By Stump Connolly

 

     I barely had time to get the Maalox down my throat on Election Night before it came vomiting up the next morning in a deluge of mail-in ballots.

     Overnight, President Trump’s lead in Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada vanished, and it appeared Joe Biden would have enough votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency, 270 to 268. But they were still counting.

     Turnout for this election was in the neighborhood of 150 million voters – the highest in American history. Nearly 100 million of them had taken advantage of early voting or mail-in ballots to participate. But in all but a dozen states, election officials were barred from opening the mail-in ballots until Election Day.

     Most of the voters who actually went to the polls on Election Day were Republicans, the so-called “Red Wave” prompted by the President’s constant warnings that mail-in votes were unreliable. After those votes were banked, election officials moved on to the mail-in ballots, creating a “Blue Shift” in the tally since roughly two-thirds of the late ballots favored Biden.

     If you wonder why in-person votes on Election Day came in fast and mail-ins were slow, remember there were more of them, and counting the mail-ins was a painstaking task. Each envelope needed to be checked for a postmark and valid signature, slit open, sorted by hand to the appropriate precinct, then entered into the tally, thus requiring huge counting rooms in major cities and thousands of additional poll workers, many in states that had never done mail-in voting on.

     By midnight, only 30 states had been called. Watching the returns from the White House, the President exploded when Fox News called Arizona for Biden. He made Jared Kushner call his friend Rupert Murdoch to demand that Fox News take it back. What good that would do is hard to fathom. But the President’s mind was racing. The optics were bad.

‘An Embarrassment to Our Country’

     At 2:30 AM, still fuming, he called a press conference in the East Room for about 100 supporters. His family occupied the front row. Only one mask could be seen in the audience.

     “We were getting ready for a big celebration,” he said. “ We were winning everywhere, and all of a sudden it was just called off.” He ticked off his current vote margins in states with millions of votes yet to be counted. Then he demanded the election be deemed over.

     “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win the election. We want all voting to stop.”

     He vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court, but since they were not in session, he took his case to Twitter to carry on the fight in the only arena that accommodates stupid people.

     “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Poles (sic) are closed!” he tweeted at 2:45 AM. But he was not done. “How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?” he tweeted again. 

     Over the course of the night, he would tweet 22 times, but Twitter blocked half of them as false or misleading. “The President’s Twitter feed currently has more warnings than a pack of cigarettes,” Politico’s Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza noted.

     When I awoke Wednesday morning, Trump was still at it. “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted.”

     Indeed, while we slept, Biden had closed the gap in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan. Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Nevada remained too close to call. This gave Biden a 243 to 214 edge in the Electoral College. But neither candidate was close to the 270 votes needed to win.

The Magic Wall

     The news channels had prepared themselves, and their audience, for a vote tabulation that could take two or three days. So it was all hands on deck Wednesday morning for the laborious task of waiting for the votes to come in. There were reporters galore outside the counting rooms. Campaign spokesmen bloviated about their prospects. Tally board graphics for each state tried to put results into context. But the weapon of choice in the newsrooms was the Magic Wall.

     The Magic Wall was introduced to politics in the 2008 presidential race by CNN’s John King. A former AP political editor, and computer geek, with 30 years of experience on the campaign trail, he uses it to draw on his encyclopedic knowledge of state politics. He hopscotches across the electoral map, clicking on battleground states, zooming in on key counties, and comparing vote totals from previous elections. His commentary is a civics lesson in the form of a math quiz — with a dizzying array of possible outcomes based on votes that had yet to be counted.

     Steve Kornacki on MSNBC is a worthy rival. With a little panache, and a lot more enthusiasm, he fast-fingers his way across the board like it’s an Xbox controller. But King is the master.

     After the first of many such sessions at the wall Wednesday morning, King turned plaintively to the camera. “All day we’ll be sweeping across the country checking on the battleground states. How many votes are out? Where are they? And there will be recounts. So the operative word here is patience.  We’re just going to have to let them count the votes.”

Exit Polls

     The other go-to feature of elections are exit polls. Traditionally, exit polls are meticulously conducted in key voting precincts to give viewers a sense of what people are thinking when they cast their ballots. Because so many people didn’t vote in their usual precinct, the results were suspect. But the data, if you can believe it, showed:

     * One in three voters said the economy was their most critical issue, one in five cited racial inequality, and one in six named the Coronavirus pandemic.

     * Health care and law-and-order, the issues that supposedly divided Republicans and Democrats, were top of mind in only 10 percent of the voters.

     * And on the question of the day, 70 percent said they routinely wear masks and 50 percent believe the U.S. mismanaged the Coronavirus crisis.

     By age, the exit polls say Biden won heavily in the 18-29 demographic (62%), edged out Trump with middle aged voters (51%) and almost won the traditionally Republican senior vote (48%).

     His support among white voters was 5 points higher than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, but Trump made inroads with black males (10%) and Latinos (32%) while suburban women, perhaps the most prized segment of the electorate this year, went for Biden (56%) over Trump (43%).

Patience

     As the day wore on, patience was paying off for the Biden camp. But patience is not one of Donald Trump’s long suits.

     The President’s legal team filed its first lawsuit at 2:45 PM. It kind of, sort of, asked the Supreme Court to intervene in Pennsylvania, when every other court said it shouldn’t. Then it filed another lawsuit challenging vote counts in Michigan, and another in Georgia, and a petition for a recount in Wisconsin.

     Trump tried to do his part the only way he knew how. “We hereby claim the State of Michigan if, in fact there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported!” he tweeted, although by then Michigan was firmly in the Biden column.

     The Trump lawsuits were all over the map. He was challenging thousands of ballots in Nevada  – not exactly challenging, but holding a press conference – without citing any facts. The recount in Wisconsin was on, then off, then on again. He lost an appeal to have Trump poll watchers sit at every counting table in Philadelphia to double-check every mail-in ballot.

     Jake Tapper compared it to a legal game of Whack-a-Mole. Jim Acosta quoted a senior White House advisor saying the legal team was going state to state like ambulance chasers, “and to make matters worse, Rudy Giuliani is on the case.”

     On the ABC Nightly News, Jon Karl explained. “The legal strategy seems to be this. Stopping the count in places where Trump is winning. And keeping the count going where he is behind.”

     With Trump out stirring the waters, Biden made an attempt to calm them. He appeared Wednesday afternoon in Wilmington. “It’s time to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to one another, to hear each other again, and respect and care for one another, to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation.”

     He took pains not to look like he was claiming victory. “I’m not here to declare that we’ve won, but I am here to report when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners,” he said. “Of all the votes counted, we have won Wisconsin by 20,000 votes, virtually the same margin that President Trump won that state four years ago. In Michigan, we lead by over 35,000 votes. And I feel very good about Pennsylvania. Virtually all the remaining ballots to be counted are cast by mail.  And we’ve been winning 78% of the votes by mail in Pennsylvania.”

One Last Fling on The Merry Go Round

     Joe Biden spent Thursday morning meeting with his Coronavirus task force. Covid-19 cases were spiking to 120,000 a day, hospitalizations were at record levels, and deaths were now routinely over 1,000 people a day in America.

     President Trump, by contrast, woke up Thursday chomping at the bit to get out in public. His campaign team tried everything they could think of to restrain him, according to Ashley Parker in the Washington Post. They told him Rudy Giuliani and Pam Bondi, his favorite ass kissers, were on the case in  Philadelphia. Richard Grenell, his former acting director of national intelligence, and Matt Schlapp, another conservative flack, were in Nevada trying to find the “illegal” votes. They goosed Republican Senators who’d been faithful to his administration to come of hiding and defend the President.

     But Trump’s hopes to win were unraveling. His lead in Georgia was down to 20,800 votes – out of 5 million cast. The gap in Pennsylvania, where he had a 600,000 plurality on Election Night, was 108,000 – with 370,000 votes still out. The media now routinely counted Nevada and Arizona in Biden’s column. And “Sleepy Joe” Biden was strutting around in front of the cameras like a peacock on cocaine.

     As the networks prepared for the nightly news shows, they got word that the President wanted to go live from the White House briefing room.  Trump walked into the room at 5:45 PM with a dour face, his shoulders hunched, carrying a sheaf of notes, and gave the most malicious, self-serving, defiant, and jaw-dropping performance of his administration.

Big Media, Big Money and Big Tech

     “Big media, big money and big tech” were in a vast conspiracy to steal the election from him, he said. The pollsters were in on it. They kept churning out fake numbers “to keep our voters at home, create the illusion of momentum for Mr. Biden and diminish Republican’s ability to raise funds.” The Democrats were behind it. All the election officials in the battleground states were Democrats, and they had marching orders to keep counting Biden votes until “our numbers started miraculously getting whittle away in secret.”

     About five minutes into his speech, ABC, CBS and NBC cut away. “We have to interrupt here,” Lester Holt said, “because the president has made a number of false statements, including the notion that there has been fraudulent voting. There has been no evidence of that.”

     Trump kept rambling on the cable channels. He had a litany of grievance. A corrupt Democratic machine in Philadelphia. “I went to school there and I know a lot about it.” Paper covering the windows of a polling station in Detroit (a precaution many states take to keep video cameras from peering in on the ballots). Unexplained delays, mystery ballots, illegal votes, secret counting rooms, and “disturbing irregularities”.

     At one point, it sounded like he was reading off a list of tweets that Twitter wouldn’t let him publish. At another, you’d have thought he was auditioning for a job as Steve Kornacki’s weatherman, standing over his shoulder giving his version of the mood of the nation.  “It looks like we have a heavy vote blowing in, partly shady with a chance of fraud.”

     It was a dark, dangerous, reckless, stunningly ungracious speech. He took no questions.

     “What a sad night for the United States of America,” Jake Tapper said when he finished. “To hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election, to attack democracy in that way with this feast of falsehood. Lie after lie after lie. Pathetic.”

The Mainstream Media Weighs In

     In the roundtable discussion that followed on CNN,  Dana Bash said, “As he was talking, I was reaching out to Republicans to ask when the intervention is going to happen because this isn’t just partisan. This isn’t just dangerous. It’s nonsensical.”

     “This president clearly knows this is not going to end well for him,” Abby Phillip added, “and he’s trying to take the rest of the country down with him.”

     “I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this from a president of the United States,” chimed in Anderson Cooper. “Of course it is dangerous, and, of course, it will go to the courts, but you’ll notice the president did not have any evidence, at all. Nothing. . . . That is the president of the United States, one of the most powerful people in the world, and we see him like an obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun.”

     “It is a speech that represents one of the more dangerous acts that Donald Trump has undertaken as president,” Nicolle Wallace said on MSNBC. “The country is a tinderbox. A lot of people went out and voted for Donald Trump on Tuesday, and we’ve heard militia groups, and others, say they will not accept any other decision than a Trump victory. Taking the president’s words for what they are, this is the most incendiary, the most dangerous, and the most flagrantly false lie he has told  – at a moment when this country is in a fraught state.”

Meanwhile, in Alternate Reality

     Meanwhile, across the channels, Sean Hannity was trying to make Trump’s case for him. He devoted his prime hour to “an investigative report” for his 4 million viewers into how the Democrats stole the election. 

     His guest reporters were the same Pam Bondi and Matt Schlapp who Trump’s legal team sent to Pennsylvania and Nevada. Their video evidence came from Project Veritas, the amateurish, right wing, gotcha video group run by James O’Keefe. It consisted largely of Trump flunkies looking through paper-covered windows at people trying to do their job: count the votes.

     Hannity could hardly conceal his outrage. “Ask yourself, do you trust what you are seeing tonight? Can you believe election returns where everything is shrouded in secrecy?”

     After Trump had complained that Senators were not stepping forward to defend him, Hannity brought on a few to offer their obeyence.

     “He stood by me, so I’m standing by him,” Lindsey Graham said. Only a few days earlier, Graham was on Fox begging money in his campaign. Tonight, he pledged $500,000 to President Trump’s Legal Defense Fund.

    Ted Cruz rounded up all his adjectives to decry outrageous, partisan, political, and lawless election workers who have “clouded the vote counting in a shroud of darkness.”

     But Newt Gingrich topped them both. He demanded Attorney General Bill Barr fire all the election workers in Pennsylvania and have the state legislature throw out the election returns.

     Now there’s a good idea. Throw out the baby, the bathwater and the midwife.

     Let’s do it all again next year. What do you say?

Is it Over?

     The last of the mail-in ballots came in bulk Friday. They showed Biden jumped ahead in Pennsylvania, increased his lead in Nevada, was still strong in Arizona, and, in a sign of the changing times, had a razor thin plurality in Georgia, where a Democrat hasn’t won since Bill Clinton in 1992.

     There is more ballot counting to go: military ballots, provisional ballots, cured ballots, recounts. Under this year’s intense scrutiny, election officials want to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed before their state certifies a winner.  But the handwriting is on the wall.

     Joe Biden won the popular vote by 4 million votes, 74,487,517 to 70,336,783 (as of now).

     He is on a path to win 306 Electoral College votes, the same number Donald Trump won in 2016 and called a landslide. Trump’s victory in 2016 came on the back of 76,000 votes in three battleground states: Wisconsin (22,000), Michigan (10,000) and Pennsylvania (44,000).

     Biden won by a similarly narrow 255,000 votes in six battleground states: Wisconsin (20,000), Michigan (148,000), Pennsylvania (35,000), Georgia (7,000), Nevada (25,000), and Arizona (20,000).

     Trump says he won’t concede. He’ll take his case to the highest court of the land. But the Supreme Court, even the dolts Trump put there, is smart enough not to muck this up.

     And who cares? Trump is out of here.

     Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States.

     Was it ever in doubt?


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