had the chance to unveil another edition of the pop-culture podcast, where we tackle everything from the old AMC western series Longmire, Kim Kardashian’s big quarantined private-island party, the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, when and whether Americans will go back into movie theaters, and at the end, a little talk about the new book. Check it out when your brain is about to explode from all of the election news.