5 takeaways from POLITICO Pro's post-election briefing
This article was originally made available to POLITICO Pro subscribers on 11/05/2020 at 02:49 PM EST.
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Read the takeaways from the 11/5 post-election briefing below:
Votes are still being counted and the dust has not yet settled on the 2020 election, but many are already mining the results for meaning in 2021 and beyond.
POLITICO gathered national political reporter Elena Schneider, election guru Zach Montellaro and congressional reporters Marianne LeVine and Sarah Ferris on Thursday to break down what happened.
Here were some of the highlights:
The presidential race is not over, but it could be by the time you read this
POLITICO warned for months that we likely would not know whether President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden won on election night, or even the day after. That came to pass, though we could be nearing a resolution.
Biden looks to have a lead on Trump in the electoral college and is favorably positioned in many of the states that are still too close to call — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — while Trump looks to be slightly ahead in North Carolina. Zach said that gives Biden multiple combinations to the magical 270 number, while Trump basically has to run the table.
The Trump campaign has bandied about threats of legal filings to halt or challenge the tallies in some of these states, as well as battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Michigan that were called for Biden, but Zach said their chances of turning the tide are slim.
“Frankly, a lot of the legal challenges are not relevant,” he said. “There is no mechanism to stop counting of legally cast ballots.”
A Biden victory doesn’t obscure Democrats' bad night
The Democratic Party is in soul-searching mode after they saw their House majority slim as they were routed in their pickup targets. Democrats also failed to defend vulnerable members that swept them into power in the 2018 midterms.
“Basically, Democrats thought they were going to get this massive repudiation of Trump” that never materialized, Sarah said.
She added that there are “lots of furious members” stewing over the results who will be asking tough questions in the weeks ahead.
Democrats’ chances of gaining a majority in the Senate is hanging on by the barest of threads, and appear to hinge on them winning not one but two runoff contests in Georgia, after their candidates lost to seemingly vulnerable incumbents in Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. (The North Carolina contest has not been called, but GOP Sen. Thom Tillis is leading.)
“It feels like we started this whole Trump experience with Jon Ossoff, and thus we must end with Jon Ossoff” Elena said, referring to the Georgia Senate candidate who gained national attention in 2017 while running for a House seat vacated by then-HHS Secretary Tom Price.
Zach said Democrats also failed to get a foothold in statehouses across the country, meaning that Republicans will continue to singlehandedly draw legislative district maps in many states. “They struck out across the board,” he said.
That will bring back painful memories of 2010 for Democrats, who spent much of ensuing decade fighting uphill in hundreds of House and local races.
Pollsters face an existential crisis
Polling firms, both those that release results publicly and those that work for campaigns and partisan strategies, missed the mark to a more significant degree than in 2016. That contributed to widely held expectation, by Democrats and Republicans alike, that a blue wave was arriving on Election Day.
“There were polling issues on both sides,” Marianne said.
Sen. Susan Collins winning in Maine without having to endure the state’s quirky ranked-choice voting process despite being behind in virtually all polling “was probably the biggest stunner” of the Senate races, she added.
Life in a divided government
If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Mitch McConnell will have substantial leverage to stymie progressive legislation House Democrats had passed since taking the majority as well as on who will staff a possible Biden’s Cabinet and other Senate-confirmed administration posts.
Biden is a creature of the Senate and positioned himself as someone who could cut deals with McConnell, Marianne said, an idea that will quickly be put to the test.
“They’re definitely going to have to work together on Cabinet nominees,” she said. “If [Republicans] don’t like a nominee they’re not coming to the floor.”
That likely means no liberal stalwarts — such as say, Treasury Secretary Elizabeth Warren — and the potential for near-total gridlock on the legislative front if the two sides can’t come together on things like coronavirus relief or infrastructure spending.
“A lot of the agenda will be decided by the senate,” Sarah said.
And with a slim House majority, there’s going to be a lot of cautious Democratic members and Republicans lurking in the wings to make their life painful for them politically.
“Progressive priorities won’t come to the Senate and may not even pass the House,” she said.
And while Democrats’ campaign arm may see a leadership overhaul, don’t expect the pecking order to change very much elsewhere on either side.
It’s highly unlikely that if the president ultimately loses reelection that he will slink off quietly back to private life, and his brand of Republican politics is unlikely to flame out anytime soon even if he is no longer carrying the torch.
Still, there are other strains of Republicans who will have to decide whether to embrace parts of the Trump doctrine or chart a different path. Given how close the election is after polling showed Trump down to Biden by significant margins, they may have to reevaluate whether Trump was in fact a drag on down-ballot candidates that many thought he was.
“We’re at an interesting crossroads with the republican party,” Marianne said. “My suspicion is its really here to stay.”
One upside for Republicans? They won’t get dogged by reporters demanding reaction to Trump’s latest social media provocation, Sarah said.
2020 is an election year like no other.
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