Notes on Trump 50 – Final Debate

I haven’t been following US elections closely but I did watch both debates and both competing “town halls”.

Moderator was vastly more competent in final debate.

Biden again did not collapse in a heap, which is about all he needs to do to beat Trump at this stage

But this time Trump, with the help of the mute button, did avoid actively undermining himself. He again came over as running against the political establishment, which was easy given that the Democrats picked Biden.

I would say Trump’s position slightly improved (as it has been doing for the past week with Rasmussen polls before the debate showing nearly even approval and disapproval among likely voters, peaking at 52% approval on October 22). The election is still about Trump and neither the pro nor anti-Trump sides have much hope of, nor interest in winning over people on the other side. Nor are there many genuinely undecided to win over.

What really matters is who actually votes in the swing states. That is much harder to predict.

I would guess that Trump’s aim was to reduce the number of Republicans who don’t bother to vote because they despise his “character” and increase the number of black and latino Democrats who don’t bother to vote because they know the Democrat establishment politicians don’t actually deliver.

Buried underneath irrelevant data about what others think, this poll suggests Trump succeeded in that:

Slightly more Trump supporters indicated that their likelihood of voting had increased and slightly more Trump opponents indicated that their likelihood of voting had decreased.

The outcome is now less certain than it was before the debate. While it is reasonable to assume a majority vote against Trump and the polls up to now indicate swing States will deliver a substantial Electoral College majority as well, the details matter in each State and it would be hard to be certain even if following very closely.

One interesting feature is shown by articles at above Rasmussen site. In swing States Democrats are overwhelmingly more likely to vote early than Republicans and a very large proportion of registered voters are voting early.

That makes it less likely that an apparent victory for Trump on election day could be subsequently reversed as results of disputed postal voting come in later. Assuming Trump loses, he will still dominate the Republican primaries and the USA will still have a large, mass based mainstream far right party claiming the election was stolen from them. But that claim will be far more intensely believed by Trump supporters if their defeat was not confirmed on the night, but only after postal votes.

If on the other hand Trump wins a majority in the Electoral College, or more dramatically in an election thrown by Republican State legislatures and Supreme Court to the House of Representatives voting by State delegations, the Democrat implosion would be even more spectacular than four years ago when they started ranting about the Kremlin.

Notes on Trump 49 – And the winner is — President Pelosi or President Pompeo?

As explained in Notes 48, Trump’s strategy is to keep disputing postal votes until the December 8 deadline so that Biden has less than 270 electoral college votes. With some help from Republican State legislatures and governors as well as Vice-President Pence presiding in the joint session counting the votes, this could end up throwing the election to the House of Representatives voting by State delegations. If Republicans still have a majority of representatives in 26 States then Trump wins.

See also the links in comments to Notes 48 and also the complex legal details:

A plausible outcome would be a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives withdrawing from the joint session in protest at Pence rejecting disputed votes from Democrat Electors in a swing State and preventing the vote by State delegations occurring at all, so no new President could be inaugurated when the terms of Trump and Pence expire at noon on January 20.

Under Congressional legislation for Presidential succession, the next in line as Acting President would automatically be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, or her replacement elected by the Democratic majority that take their seats on January 6.

So of course we now have an article in the Wall Street Journal explaining that the legislation on Presidential succession is unconstitutional as the Constitution requires succession by an “Officer”, implicitly an officer of the United States Executive Branch, while the Speaker of the House is an officer of the legislative branch. Consequently the next in line turns out to be the Secretary of State, Republican Pompeo who is, as required, an officer of the Executive branch.

Equally naturally the article is by a Republican.

A Winding Constitutional Path From Trump to Pence to Pompeo
The president is sick, so here’s a review of the laws governing succession.

Although presented as about succession in the event of Trump dying from covid-19, it is actually about the planned disputed election battles in the Supreme Court.

Less naturally, the Republican author is John Yoo, best kown for his legal memos in support of torture in the “War on Terror”:

An opposing analysis, with links to earlier legal arguments is here:

Do Professors Akhil and Vikram Amar Still Think the Presidential Succession Act is Unconstitutional?

The indications may just be aimed at giving the Democrats and the liberal media something to get hysterical about, and/or to keep up morale amongs Trumpists that they still have some hope.

The level of dysfunctionality involved in this stuff is quite spectacular. A notorious war criminal would not have been chosen to write the legal analysis if the Wall Street Journal had somebody more credible available.

But unless Biden gets a big enough landslide for the result to be clear without postal votes on November 3, it looks like there will be a protracted battle.

It seems unlikely that the fight would be just among lawyers.

Notes on Trump 48 – unknown unknowns

I posted my first “Notes on Trump” when he was first inaugurated, January 20, 2017

That had this important caveat:

“Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.”

One of those unknowable contigencies turned out to be covid-19. A second has been Trump catching it.

While I got many things wrong, my central analysis has held up well for nearly four years:

“Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.”

“Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership] in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump. So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.”

In a comment to that first post, on March 25, 2017 I wrote:

“66. BTW the saga doesn’t end if Democrats get a House majority in 2018. Trump would still end up with a large party in the House of Representatives and it would be very hard for Democrats to get a majority in the Senate because most of the vacancies are for seats currently held by Democrats (and in States won by Trump). By 2020 it would not be unreasonable to expect a 3 or 4 way contest for President with splits in at least one and probably both of the current two parties. If, as seems plausible, no candidate gets an absolute majority in the Electoral College the election gets thrown to the House of Representatives. Even if Trump opponents have a large majority in both the Electoral College and the House, the House votes by State delegations in electing a President (1 vote for each State decided by the majority among Reps from that State). In 2016 Trump won in 30 states. If the Electoral College is deadlocked he only needs 26 States in 2020. I see no reason to assume that opponents would defeat his candidates for a majority of seats in the House in enough of the States that he won in 2016.”

The Democrats never did recover from their heads exploding with insane conspiracy theories about the Kremlin and contemptible pleas for the intelligence agencies to mount a coup d’etat. Trump still looked set to win until covid-19.

I was wrong about the splits. The GoP just capitulated completely to Trumpists and the Democrats “united” behind a zombie candidate from the party establishment, despised by most of their base.

But there is still a way Trump could win, and it is still about the House of Representatives voting by State delegations. Here’s today’s ABC report on it:

After the vote on November 3, the states have until December 14 to settle any disputes over the election result.

That’s when the state “electors” meet to report their results. If the result is still in dispute in any state at that time, the electoral college votes for that state aren’t allocated and the rest are counted up.

The magic number of electoral college votes is 270.

If neither candidate hits that number, the matter goes to Congress for a vote in the House of Representatives, with one vote per state.

There are 50 states, so someone needs to get to 26 votes in the House to win.

This is not really a time when holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives matters.

The sole Congressman for Alaska — who happens to be a Republican — would get to cast one vote. The entire delegation from California — which has 45 Democrats — would also have to combine for a single vote.

Currently, there are 26 states where Republicans have more members of Congress than Democrats.

In other words, if enough electoral college votes are disputed for long enough, the President is almost certain to retain power.

I don’t know whether that scenario could actually work out, or what impact the second unknowable contigency of Trump getting covid-19 will have. But if Trump survives he will certainly have achieved his goal of being leader of a large far right party in militant opposition to a corrupt and bankrupt liberal establishment that has already capitulated to his isolationist populism and has no credible policies.

Whether he is President or not, the absence of any left makes that dangerous.