Preparing yourself for the certainty that something is likely to be delayed does nothing to alleviate the sheer frustration and anxiety experienced in the moment of enduring the wait. Yet here we are, early morning, knowing full well that, in an age where we crave instant information and gratification, we are probably still a day away from a declared winner in the US presidential election.
Regardless of the fact that votes are still being counted in multiple states, the jostling and posturing began early and Joe Biden was smart to get out ahead of Trump, reminding people that it was neither for him nor his opponent to call the election until all votes were in. This was swiftly followed by an inflammatory tweet from the president, prematurely calling a victory and accusing the Democrats of trying to steal the election – a tweet so hasty that he referred to the “Poles” being closed, and so questionable that it was quickly marked by Twitter as disputed and potentially misleading.
That move was followed at around 7.30am UK time by a White House speech in which the president, to use the lingo, doubled-down on that strategy to call into question the validity of any outcome that does not now deliver a Trump victory, decrying “fraud” and suggesting he would head to the Supreme Court to ensure they stop counting (legitimate) votes. The repercussions of this incendiary speech will only be realised over the days and weeks to come.
If Trump secures four more years, he is likely to follow Barack Obama as the only two post-war presidents to be re-elected with less of the electoral college than they won first time round. Exit polls suggest the US economy has been by far the biggest issue in influencing voters’ decisions, with the Covid pandemic ranking surprisingly low as a factor at the polls.
At the time of writing, only one state looks to have changed hands from 2016 – Arizona. This shift, if indeed it is confirmed as it has not yet declared, is potentially very significant, as it dents Trump’s attempts at this stage to portray an air of inevitability about the result. The president held on in the swing ground of Florida and Ohio, the much-anticipated Democratic surge in Texas did not materialise, and he failed to overturn Minnesota, one of the few rust belt states he did not carry four years ago. It will be the other midwest territories, namely Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that decide this contest.
Republican and Democrat legal teams unprecedented in their size are already poring over the votes. It’s entirely possible that this episode will not end with a declared winner. For the Democrats, this is incredibly disappointing: it is not the landslide predicted by some polls, it is not even close. Even if they do take back the White House, and potentially the Senate, the narrow nature of any victory robs Biden of the chance to say that he is taking the whole country with him. Recriminations and resentment will be long-lasting, whoever prevails.
With that in mind, thank heavens for Arizona. If we were waking up this morning with no state in the union having seemingly switched sides, Trump’s unsubstantiated argument that dark forces are at work might have been easier to stand up. As it is, we will all have to endure another painful wait, as the legal recriminations from this most messy of elections look likely to endure for some time.