The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 43

This week:

  • Election 2020 is here
  • Trump’s path to triumph
  • Republicans’ path to Senate control

Election Day 2020 is upon us. We approach that day — and the many days possibly required to determine the winner — with a few clear likelihoods. 

For example, Democrats will almost certainly keep control of the U.S. House. This means that, even under the most optimistic scenario, Republicans will not have complete control of the levers of power in Washington.

Then again, the presidency and the Senate are quite another matter. And they are obviously consequential. For the presidency, this goes without saying. For the Senate, it could be the thing that saves President Trump’s legacy. If he loses — if Joe Biden wins — then Democrats’ ability to pack the courts will depend on their having a Senate majority that is also willing to abolish the filibuster. Note that a bare 50-50 with a Democratic vice president will probably not be enough, as at least one Democrat — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — has expressed unwillingness to go to this extreme. 

Democrats’ willingness to destroy norms — even to the point of court-packing — in order to reverse Trump’s conservative gains in the courts is a very scary possibility. It is something Trump is using, even at this late date, to persuade voters who might otherwise view his own norm-bending behavior as unacceptable or at least uncouth.

President 2020

Tens of millions of people have already voted, and Election Day is upon us. The burning question around the world is whether President Trump will be re-elected.

Between the conflicting polls, the sheer unpredictability of any race involving Trump, and the completely unprecedented effects of the current plague and lockdown, this year’s presidential race can be safely called inscrutable. It is impossible to trust any insider insights, no matter how sincerely held, nor any polling or other information as definitive.

Still, none of this will prevent us from making a few predictions. And they are predictions that defy the conventional reading and lean more toward Trump.

The important factors here are: 

(1) The fear Trump supporters have of speaking up. This is a direct result of severe, brutal media bias over the course of five to six years. Trump can do no right, and literally any positive statement about him is punished ruthlessly. Support for Trump can be punished with social ostracism and even the loss of one’s job. Under such circumstances, it is not unreasonable to believe that there is a much larger pool of hidden votes, unseen by pollsters, in Trump’s favor.

(2) Coronavirus restrictions led Democrats to count especially heavily on mail balloting in a way they never have before. This appears to be backfiring already in several key states ahead of election day. A presidential general election is usually not the best time to try out novel approaches. Democrats have neglected basic get-out-the-vote tactics and they might well suffer a severe and unexpected deficit in key places as a result.

Because of these two factors, we will go out on a limb and take the most optimistic view from Trump’s perspective. He certainly seems to be on his way to winning Ohio and Florida. We therefore predict that he will hold on to his Southern wins from 2016 (specifically Texas, Georgia and North Carolina), carry Pennsylvania, and also achieve the Midwestern triumph he seeks by carrying Iowa, Minnesota (shockingly), and Michigan, if not also in Wisconsin. This, combined with his expected loss in Arizona, would result in a Trump victory with 295 to 305 electoral votes.

Such an outcome would be lamented by Democrats as the result of Biden’s utterly wasted campaign. He would be remembered — perhaps unfairly, given liberals’ obsession with the coronavirus as some kind of excuse to stop human existence for several months — for hiding in his basement and forfeiting an opportunity to defeat Trump soundly with what could have been a much more active and less soporific campaign. 

Then again, shift just a few points in a few key states, and Biden could just as easily win with this election with a similar electoral margin. 

Senate 2020

Republicans enter Election 2020 holding 53 Senate seats. They are nearly certain to lose seats in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine — so certain that we will not create entries for those races in this newsletter. If on election night you see Republicans preserving any of those three seats, it is a sure sign that they are outperforming all expectations. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are even more certain to gain one seat, in Alabama. 

This means that the entire question of Senate control probably hinges on Republican incumbents’ ability to hold vulnerable seats in North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia (where two seats are at stake), Montana, and Kansas, in roughly that order of difficulty. Despite Democrats’ sanguine hopes in states such as Alaska and South Carolina, no other Republican seats should be in serious danger.

Then there is another matter — the question of whether Republicans have successfully put other races on the board, but under the radar. They have longshot hopes of gaining seats in Michigan (where John James, R, is challenging the low-profile Sen. Gary Peters, D) and Minnesota (where Jason Lewis, R, is showing unusual late strength in the polls against Sen. Tina Smith, D). If they succeed in either of these races, then their chances of keeping the Senate are excellent. But they are, again, longshots.

North Carolina: If Biden wins on Tuesday, then this race might, all on its own, decide Senate control. It all depends on whether voters are willing to overlook the adultery of Democrat Cal Cunningham, who up to the point of his scandal breaking seemed certain to defeat Sen. Thom Tillis, R. 

Polls indicate that Cunningham will pull it off anyway, despite a brutal and hostile media environment leading up to the close of the race. But polls are of limited utility in such strange circumstances. A Tillis win is a sure sign of continued Republican Senate control.

Iowa: Recent polls suggest that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has come from behind to take the lead in her re-election race. There is genuine hope that she will survive election night and defeat real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, D. 

If she manages this feat — alongside a surge in Trump support more than sufficient for him to take the Hawkeye State and its six electoral votes — then she will keep Republicans in the hunt to maintain Senate control. If she loses, then Democratic control of the Senate is almost assured.

Georgia: Sen. David Perdue is the heavy favorite to defeat Democratic underachiever Jon Ossoff in the regular Senate race. The other Georgia Senate seat at stake — the one held by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R — is at greater risk. It is virtually certain to go to runoff, with Democrat Raphael Warnock taking the top slot and a Republican — possibly Loeffler, but perhaps more likely Rep. Doug Collins — taking the second slot. The Republican, whoever it is, would befavored in the runoff.

Montana: Sen. Steve Daines, R, is favored to defeat Gov. Steve Bullock, D. Daines is a solid candidate who has acted carefully in office. Bullock also did himself no favors in this conservative, pro-Trump state when, in a debate, he came out in favor of packing the Supreme Court.

Kansas: Rep. Roger Marshall, R, should easily defeat Barbara Bollier, D, to keep the Senate seat being vacated by Pat Roberts. If not, then Republicans are headed toward a much worse night than we envision.