What a Biden Landslide Would Look Like

It's not the most likely outcome, but it could happen.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

1. Landslides

Over the weekend, Andrew Sullivan did some wishcasting about a Biden landslide and in the course of it, there was this passage:

I didn’t expect this sudden hopeful twist of fate. Who could? And I don’t mean to deny the depth of tribalism in our culture, the remaining acute dangers of the election season, the huge gambles an unhinged president could make to save his skin, or yet another melodrama in this exhausting story. But the psychotic unraveling of Trump for all to see, the overwhelming fact of his failure on the core issue of the election, Covid19, and the appalling chaos and madness of a campaign in free-fall have given us something quite rare these past few years. There is an inkling of possibility on the horizon.

The emphasis there is mine. Because who could have possibly expected the current state of affairs?

Umm . . . anyone paying close attention to the election?

Here’s Mona Charen writing about “The Coming Biden Landslide” on September 10.

Here’s something I wrote on [checks notes] June 8:

When an incumbent president is trying to figure out his message in June, that’s not a sign of strength.

It’s the electoral equivalent of the birds and other wildlife all suddenly rushing inland while the Republican Senate frolics on the beach.

In just about every story written about the campaign you’ll find the phrase “a long time away.” The idea being that there’s still plenty of time left between now and November 3 and just about anything could happen.

Neither of those two propositions is really true.

First: There’s not a ton of time left. That weekend we just had? There are only 20 of them left between now and Election Day. That’s it. It is much, much later than you think.

Second: This race has been remarkably stable. Sure, it’s possible that “anything” could happen. Joe Biden could drop dead; Trump could resign; Kang and Kodos could show up. But take a look at how small the variation has been:

In the dozens and dozens of polls taken over the last year, Donald Trump has led Joe Biden in exactly four of them. . . .

The entire idea of a Trump comeback is predicated on the assumption that over the next 20 weeks, there can be so much good news that voters will flock to support Trump in even greater numbers than they were back in the pre-pandemic days of early January.

But even during those relatively good times, Biden held a strong lead. (On January 1, Biden was . . . +6.)

Looking out at the horizon, it’s hard to see where good news for Trump is going to come from. . . .

And don’t forget that with each passing week that Trump doesn’t make up ground, the momentum pushing against him increases.

One of the truisms of politics is: Bad gets worse. Losing campaigns have their own logic and the fact of losing makes it harder to change direction. People glom onto the side that’s winning as a bandwagon effect takes hold. The losing campaign gets the stench of death around it.

The most likely outcome is that Biden wins by 6 points or so. Though it is possible that the race could still move.

And if it does, I’d say that Biden +10 is about as likely as Trump +1.

All of which is to say, that if you’ve been reading this newsletter over the course of the campaign, the current state of play should not be especially surprising. The most likely outcome was always Biden +5/+7. The idea that the race could swing against Trump in the closing weeks was always a possibility precisely because that often happens with deeply unpopular incumbents.

True, the odds have shifted to make Biden +10 a more probable outcome now. Though at this point I still believe Biden +6 is slightly more likely than Biden +10.

Also interesting is the total vote.

We’ve seen a spike in presidential turnout which began in 1996 and accelerated after 2000.

The current voting age population is roughly 255 million.

So, if turnout percentage is what it was in 2016 (55.5 percent), we’ll have 141.5 million votes.

If the turnout percentage is what it was in 2008 (57.1 percent, the highest ever), we’ll see 145.6 million votes.

I think about this stuff because the higher the turnout, the more likely the polling average is to have captured the reality. But also because size matters. And while a +7 margin with 145.6 million votes is a lot of people (10.2 million), a +10 margin in a high turnout election? That could be close to a 15 million vote margin.

At that point, we would be inching back in the direction of the true landslides of yesteryear.

Young people may forget that Reagan won by +18 points in 1984; Johnson and Nixon each won by +23 points in 1964 and 1972, respectively. (What’s that you say? The widest popular margins went to the worst presidents? Such is the wisdom of the Great and Good American people!)

Anyway, we think that our max-polarization environment makes those sorts of landslides impossible. And that’s true for right now. But environments change. And all that has to happen is for one of the political parties to completely implode.

2. Mike Lee

Boy, did I get a lot of hate mail last week from people angry that I was defending Mike Lee and talking about the tyranny of the majority.

So let me clarify: The point of that piece wasn’t to defend Mike Lee, but to pick up and examine something that’s undeniably true: Our system of government is vulnerable from both directions: tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the minority.

What we’re seeing right now in the Senate is the former. The Senate Republican majority represents, in every sense, a minority of country. The president was the loser of the popular vote. Neither of these facts makes the attempt to ram through a Supreme Court nomination illegitimate, exactly. But they contribute to the degree to which this action is imprudent and likely to create bad outcomes for the country.

Good governing is not simply doing whatever you have the power to do. As a wise man once wrote: Properly understood, statecraft is soulcraft.

3. Vampire Ship

Fantastic New Republic longread:

On April 28, 2014, a fishing trawler intercepted an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, a day after the tanker had left Dubai for Greece. Three men climbed aboard the tanker and spent the night packing hundreds of small sacks of heroin, weighing at least two metric tons in total, into its ballast boxes. After they finished, two of the men sailed back to the coast. One stayed behind. He carried a handgun and ordered the tanker’s crew to keep sailing.

By late May, the tanker, which was called the Noor One, had passed through the Suez Canal. Early on the morning of June 6, it nosed into Elefsina, a grimy port just west of Athens. The next afternoon, four Kurdish men in a black Mercedes SUV pulled up in front of the ship, hauled the sacks of heroin out of the Noor One’s ballasts, and began transporting them toward Athens.

The Kurds had spent years preparing for the heroin’s arrival. They had negotiated to pay more than $20 million for the Plaza Resort on the Attic Riviera, planning to use the tourist destination as a money-laundering site for proceeds from its sale. They had leased a warehouse and an industrial chicken coop in the olive groves near Athens International Airport; here, the Noor One’s heroin would be diluted with more than five tons of marble dust from a quarry on nearby Mount Pentelikon. To transport the shipment, they had purchased a forklift and several hundred canvas bags stamped “Pakistan White Sugar.” In early May, an associate from Belgium had arrived in a cargo truck outfitted with secret compartments. The truck was supposed to move most of the heroin to a port in northwest Greece, then across the Adriatic by ferry to Italy. From there, it would be distributed to the street corners of Belgium and the Netherlands, kicking back hundreds of millions of euros to its owners.

Read the whole thing.