Tom with the BTRTN November, 2020 Month in Review, a month that simply has no precedent
in American history.
We have faced epic times in our country’s history before, certainly: wars, depressions, threats of nuclear destruction and terrorist attacks on our homeland. We have even lived through unfathomably close
elections, candidates attempting to steal the presidency and, yes, a global
pandemic. But never all three at once. The memory of this particular month, November 2020, will not
recede readily, if ever, no matter how soothing we may find Joe Biden’s persona and
how reassured we may be by his words and deeds, in particular in building a
thoughtful, experienced and high integrity governing team. Nor should we ever forget the harrowing travails of this month, when our democracy itself was assaulted.
The trauma here was how close we came to being
upended. The current president has been testing
our norms all along, of course. And he
has discovered a deeply disturbing truth – that much of what we rely on to preserve
our fragile democracy is dependent on customs, traditions and norms, not codified rules
or specific laws. And when laws do exist, they
can be subverted or ignored when those elected to enforce them weigh that duty
unfavorably against their reelection prospects.
There is no edge of the envelope to push, just as there is no edge of the
universe to touch. The only real power resides in the president’s 90% approval rating among Republicans voters, and the palpable fear among GOP politicians of becoming the target of a Twitter rant. We have been waiting for four long years for
principled and civic-minded Republican leaders — other than John McCain, John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, Lisa
Murkowski and Ben Sasse — to stand up and shout: “This is wrong!” That moment has yet to arrive.
But by the end of this consequential month, in the
aftermath of our elections, our institutions did hold up. Not without some teetering along the way, and
not without more fissures being exposed.
But our voting process emerged unscathed, with no whiff of fraud. The courts vigorously swatted away specious claims of electoral foul play. And the votes are being certified,
with the Electoral College tally expected to proceed as designed. Our institutions held up because a small
coterie of low profile state and local electoral officials and judges, many of
them Republicans or appointed by Republicans, did indeed say – enough. They were the ones who stared down the
president, putting their careers – and even their lives – on the line, and did
what Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Lindsay Graham and so many other GOP leaders refused
to do. They did the right thing.
This would have been an incredible election to pull off
even without White House histrionics, given the pandemic. Our electoral system was turned upside down,
with more votes cast before Election Day than on it, and over 40% of the total
by mail, sharp increases from the recent past. A record turnout, while perhaps inspired
mostly by the loving or loathing of the incumbent, was nevertheless a
remarkable display of civic responsibility.
There were indeed “delays” in the vote counting, but only because
several GOP state legislatures refused to allow the vote counters a head start
on their jobs in light of the onslaught of early voting. While there were a few protests here and
there, by and large it was a peaceful exercise.
All in all, a remarkable performance.
The challenges began with the lawsuits – the White House’s Plan A for delegitimizing the election — putting
our courts in the spotlight. And the courts spoke with incredible clarity, and unanimity.
Over 40 cases have been filed in various swing states charging various forms of fraud, and only one resulted
with a verdict favoring the president (an inconsequential one in Pennsylvania). The rest of the president’s petitions were either
denied, dismissed, withdrawn or upheld on appeal. Most of the judges used blistering language that
made clear the lack of any credible evidence to back the hysterical claims.
And they left no doubt about their collective disgust with the
horrifically inept arguments that were brought to them by a collection of hack attorneys, the only ones willing to make such specious claims on
behalf of the president.
And the certification process – the White House’s Plan B — while still
underway, has lived up to the challenge as well. There were various dramas that played out in
Michigan in particular, and intense pressure brought to bear against local
officials in Georgia and Pennsylvania.
But in the end, the certifications went forward, and with them, Joe
Biden finally received long-overdue official clearance for the presidential transition by
the General Services Administration.
There were many heroes in this process, and most will
always be anonymous, the counters, the observers, the checkers, the overseers, the
election officials charged with protecting the processes, the lawyers who
defended them. But a few shined so
brightly in their one moment on the national stage, their moment to embody institutional safeguards, that we should recognize
There was Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, a Republican, who in the face of calls for his resignation by the
state’s two GOP Senators (both up for reelection), and direct pleas from
Lindsay Graham to find Biden votes that could be tossed out, steadfastly
defended the fraud-free election process he ran that resulted in a narrow Biden
And Aaron Van Langevelde, the Republican Vice Chair
of Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers, who sided with two Democrats to
certify the election (while another Republican abstained). His understated delivery of the verdict was
the epitome of integrity: “The board’s duty today is very clear. We have a duty to certify this election based
on these returns. That is very clear. We are limited to these returns. I’m not
going to argue that we’re not.”
And finally, Circuit Judge Stephanos
Bibos, appointed by the president in 2017, who did not disguise his outrage in dismissing
one of the many Pennsylvania lawsuits: “Free,
fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are
serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require
specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
And what reward have these paragons of civic duty received for their efforts? Death threats and other forms of harassment from the crazed followers of the president. We can only hope that none of these are acted upon, and all of those who stood tall in this crisis can return to normal lives as soon as possible, with the
knowledge that the verdict of history has already been rendered in their favor.
Joe Biden was elected by virtue of over 80 million popular
votes (and counting), a 4-point victory margin, and 306 electoral votes. While the counting process made it appear to be a “comeback” from a deep abyss, the votes that put him over the top were actually the first ones cast, the mail-in votes dominated by Democrats who ignored the president and were rightly motivated to avoid crowded polling stations.
Well before the GSA acted to enable his transition, Biden began to reacquaint
America with the very norms that had been so bruised in the prior four
years. He largely stayed out of the
fraud fray, instead allowing the institutions to do their work while he began
to put his new Administration in place.
Through a series of calming speeches, briefings and appointments, he
made it clear that science is back, experience is back, the rule of law is back
– indeed, his mantra became, “America is back.”
Though facing the largest challenges of any incoming president since FDR,
with the pandemic raging anew, the fading economy and our devastated image
abroad, Biden projected strength, compassion, experience and calm. For a man famous for gaffes, he hit every
note correctly and seemed completely at ease and in command.
Biden will be the first President-Elect since Bill Clinton in
1992 to come into office without both houses of Congress in his party’s control
(unless, of course, the Democrats manage to sweep two Senate runoff elections in
Georgia in January). His new partner,
Nancy Pelosi, will only have a razor thin majority to work with in the
House. He will also govern under the
cloud of a Supreme Court likely hostile to his agenda.
Nevertheless, the early signals of his “first hundred days”
plan point to energetic action to set a new course on health care, climate
change, immigration, COVID management and more.
We all will find out if even a vestige of Joe Biden’s Washington, DC
remains. Biden embodies the across-the-aisle,
find-a-compromise, pass-the-bill-fix-the-bill way of doing business. Expect him to have frequent conversations
with Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin, the swing votes who will define the limits of his legislative ambitions, perhaps even if he gets a majority (Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will be the 50th vote and thus all powerful in that event).
One thing Biden will have going for him is positive news on
the COVID vaccine front, which could be rolled out as early as December, with
the potential for a return to normalcy in mid-to-late 2021. Perhaps his greatest challenge will be in
convincing enough Americans to actually get the virus, no small task and a
The less said about the incumbent, the better. He will remain on the scene until the day he
dies. That 90% approval rating among Republicans
ensures that. He has already indicated
an interest in pursuing the 2024 GOP nomination, a musing that puts the brakes
on the many would be successors who have already endured four years of
sycophancy to maintain their 2024 prospects.
One can only imagine what Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley must
be thinking at this point. His erratic
behavior in these final days has surprised no one, as he telegraphed his plan
to delegitimize the voting process and upend the transition, which have made a
mockery of two of the most treasured aspects of our grand experiment. The firings of those who opposed him, the
abrupt withdrawal of troops from dangerous theaters, the assassination of high
visibility enemies, the pardons of his cronies, and whatever else ensues, are
moves designed to maintain the spotlight and undercut the Biden Administration,
no more, no less.
But despite his massive following and guaranteed place on the
national scene, he will be far, far less powerful out of the Oval Office. He is already losing scads of airtime to Biden, and that trend will continue, ever more sharply. We
will see if he can maintain his death grip on his followers and the GOP when he
is out of the White House. It is not a
TRUMP APPROVAL RATING
Trump’s approval rating remained in the same typical range for
the month of November, at 42%. This
marks the 35rd consecutive
month that Trump’s approval rating fell in the 40-45% range. We have been saying from the outset that
Trump needed to improve this mark, at least to the upper 40% range, to have a
chance at reelection. He never did –
never really tried to reach out to potential supporters in the so-called middle
– and paid the price.
TRUMP APPROVAL RATING
TRUMP’S HANDLING OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
Approval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus continued
in a range just a tick mark below his overall approval rating at 42%.
TRUMP HANDLING OF CORONAVIRUS
The Trumpometer remained in historically disastrous
territory in November at -110. The -110
Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are an
astounding 110% lower than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per
the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below).
This level is slightly improved versus the -116 index from
the previous month. There was no new GDP
information. Both consumer confidence
and the price of gas dropped marginally.
The unemployment rate dropped significantly to 6.9%. But the big move was by the stock market,
which rose by 13% in the month fueled by the good news on the vaccine and, if
anything, enthusiastic over the Biden win.
The “Trumpometer” was designed to provide an objective
answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980
Reagan campaign: “Are you better off
than you were four years ago?” The
Trumpometer now stands at -110, which of course means things are far worse than
that, even worse than the -53 recorded at the end of George W. Bush’s time in
office, in the midst of the Great Recession.
End Clinton 1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
% Chg. Vs. 1/20/2017 Inaug.
(+ = Better)
Price of Gas
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BTRTN calculates our
monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct
daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You
Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and
does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters. The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average
but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.
the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we
take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot
and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.
The Trumpometer aggregates a set of
economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of
aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017,
on an average percentage change basis… The basic idea is to demonstrate
whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took
office. The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones
Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline.