4.25 light years from Earth there is a newly discovered planet named Proxima b. It is in the news because it is both potentially habitable and it is so close to Earth. You might be tempted to travel there to get away from the U.S. election, which is now in its 18th month, but alas there is no escape. If you arrived on Proxima b tomorrow, you’d have just under three years before you’d have to relive this very election all over again.
It’s been eight months since I last wrote about the election here, so I thought it was time for a brief update. The most important thing to know about the U.S. election is that Donald Trump will almost certainly lose. The New York Times continuously updates the election odds, and Trump is currently at 11% and has been steadily falling in the polls. Nevertheless, there are two common scenarios for a Trump victory to which the amateur and professional punditocracy prefer to point. The first is that Hillary Clinton will face some sort of criminal indictment and be forced out of the race. The FBI already declined to recommend criminal charges be leveled against Clinton for mishandling classified documents, so this unlikely scenario is based on some unforeseen scandal emanating from the Clinton Foundation. But let’s assume she is faced with criminal charges, and the race becomes Trump vs. Tim Kaine. Why would anyone think Kaine would lose? I suspect Trump would be crushed even more by Kaine than by Clinton, who is the second-least trusted public figure in America (Guess who is #1?).
The other hypothetical scenario for a Trump victory is a major terrorist attack in the U.S. just days before the election. The reason some pundits think this would benefit Trump is the theory that the attack would be blamed on the party in power, and thus benefit Trump. The counterpoint here is that the people who support Trump because they “just wanna shake things up” would rethink that support in light of an attack; and Hillary Clinton can run ads that show the famous photograph of her and President Obama in the White House Situation Room during the bin Laden raid.
There is a structural and demographic reason why Trump is unlikely to win. In a generic presidential race, the Republican starts at a disadvantage. The American presidency is not decided by a popular vote. It is decided by “electoral votes.” Each state gets a certain number of electoral votes and in 48 states the winner of the popular vote within the state gets all of the electors (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions). For example, California has 55 electoral votes, and 38.8 million people. It only takes 50% + 1 votes to get all 55 electoral votes. To win the election a candidate needs 270 electoral votes, and most states are uncontested. The reliable Democratic electoral votes outnumber reliable Republican ones by, in a conservative estimate, 201 - 158. And this is not a normal year, Trump’s unpopularity has put reliably Republican states at risk for the first time in decades. It could be an absolute electoral blow out.
In my view, the only real way that he can win, is if we all think he can’t. If Americans stay home because they think it won’t matter, then Trump will be beneficiary.
The increasingly likelihood of a Trump defeat is why he is laying the groundwork for claiming that the vote is rigged, and calling into question the legitimacy of the system. This is a particularly raw subject as the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a variety of state laws designed to “eliminate” voter fraud, but were found to be explicitly designed to prevent minorities from voting. It is important to note that every study of U.S. elections has found that voter fraud does not actually exist. There is a reasonably straightforward explanation for that-- voting is not nationally regulated, administered, or controlled. In some states it might be run by the state, but in others each locality might use different machines and have different procedures. There are also local election officials, and representatives from both parties. The idea that millions of votes could be “stolen” is as preposterous as the idea that there were no attacks by radical Islamists inside the U.S. from 2000-2008. And yet...
There is so much more to say about everything here, and about each new outrage that the campaign brings… and I say it all on Twitter, so why not follow me @jonathancristol, after all, to borrow Trump’s quote about why African-Americans should vote for him, “what the hell do you have to lose?”
Dr Jonathan Cristol is a fellow at the World Policy Institute and senior fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College.
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What is your opinion on the dynamics and positions of the candidates in the US presidential election campaign? What are the key drivers for a potential success of the two major candidates in the race? Leave your comments and opinions in the comments section below.