Don’t get too excited about Biden’s lead in the polls: a close election is dangerous

David Rothkopf and  Bernard L. Schwartz

Imagine how you will feel on January 20, 2021 watching Donald Trump getting sworn in for a second term. Many of those arrayed around him on the dais on the West Front of the Capitol are familiar faces — Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, Attorney General Barr, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

The president’s inaugural address lays out a grand vision of change — remaking the American judiciary, rolling back more environmental and health regulations, rethinking America’s overseas alliances, pulling out of NATO, further cooperation with Russia. Some of what is coming may not be explicitly cited but will be implied. More checks on executive power will be dismantled. Science will be rejected yet again in the on-going struggle against COVID-19. Corruption will run rampant. There will be more tax cuts for the richest Americans, more contracts for the friends and cronies of the president. From the ashes of the National Rifle Association will emerge a new, stronger gun lobby. Immigration to the U.S. will be cut off to all but the rich and the white. Institutional racism in America will be deepened and made more pernicious. 

A president who admires autocrats will take one step closer to being one himself. America’s global leadership role will be ended forever. 

History shows that leads can be blown

Do you think this nightmare is far-fetched? It is not. It is closer than you might imagine. Indeed, if American voters and in particular supporters of the Biden-Harris ticket and Democratic candidates for the Senate and House are lulled into complacency by comforting poll numbers, it is almost certain to be the future we face. 

Overconfidence invites defeat. Even a narrow victory for Joe Biden will invite controversy, challenges and confusion. Only a massive overall voter turnout and substantial margins for Democrats can end the threat that Trumpism poses to our way of life in America, to our economy, to the rule of law in our country and to the futures we bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

President Donald Trump on August 28, 2020, in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

You may find comfort in the polls showing a solid current lead for the Biden-Harris ticket. As of this writing, the Real Clear Politics average of major polls shows the national lead at just over 7%. But know this, larger leads disappeared in 1948, in 1968, in 1976, in 1988, and in 2016. And while Joe Biden shows solid leads in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, in all of those states but one, Florida, in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s lead was even larger than Biden’s is today. And Biden’s lead in Florida is just 1.4% greater than hers was, well within the margin of error. Further, in both 2004 and 2012, campaigns saw late swings of over 5%, again within the margin of error of the RCP average.

In other words, the Biden lead is very vulnerable — especially because in none of those previously cited elections, was there an incumbent who was so committed to cheating in order to win the election. Trump has already shown that he would do anything to win including breaking the law. That is why he is trying to make it impossible for the postal service to do their job with the delivery of mail ballots. He even admitted ON TELEVISION his intent to withhold funding from the post office to gain an electoral edge.

The Republican Convention saw repeated instances of egregious violations of the law which was created to keep incumbents from using the power of their offices to gain an edge in elections. The GOP has sought to suppress the vote in states across the country. And of course, Trump has welcomed the aid of foreign governments on his behalf in the past and this year, unlike 2020, the Senate has helped clear a path to make such election interference even easier for our enemies by refusing to fund election security laws. The president was even impeached for trying to gain an unfair election advantage — and he got away with it, which he has shown he sees as license to try again.

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Not only may cheating give Trump an unfair advantage, as 2016 showed, our electoral system gives red states an edge. Indeed, it has been estimated that a Democratic candidate could win the popular vote by 4% and still lose in the electoral college. And, of course, none of this speaks to the ability of the GOP to challenge or invalidate results in the courts, something they are planning to do according to press reports. The unfounded attacks on the accuracy of mail balloting are clearly laying the groundwork for such efforts.

Complacency will cause Trump to win

Finally, this campaign is unusual due to COVID-19. The Biden campaign has yet to be directly tested by the day-in day-out rigors of public appearances. While much of this year’s campaigning may be virtual, the next two months will be different with both debates and the prospect of late campaign “surprises” and dirty tricks looming.

So, history, Trump’s past behavior, Trump’s plans to cheat, the GOP track-record of cheating, the quirks of our electoral system, and the demands of the home stretch all suggest that not only would Democratic complacency be dangerous, it invites the disaster that four more years of Trump would bring. For that reason, because the stakes are so high, because a Trump re-election poses an existential threat to American democracy, those who oppose Trump must ignore current polls. They must mobilize, including reaching out to groups that will be critical to Democratic victory such as communities of color, women and younger voters. They must ensure the campaign has resources as never before. And they must challenge every threat Trump and the GOP pose to a free and fair election.

They also must recognize the bitter truth that in our system a tie will effectively go to the incumbent. Indeed, for the reasons cited above, even a small margin of victory for Biden is likely to result in both destabilizing challenges and, in the end, a Trump win. Further, a narrow Biden victory is likely not to be enough to win back Democratic control of the Senate which will be essential if the damage done by Trumpism is to be undone.

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Even with some encouraging signs in the air, the next two months will therefore require a kind of fervor, discipline and commitment that no election in memory has seen. The consequences of failure are too grave and the opportunity presented by defeating Trumpism and setting America on a renewed course to growth are too great to relax until the work is fully done and the transformative victory this country needs is finally and irrevocably achieved. 

David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf ) is host of “Deep State Radio” and CEO of the Rothkopf Group media and podcasting company. His latest book, “Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump,” will be published in October. Bernard L. Schwartz is the CEO of BLS Investments, former CEO of Loral Corp. and publisher of the Democracy journal

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