Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is a couple of notes below), I would start there.

I would offer a final precept that might prove vital to Mr. Biden’s winning the White House this November:

Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered.  On July 11, the New York Times ran a story I had been expecting and, frankly, dreading:  “Democrats Tell Biden to Go Big,” which reported that given Mr. Trump’s “slumping” poll numbers not only in swing states but in recently- or traditionally-conservative-leaning states such as Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Montana, and Kansas, Mr. Biden is facing increasing pressure within the Democratic Party, intent on a resounding renunciation of Trumpism, to “compete aggressively in more states,” “press his party’s advantage down the ballot,” and work “to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.” 

With the possible exception of Ohio, such sentiments are misguided nonsense.  Mr. Biden needs to resist this temptation.  This may be our last election based upon a predominantly two-party system (a premise obviously worthy of a future post) that until this century generally served us well for over one hundred years.  A campaign has limited time and resources.  In 2016, Democratic Presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently well ahead in the polls and anticipating that Mr. Trump would claim that her victory had been “rigged,” attempted to run up her Electoral College score to establish her legitimacy.  While never visiting Wisconsin, she diddled around in states like Georgia and Utah — states that any reasonable observer recognized that she was never going to win.  (It is a classic example of Mr. Trump’s bombast causing an opponent’s unforced error.) 

There are 538 Electoral College votes at issue in November.  If Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden wins exactly 270 Electoral College votes, he gets 4 years.  If the winner gets 400, he gets … four years.  If the winner gets 500, he gets … four years.  (All assuming, of course, that if Mr. Trump is elected, he doesn’t – as in effect Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have – declare himself President for Life.)  The candidate that musters 269 or fewer gets … ZERO years.  For the good of the nation, all that matters for Mr. Biden is getting in the White House.  While closely monitoring for any slippage in any of the states won by Ms. Clinton in 2016 (232 Electoral votes, if one includes the few votes denied her by those states’ “faithless” Electors), he needs to claim (assuming no “faithless electors”) any combination of 38 additional Electoral College votes from the six swing states listed in Part I:  Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), Florida (29), North Carolina (15), and Arizona (11) [and maybe Ohio (18), where Mr. Biden – perhaps boosted by the tacit support of former OH Gov. John Kasich — shows a steady if narrow lead and his traditional northern liberalism shouldn’t alarm persuadables].  As of the time this note is posted (while recognizing that these numbers vary daily), Mr. Biden’s leads in these six swing states have actually narrowed by an average of more than 1.5% from their respective late June and July crests – and he didn’t have that much of a lead in Arizona and North Carolina at his best.  I would assert that any decision by the Biden Campaign to broaden its efforts beyond the acknowledged swing states, perhaps Ohio, and any other 2016 Trump states in which polls show that he is sustaining a lead over Mr. Trump outside the margin of error (Nebraska?), is folly. 

Even the cautious might ultimately be tempted to suggest:  Wait until a couple of weeks before the election, and if Mr. Biden retains a commanding lead, then broaden the effort.  Two weeks before the 2016 election, national polls indicated that Ms. Clinton had a 12-point lead over President Trump — days before FBI Director James Comey announced that the Bureau was reopening its investigation into Ms. Clinton’s emails.  I would recommend that Mr. Biden run hard and narrowly right to the end.  As recently as a July 19 interview on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump refused to indicate he would concede the election if he lost.  I would submit that it is more important for Mr. Biden to achieve convincing margins in the requisite number of Electoral College states than it is to achieve narrow – and, thus, contestable – margins in a larger number of states.  Let the Lincoln Project and other groups of disaffected former Republicans make the case against Mr. Trump in heretofore conservative states.  There is one qualification to a narrow approach:  Mr. Biden should be willing to devote time to non-swing states in which polling indicates that his assistance might help the Democrats gain a U.S. Senate majority (e.g., Colorado and Maine).

A note:  The site I consult for the poll numbers I rattle off is Project FiveThirtyEight.  I like its ease of use; I assume it’s as accurate as any.

As President Reagan indicated (reportedly to laughter, presumably rueful) in Rochester, NY, at a campaign rally on November 1, 1984:  “The polls [in which Mr. Reagan then held a substantial lead over Mr. Mondale] are scaring me to death … President Dewey [then-deceased former Republican Presidential nominee and NY Gov. Thomas Dewey, who in fact lost to President Truman in 1948 despite leading in pre-election polls] told me to tell you that isn’t true.”

Although Gov. Dewey is as hard to reach now as he was in 1984, if Mr. Biden needs any confirmation for the sentiments Mr. Reagan attributed to Mr. Dewey, Mr. Biden can always consult … Sec. Clinton.

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