Nov 5, 2020

Joe Biden takes commanding lead.

Joe Biden takes commanding lead.

The presidential race is nearing its end.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

Another election update, some more fun numbers and election updates, and a word of calm.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their significant others on election night. Photo: Joe Biden campaign

What D.C. is talking about.

The presidential race. In the last 24 hours, the race to 270 electoral college votes has become much clearer. Joe Biden has taken a commanding lead and looks to be on the verge of a victory.

He won Michigan and Wisconsin decisively and is on track to overcome the president in Pennsylvania today as absentee ballots continue to be counted in areas around Philadelphia and across the state. In Nevada and Arizona, he’s holding onto slimmer leads, but he doesn’t need to win either in order to win the presidency. And then there’s Georgia, too, where President Trump’s lead has slowly evaporated over the last 24 hours — and now hinges on little more than 18,000 votes with upwards of 50,000 ballots to be counted.

At the same time, the Senate majority appears at least like a long shot hope for Democrats. No candidate in either of the Georgia Senate races appears to be hitting the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff, which means we could be headed for a double Georgia Senate runoff in January — Jon Ossoff (D) vs. Sen. David Perdue (R) and Raphael Warnock (D) vs. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R).

Meanwhile, House Republicans have already picked up five seats, far exceeding their pre-election expectations, winning back several seats they lost in 2018 and riding a wave of successful Republican women on the ballot to victory.

What the left is saying.

The left is a mix of relief and dissatisfaction — happy that Biden looks on his way to victory but also distraught that it’s as close as it is.

In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman said Democrats have spent the last few months contemplating a world where Biden wins the presidency and has a Democratic Senate — but “we didn’t spend nearly enough time contemplating what it now looks like will be the reality: a Democratic president and a Republican Senate.”

“What does that mean? For starters, you can take all those meticulously prepared policy plans Biden and his team devised during the campaign and toss them in the trash,” he wrote. “There will be no expansion of health coverage, no aggressive legislation to address climate change, no move toward universal child care, no increase in the minimum wage, no new Voting Rights Act and no infrastructure spending. None of it.”

“Nor will there be a new stimulus bill to help the economy recover from the pandemic, since McConnell knows that Biden will be blamed if the economy continues to struggle,” he said. “At most — and even this is no guarantee — McConnell may allow continuing resolutions that keep the government open at its current funding levels. There will be no other significant legislation as long as Republicans retain control.”

Jamelle Bouie wrote that Democrats are waiting for a repudiation of Trumpism that is not going to come.

“And what is Trumpism? It is a performance, or rather, a series of performances,” he wrote. “It is a performance of nationalism, one that triangulates between open chauvinism in favor of the dominant ethnic group and narrow appeals to inclusion, with the promise of material gain for anyone who joins his coalition. It is a performance, on the same score, of success, projecting an image of wealth and power and urging the public to embrace it as its own — a version of “The Apprentice” in which the contestants are the American people. It is also the performance of an aggressive and aggrieved masculinity centered on the bullying and domination of others.”

In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols wrote that we are going to have to contend with the fact a large portion of the electorate chose the “sociopath.”

“I am certainly relieved,” he wrote. “A Biden victory would be an infinitely better result than a Trump win. If Trump were to maintain power, our child-king would be unfettered by bothersome laws and institutions. The United States would begin its last days as a democracy, finally stepping over the ledge into authoritarianism…But no matter how this election concludes, America is now a different country. Nearly half of the voters have seen Trump in all of his splendor—his infantile tirades, his disastrous and lethal policies, his contempt for democracy in all its forms—and they decided that they wanted more of it. His voters can no longer hide behind excuses about the corruption of Hillary Clinton or their willingness to take a chance on an unproven political novice. They cannot feign ignorance about how Trump would rule. They know, and they have embraced him.”

What the right is saying.

The right is gearing up for a fight. There’s a mix of Trump loyalists who believe the president still has a path — through Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania or Georgia, and conservatives who think he is going to lose but still believe it was a win, given the expectations.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that the biggest losers, besides the pollsters, were Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

“Democrats poured literally hundreds of millions of dollars into races against Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and in Kentucky against Mr. McConnell that they lost by double-digits,” the board wrote. “Democrats seem to believe their own progressive pieties that money is destiny in politics. A GOP Senate would mean the end of the Biden-Bernie Sanders ‘unity’ agenda. No death to the legislative filibuster, no new U.S. states, no Supreme Court packing, no confiscatory tax increases, no Green New Deal. If Mr. Biden wins and he wants to get something done, he would have to go through Mitch the Knife.”

The board also noted that Pelosi will have a “reduced” majority, all while Republicans flipped two South Florida House seats amid a surge of Hispanic turnout and unseated 15-year Rep. Collin Peterson in Minnesota. They’re also on track to win races in New York’s Staten Island, Long Island and upstate.

“One of Tuesday night’s big stories was how Republicans gained ground among minorities,” the board said. “The GOP message of economic opportunity resonated with minority entrepreneurs and workers as Democrats stood for government lockdowns and handouts. And who would have thought that immigrants who fled socialism in Venezuela and violence in Central America would oppose those scourges here? Democrats have refashioned themselves into a party of coastal elites and government unions with a progressive agenda that many middle-class Americans dislike. This includes banishing fossil fuels, abolishing state right-to-work laws and a pointless partisan impeachment.”

In The Washington Examiner, Hugo Gurdon wrote his “reasons to be cheerful” after such a foul election.

“Conservatives have a reputation for gloom, for bleakly concluding that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, handcart, or (Wikipedia tells me), even in a handbag. But, to the contrary, I think there's a lot in the election results to prompt optimism,” he said. “With Republicans running the upper chamber, there will be no packing of the Supreme Court with left-liberal justices who make up the law rather than interpreting it. A textualist majority will reject legislative overreach and stymie congressional or executive arrogation of powers not granted to them by the Constitution. It will, moreover, refuse to do Congress's job for it, decline to make the difficult policy decisions that are the proper purview of elected officials, and will thus oblige the people's representatives to abandon extreme positions and compromise to pass legislation.”

“Given how unappealing Trump is to so many people, it's perhaps a wonder that the election was close,” he added. “Faced with such a flawed incumbent, Democrats could now be celebrating total control of the levers of power. Instead, they lost ground (and seats) and must look at their failure in such favorable circumstances and recognize that it's because they flirted with or promised extreme policies and connived at violent mobs whom decent people wanted stopped, not enabled.”

My take.

In the end, I’m not sure this election is going to be particularly close. Joe Biden looks on track to win Pennsylvania by a much larger margin than Trump won it by in 2016 and may very well flip Georgia, too, a development that is going to make us rethink the electoral college map for decades to come.

If on Monday night, I told Democrats they’d win the popular vote by several million votes and flip Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia on their way to a decisive 306 to 232 victory — with margins larger than Trump had in 2016 across three of those states he won narrowly to defeat Clinton — all with a fighting chance at the Senate… would they have been upset? I don’t think so. But bizarrely, the way this race shook out made it seem as if it was much tighter than it really was. Biden’s firewall in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania is firmly intact as of this writing, and in any other year that would have been obvious from the start.

Of course, it’s not “over” yet. Many Trump loyalists are already making fairly absurd allegations of election fraud. I’ve offered a $1,000 cash prize on Twitter to anyone who can present me with evidence that can’t be explained away in fewer than two tweets, and so far dozens of challengers have fallen. This morning, Georgia already threw out the Trump campaign’s court challenge there. The reality is this election will have the same thing every election has — some double registrations, some clerical errors when data is reported, some delayed ballots, and a few instances of illegal votes that are discovered and thrown out. None of this will change the result because none of the margins in the deciding states are close enough.

There was a remarkable and telling moment during yesterday’s events.

At one point, in a matter of hours, the president’s supporters had congregated in Maricopa County, Arizona, cheering loudly and insisting that the vote count go on. At the same time, a few thousand miles away in Michigan, supporters had surrounded a Detroit polling place and were chanting “stop the vote!” While the president was on Twitter and television insisting that we were entitled to know who the president was on Election Day and that he was the winner, the president’s former top advisor Kellyanne Conway was actually on Fox News saying this: “They spent 3 years investigating the president, impeaching the president,” she was saying. “We can’t wait 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks to get a result ... as to whom the next president will be? I mean, what is the rush?”

The inherent contradiction of these events pointed to the president’s dire situation. And thus, the harsh reality of where we were sitting became clear: Joe Biden was ahead in Nevada and Arizona after securing victories in Michigan and Wisconsin. If the Trump campaign truly could “stop the count” — which they can’t — Joe Biden was already at the 270 electoral college threshold needed for victory. But if the Trump campaign insisted the count go on — which, again, they don’t get to decide — Trump was headed for certain defeat. Pennsylvania’s absentee ballots were breaking heavily in Biden’s favor, and it was clear he wouldn’t need Arizona, Nevada or Georgia, though he is still well-positioned to win all three by the time the final votes are tallied.

So the choice of paths became clear as mud: try to stop the count and Biden wins. Keep the count running and Biden wins. Pick a door. This was about the time I went on Instagram and Twitter and “called” the race — around 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday night. The president, of course, saw a different way out. He could embrace the contradiction, sue to challenge races in Pennsylvania and Georgia while allowing the count to continue in Arizona and Nevada. He began “claiming” states on Twitter. None of it is going to matter, though. His baseless legal challenges will fail, and even if they succeed they’ll do nothing to stop the votes that arrived by election day from being counted. And the races aren’t close enough in the blue firewall for him to change any outcomes, by recount or otherwise.

Again: pick a door.

Of course, none of this is to discount the significance of the Republican holds and gains. They are, in a word, shocking. The national polling may come close to sniffing the margin of error, but the statewide polls were disastrously wrong. Florida was not a contest, nor was Texas, nor were the Senate races in North Carolina or South Carolina, and Joe Biden didn’t come close to the eight or ten-point margins many were predicting in Michigan and Wisconsin. The House races were worse. Democratic gains of up to 15 seats turned into losses — and GOP women won in droves. Are pollsters still weighing the electorate wrong? Are they underestimating the turnout? Does the elusive shy Trump voter really exist? This is all yet to be determined.

While the left cautiously celebrates this moment, I also think the result is a fair cause for some introspection and concern. Progressive politics are an increasingly identity-based affair, and it’s undeniable that after four years in office, Trump seems to have improved his standing amongst minority voters. Musa al-Gharbi explained this phenomenon well, noting that “many minority voters simply do not view some of his controversial comments and policies as racist. Too often, scholars try to test whether something is racist by looking exclusively at whether the rhetoric or proposals they disagree with resonate with whites. They frequently don’t even bother to test whether they might appeal to minorities, as well.”

The right’s favorite example of this is the insistence from many white liberals and well-educated Latinos that not using the gender-inclusive term “Latinx” is offensive, despite the fact that virtually no Latinos identify with this moniker and most have never even heard of it. More potent, to me, is the simple dynamic of progressive politics, which is overwhelmingly judgmental and exclusionary in its current state. It’s a politics of shame and wrongdoing — of people using the wrong language, sharing the wrong hashtags, addressing the wrong people, learning the wrong history, fighting the wrong fights, idolizing the wrong people.

Natalie Wynn, the well-known progressive trans YouTuber who goes by the name “ContraPoints,” has been harping on this dynamic for years. Here is an excerpt from a 2018 interview with The Economist where she explains the dynamic very clearly:

“I don’t just want to show how somebody might be wrong, I want to know why people believe the things they believe in the first place. I want to understand the mindset that would lead somebody toward the alt-right… I’ve done several videos that target the strategy, or lack thereof, of a lot of people on the left. There is rhetoric that’s extremely alienating and off-putting. There’s tribalism that makes it very difficult to get in. There’s purity testing that pushes most people out. I think that a lot of the way that leftist spaces work online is designed for 5% of people to be able to be welcomed by them. Meanwhile, right-wing groups are recruiting anyone who wants to get on board with the cause.

“I have to be cautious because if I tweet one thing critical of progressive movements I get love-bombed by all these right-wing people saying: ‘You’re so right, it’s so awful that you have to deal with this.’ It’s like they have a welcome committee for people who want to sign up for the far right but on the left you almost have to fight your way in.”

There’s still more information to take in from this race, but I am absolutely certain that this dynamic Wynn describes has played a large part in more voters coming out for Trump than they did in 2016. Trump and his supporters are embracing any and everyone who ever utters a kind word about him — from 50 Cent to progressive activists like Wynn. But many of the most influential progressives do the opposite: they reject support, alliance or association with folks who want to be on their team.

In many respects, they have eliminated paths to redemption for crimes of the past — a reality that is now becoming clearer to voices on the left. The morality of this kind of politics is a worthy debate: should someone with a history of racism, sexism, misogyny, transphobia or xenophobia be allowed “in” if they repent and evolve? Should a Trump supporter who falls out of love with the president be a welcome ally? Are a group of never-Trump Republicans now unified against the president worthy of your money? Friend or foe? I’ve heard compelling arguments on each side.

But a debate over the efficacy of this kind of politics is less interesting. It’s simply (and I maintain very obviously) not a good way to expand your tent, or the number of people on your “team.”

None of this is the singular explanation for Trump or the right’s steady support, but it’s absolutely one of the dynamics at play. Joe Biden is not a mortal threat to democracy and I don’t believe most Trump supporters think that he is. Instead, it’s easier for millions of Americans across the country to identify what they hate about progressive politics than it is for them to identify what they love about progressive policies. That’s why Trump runs on the culture wars and not his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic or his non-existent health care plan. Because he knows this.

The question now is how the left views these results. Is a healthy win against an incumbent, something practically unheard of in modern American politics, proof that the left’s politics are winning the day? Perhaps. More likely, to me, is that dents in the left’s minority and working-class coalition, and Trump’s resilience, all in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed 230,000 people and left more than 20 million taking unemployment, is proof that the right’s criticisms of the left’s approach to politics hold significant merit. To win the elections of the future, when a candidate as disliked as Trump isn’t on the ballot, will require a far more welcoming outreach to broaden the left’s coalition.

Some notables.


  • $199,004,686. The combined amount of money Amy McGrath and Jaime Harrison raised in their Senate races.
  • 35. The number of combined points McGrath and Harrison lost their Senate races by.
  • 306-232. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the electoral college over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • 306-232. Joe Biden’s potential margin of victory in the electoral college over Donald Trump if he wins Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.
  • 56.9 million. The estimated number of people who watched coverage of the election across 21 networks during the primetime hours on Tuesday.
  • 107,000. The number of new COVID-19 cases across the U.S. yesterday, another all-time single-day record.
  • 18. The number of U.S. states who reported a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations yesterday.
  • 300,000. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in Iowa amongst in-person voters on election day.
  • 160,000. Joe Biden’s margin of victory in Iowa amongst those who voted by absentee ballot.


Having fun yet? Are you not entertained? This has been a wild 72 hours, and I just wanted to thank you all for taking this ride with me and reading Tangle along the way. I’m running on about six hours of sleep over the course of three days but I’m feeling energized by the support from so many Tangle readers across the country. If you have been enjoying this coverage, and enjoying Tangle, please do consider becoming a paying subscriber. I keep 90% of Tangle free because I don’t believe reliable news should be behind a paywall, but I do rely on supporters who have the means to back this project. You can subscribe for less than $5 a month, about what you spend on a stick of deodorant. In return, you get put on the list for special Friday editions.

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Have a nice day.

In most newsletters, this is where I drop in a good news story to send you off. Today, I just want to say this: there is a lot of chaos and some wild rumors out there about the integrity of this election. On the right, there are conspiracies about thousands of ballots being snuck into polling places in the middle of the night. On the left, there are rumors about the USPS losing hundreds of thousands of votes. These stories are just that — rumors. I have actually been remarkably surprised at how smoothly this election has gone, and how few issues there have been of note. Election officials across the battleground states are saying the same thing. There are no serious issues related to the integrity of this election yet, period. And if you’ve seen a story you’re worried about, write in and tell me, and I’ll try to explain it — as I’m sure I can.

This might change, but for now, it’s a simple truth. Our institutions are strong, they are holding, our system is messy but working, and we are going to have a clear winner here shortly — one that I can pretty much guarantee will not change via court rulings or challenges or rumors on Facebook. If this changes, I’ll be the first to tell you. But for now: take a breath. We’re almost through the election storm.

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