The polls clearly favour Joe Biden to win the election in just over two weeks time (at time of writing FiveThirtyEight gives him an 83 per cent chance of winning the Electoral College, and an even higher probability of winning the popular vote). Naysayers will claim that if polls got it wrong in 2016, they can get it wrong in 2020 also. It would be foolish to count Trump out, but updated polling methodologies came through a 2018 mid-term trial run without incident.
Yet although Biden is forecast to win, Donald Trump is already planning a legal challenge to the result. His campaign team will demand recounts, launch legal challenges and allege ballot fraud and election rigging. This will hardly be a victory for American civility or a fine example of democracy to the watching world.
The use of postal ballots this election makes it especially likely that litigation will abound for a chaotic few weeks after the election. With key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin not processing record high numbers of postal ballots until Election Day, there is a fear that their ballot infrastructure might struggle to tabulate enough votes on the day to name a victor. Pennsylvania, for example, endured a disastrous weeks long effort to count primary ballots in the summer which does not bode well for this 20 Electoral College vote jewel in the rustbelt crown.
An election decided in court is an unedifying prospect for many Americans. This is particularly the case as the US Senate moves to approve Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment, Amy Comey Barrett. Should three Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices help hand the election to Donald Trump, the damage to the independence of the judiciary would be incomparably greater than the heated Bush v Gore decision.
In speaking about this 2000 legal challenge, the Justice Antonin Scalia once said “we [America] were the laughing stock of the world. The world’s greatest democracy that couldn’t conduct an election.” A contested election in 2020 could be significantly worse. This will be damaging to America, and what damages Britain’s closest ally damages Britain too. So if you believe that a strong America is a linchpin for Britain and the West, a Biden landslide must be your preferred outcome.
The only hope of avoiding weeks of judicial review seems to be a comprehensive victory one way or the other. There is minimal chance that Trump will win a landslide, and so only a crushing Biden victory on the night of November 3rd can possibly lead to an indisputable result and strong showing for American democracy.
Supporters of Donald Trump in this country will argue that four more years of his leadership will be good for Britain. He appears to have a better working relationship with Boris Johnson than, say, Angela Markel, has spoken fondly of his mother’s native Scotland, and is thought to provide greater opportunity for Britain to get a free trade agreement.
Yet the President does not have the authority to guarantee any such deal. Last month, Speaker of the House of Representatives, America’s third most powerful politician, made it crystal clear that “if the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.” So far as trade goes, there is no inherent advantage to negotiating with Trump. Even if Britain were to agree a deal with Trump, it would have to be on terms which were acceptable to Democrats who are heavily favoured to retain control in the House.
Trade policy is not a hot political topic in America at the moment, however. Of the four main election arguments (coronavirus, the economy, judicial appointments, and law and order), two will have a more noticeable impact on Britain than the rest.
Covid-19 is the world’s biggest issue at the moment, and the lack of leadership shown by Donald Trump is disturbing. Whether it’s his claims that the virus will just go away or his decision to withdraw from the World Health Organisation, Joe Biden plans to rally the world to deal with the pandemic. And although America’s stock markets have performed impressively during Donald Trump’s tenure, the economy is vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus which will continue to ripple through the system. Nor is Joe Biden the hard left, tax raising, economy crippling figure as Trump has painted him.
Donald Trump’s electoral success has been a wakeup call about the millions of Americans who feel lost and abandoned in the current political, economic, and social system. But Trump’s bombastic demeanour is not the answer for the national and global health crisis, nor any future crises which demand global leadership.
The Lincoln Project launched a powerful advert earlier this year parodying a famous message from the Reagan era. “There’s mourning in America, and under the leadership of Donald Trump our country is weaker and sicker and poorer. And now Americans are asking, if we have another four years like this, will there even be an America?” A narrow win either way which concludes after judicial battles will not do anything to bring Americans together. And if this incredibly bitter election cycle is not seen to be definitively decided at the ballot box, the next four years are fated to be a struggle for divided America. The only solutions is a Biden landslide. And having America once again representing the West as the world’s hegemon will surely be good for Britain.