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Larry Donnelly: It’s definitely advantage Biden - but watch Pennsylvania

Larry Donnelly’s rational self tells him that Joe Biden will win – but does lightning ever strike twice?

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

TWO WEEKS AGO, I was very confident that Joe Biden would vanquish Donald Trump on Tuesday and be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States in January.

As I wrote here, “every reliable indicator signals the same conclusion: without a huge stroke of luck, a political miracle so to speak, Trump is done.”

In today’s final column prior to the day the world has been waiting for, I had planned to ponder President Trump’s legacy. And I will do so, yet briefly and tentatively, and not before re-evaluating the dynamics of this race. See, I have a niggling feeling about Pennsylvania.

When processing the numbers on the interactive map available at 270towin.com – something I’ve done countless times – among my fundamental assumptions has been that Joe Biden would prevail in the three states that put Trump over the top in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Michigan and Pennsylvania had not gone for a Republican since 1988; Wisconsinites endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1984 and had opted for Democrats in the seven subsequent contests.

As has been repeatedly noted since, Trump’s margin was wafer thin. Less than 80,000 out of approximately 13,000,000 votes collectively cast by residents of the three states separated him and Hillary Clinton.

This year, aggregated polling on RealClearPolitics.com has consistently shown Joe Biden in front in each. He still is. Barack Obama’s vice-president is up by more than 8% in Michigan and by 6% in Wisconsin. These leads appear insurmountable.

For Joe Biden is far more personally popular than the former Secretary of State and First Lady. While he may initially have been perceived as a businessman, an outsider and the antithesis of politics as usual, Donald Trump is now a controversial incumbent whose abhorrent behaviour has alienated a not inconsiderable swathe of the electorate, especially women, who lent their votes to him to kick the system in the teeth.

Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement’s righteous anger in the wake of gross police misconduct and its consequent mobilisation, coupled with the president’s thumbing his nose at its legitimate grievances, has to translate into an increased turnout of voters of colour.

Emotions and logic

And there is another factor: Team Trump have waged a poor campaign focused almost exclusively on an oft-heralded base with little regard for the “soft Trump” and/or persuadable voters he needs to get a second term.

This logic underpinning the consensus view that Joe Biden occupies the pole position is straightforward and objectively unassailable. Logic is often superseded by emotions in politics, though. And when it comes to President Trump, emotions run extraordinarily high. This is manifest on social media.

Recently, after endeavouring to offer a neutral assessment of the state of play in the campaign on Twitter, I was described, on the one hand, as someone blinded by anti-Trump bias and, on the other, as a shy Trump supporter. My experience is not unique. Donald Trump deludes.

More importantly, however, fervent emotion is evident on the ground in Pennsylvania. Just about everyone concedes that the polls, even allowing for the doubts of some Democrats as to the reliability of the data, have tightened. RealClearPolitics.com has Biden, who was born in Scranton, a small city in the northeast of the state, hovering ahead by 4 percentage points.

Further, journalists embedded in the key state report that the so-called “enthusiasm gap” is enormous. Most Trump followers are fired up and would walk over red hot coals for their man. Many Biden backers, by comparison, are nearly indifferent to the Democratic nominee. They are animated above all by their quest to take out a malevolent individual they deem to be an existential threat to their country. And they coalesced around the 77-year-old Washington, DC fixture only because they decided he was the best vehicle of a rather unimpressive lot to achieve their aim.

Some observers assert that Trump’s surge in Pennsylvania – if indeed there is one – is attributable to Biden’s comment at the last debate that the US must move past oil and fossil fuels imminently. Fracking for oil is an industry that has created thousands of jobs there. Accordingly, his advisers surely wish that Biden had ducked the question when it was posed.

His forthright answer won’t work in his favour, but there may be something else at play in Pennsylvania and beyond in that vast and amorphous entity, Middle America. It was captured in a New York Times piece by Shawn McCreesh, a native of the Philadelphia suburbs.

Middle America

As he traversed familiar territory, McCreesh found an awful lot of unrepentant Trump devotees.

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He sought to discover why they remained so loyal to him. One response was instructive, politically speaking: “I’m sick of people coming to me and telling me I’m a racist because I’m a Republican.”

This woman McCreesh heard from may have been right of centre, yet the capacity of the left to repel middle of the road, non-ideological voters should not be underestimated. These people feel as if they are looked down upon by the coastal elites who use their wealth and power to wield a disproportionate influence over the Democratic Party.

While Trump’s pulling off a comeback in Pennsylvania would seriously complicate things, it is important to note that Biden could still win the presidency. Even giving Trump Florida, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina – where opinion surveys show the two candidates are neck-and-neck – a victory in Arizona, where demographics has shifted dramatically in favour of Democrats and where Biden is a couple of points ahead, could pave his path to the White House. The map is on his side.

If this is the end for the bombastic New Yorker, three questions about Donald Trump’s legacy spring to mind. First, is the Republican Party now a “Trumpian” party – both in style and substance? In truth, Trump’s stances on matters like trade and military interventionism are directly at odds with long-standing GOP articles of faith.

Second, what will be the impact of his appointing so many judges to the Supreme Court and to the federal judiciary more broadly? He has kept his promises to social conservatives and drastically altered the make-up of the third branch of government. And finally, Trump has exacerbated the already dangerous divisions in the US. Is there a way back for an incredibly polarised society?

We can return to these in future. Let’s wait and see what transpires this week. My rational self says Joe Biden wins. There could even be a “blue wave” and a comprehensive repudiation of Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency.

It’s quite unlikely that there will be an upset. Lightning seldom strikes twice. But I can’t fully shake that wholly unscientific inkling about Pennsylvania. Again, a Trump triumph in what’s known as the “Keystone State” is a prerequisite for another earthquake. The next few days will be gripping.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie. He will be contributing extensively to media coverage of the US presidential election this week, including on the overnight panel hosted by Caitríona Perry on RTÉ One beginning at 11.15 PM on Tuesday. On Wednesday you’ll find his analysis of the election right here on TheJournal.ie.

About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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