“Down to the Wire…”
A product of Morningside Communications
Edited by David S. Kerr (with our London correspondent, Ross Duncan)
What happened – just how wrong were the polls – a bad night for down ballot Democrats – our 2nd Catholic President – claims of fraud at the polls – and a word from our London correspondent Ross Duncan about the foreign policy challenges a Biden administration faces when it takes office
This is a more aptly named newsletter than expected: When I named this newsletter, I thought it was a cute title. “Down to the Wire…” We started this publication the week of the Kentucky Derby and a horse racing metaphor seemed particularly appropriate. However, looking at the results I had no any idea how accurate this name was going to be. The 2020 Election kept America on the edge its collective chair for almost a week. It really did go “Down to the Wire.’
So, what happened: First, the polls. Yes, they were wrong. However, whether they were massively wrong or partially right depends on your point of view. The Pollsters clearly underpredicted the turnout, way overestimated Joe Biden’s margin nationally, and forecast big wins in states that Biden carried by only a hare’s breath. Nonetheless, he won nationally, by a decent margin and as predicted carried the blue wall states he was forecast to win as well as a few key swing states. Of course, the fact remains, contrary to the forecasts, he did so by only by the scantest of margins. The polling industry, facing challenges in how they identify and contact prospective voters, not to mention, the effect of early voting, may be seeing their importance in national elections starting to fade.
No “Blue Wave”: Democrats had hoped that a sizable margin for Biden, and a sweep of key swing states, would net them gains in the Senate, House and in several state legislatures. The latter are important because Congressional redistricting is coming up. Alas, the Democrats netted only one seat in the Senate, lost four (at least) in the House, and did poorly in state legislative elections.
Our Second Catholic President: Sixty years ago, almost to the day, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to become President. It was a big deal and during the campaign a major election issue for some. This year, Joe Biden won. He’s Catholic too, rather devout, but no one seemed to notice. Let’s take that as a sign of progress.
A few facts and figures: In raw numbers Joe Biden got more votes than any other Democrat in history while President Trump got more votes than any other Republican in history. Thing is, Biden got more votes than Trump. So, I don’t think the GOP is taking much solace in that whole line of thinking. Also, an amazing 147.7 Million Americans voted. That’s more than twice the entire population of Great Britain. Oh, and finally, the national margin of victory for Biden was 4.63 Million votes. Curiously, Democrats have won the popular vote, but lost the all-important Electoral College vote twice during the past 20 years. Something they almost did again this year. No wonder the Democrats are so keen on doing away with the Electoral College.
Litigating the outcome: President Trump and others have claimed that there was extensive fraud and miscounting in the election and that no result should be called until the claims are properly litigated. However, the problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much to litigate. Documented claims of fraud backed by evidence, claims that might have any impact on the election, seem sparse to nonexistent. The GOP is particularly upset about Georgia where they control all of the electoral apparatus. I haven’t figured that one out yet. Alas, I have been involved in enough elections to tell you that losing by a little, and feeling that you should have won, isn’t enough to justify claiming fraud. That said, no matter which side you’re on in this so-called debate, the good news, is that this drama doesn’t have all that long to play out.
From Ross Duncan – Our London Correspondent: I do not envy President-elect Biden for the foreign policy morass for which he will soon be responsible. The challenges posed by Chinese peer competition, Iranian belligerence, Russian revanchism, North Korean brinkmanship, trade disputes and, of course, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, all ensure that Biden’s task will be a difficult one.
Yet my reading of the international landscape leads me to conclude that Biden must address one challenge above all: How to maintain the credibility of America’s military guarantees to its allies in an era of potent, diffuse and simultaneous military challengers. Indeed, constrained by immense federal budget deficits and a colossal debt burden, the United States cannot afford to compensate any longer for the military weakness of its allies.
This weakness is most evident in Europe, the place where defence policy repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. Disturbingly, Europe is currently so weak militarily that without the support of the United States, it would be unable to repel a full-scale Russian invasion. For a continent as rich and populous as Europe is, that is reprehensible.
We should be under no illusion here: Europe’s endemic and self-imposed weakness poses a grave threat to America’s international position. For the United States will only be able to credibly deter and resist Chinese aggression in Asia if it can devote an ever-greater proportion of its military capabilities to doing so. China, as a peer competitor, demands nothing less.
Yet the ability of the United States to achieve this objective is ultimately dependent on the strength of its allies elsewhere. In this respect, the role of America’s partners in the Middle East and Asia will also be of vital importance.
The nightmare scenario, of course, is that the United States will face simultaneous crises involving multiple, credible adversaries. In the event of, say, a conflict with China over Taiwan and a concurrent crisis with Russia over the Baltic states, it is by no means assured that American forces would be able to contest both threats simultaneously with sufficient force and speed.
This is not a fantasy scenario. It is precisely the opposite. Vladimir Putin is far more likely to orchestrate a crisis when the United States is engaged in a full-scale conflict with China than when it is disengaged. Tehran is more likely to rush for a bomb if they believe that the United States is preoccupied with repelling Russian aggression. Crises breed crises, as opportunism overwhelms caution and delicate political calculations are overturned.
President-elect Biden must therefore begin the process of radically re-shaping America’s relationships with its regional allies. These partners have to take primary responsibility for their security, acting as credible first responders. The United States must reinforce its allies’ military capabilities, rather than being their military capabilities.
Our future depends on it.