Joe Biden
US President-elect Joe Biden (Image: AAP/Tracey Nearmy)

It’s no exaggeration to say that if Joe Biden doesn’t defeat Donald Trump, the world’s oldest democracy is in grave danger.

President Trump has disgraced his office, badly damaged America’s standing in the world, and bungled the handling of a pandemic.

Biden, by contrast, is a good and decent man. He’s a centrist and an institutionalist. But he has also campaigned to finally do something serious about the environment, to complete the healthcare reform project that Barack Obama started, and to focus hard on wages and jobs growth.

Trump has a dedicated base, and in a deeply polarised America there is always a chance that he could pull off an upset. After all, he did in 2016.

But this is no 2016.

There can always be last minute October surprises, but it’s hard to imagine the same kind of moment that Hillary Clinton (and the rest of us) experienced with former FBI director James Comey investigating her emails, for a second time, at the last minute.

Don’t forget that two weeks out from the 2016 election the best forecasting models (like Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight) gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning. As of this writing Silver gives Biden an 87% chance of winning. But, unlike Clinton in 2016, Biden has a stunning 10.3 percentage point lead in national polls. In swing states Biden is well ahead: 8.0% in Michigan, 6.3% in Pennsylvania, 7.3% in Wisconsin. Winning those three states comprised Trump’s “inside straight” in 2016.

Moreover, if nothing changes between now and election day, Biden’s 87% chance of winning the electoral college gets bigger and bigger. If those polls hold up until the morning of November 3, Biden would likely have a 95% plus chance of winning.

For those who say: “yes, but Hillary lost” remember that FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 30% chance of winning on election day 2016. An upset, yes, but not unheard of. It’s the same chance a professional golfer has of missing a six foot putt. It happens.

So if Biden doesn’t win it will be a really big upset. It will condemn the United States and the world to four more years of Trump. It will put the republic in real jeopardy.

But it’s worse than that. If Biden doesn’t win big, then the Trump takeover of the Republican party might not be reversed.

Part of the damage Trump has done is to engender a kind of fanatical loyalty within the Republican party where anyone who doesn’t play to the Trumpian base has little chance of survival. Just asked Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona who, after falling out with Trump was essentially pushed out of office.

If, however, Trump loses the national popular vote by, say, 10 points, and the Democrats take back the Senate while maintaining control of the House, then Republicans may learn their lesson. It certainly wouldn’t be inevitable, but it just might teach Republicans that it’s one thing to be conservative, and quite another thing to be Trumpian.

None of us should be under any illusions that Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are going to suddenly find renewed respect for Marquis of Queensbury rules. But they may learn that Trumpism was an aberration that the American public dabbled with and then rejected.

Of course, if Democrats respond to an overwhelming victory with a raw exercise of power themselves then the chances of more moderation from the Republican party will be reduced. Packing the Supreme Court would escalate hostilities to a new level and perhaps confirm a view among Republicans that, Trump or no Trump, American politics is now just about using whatever power one has whenever one has it.

To that end, it is Biden the institutionalist — a man who clearly reveres the traditions of the Senate — who may be the best hope not just for the Democrats, but for America. If anyone can win big but exercise restraint it might be him.

Of course, he will need to satisfy those on the left of the Democratic party as well. That need not involve packing the Supreme Court, embracing the Green New Deal, or capitulating to other elements of the Democratic Socialist wish list.

Should Biden win big in a couple of weeks perhaps the biggest question will be how he satisfies the left without destroying institutional norms further than Republicans already have.

One way to do that may be to progress statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. That would definitely give Democrats more power in the Senate, and it would redress some of the counter-majoritarianism of the electoral college.

But it might stop just short of the water’s edge, and give Republicans a way to reconsider a move back to their traditional, conservative, but decidedly non-Trumpian values.

Here’s hoping.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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