American baseball great Frank Robinson got this election night right: "Closeness doesn't count in baseball. Closeness only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Joe Biden was playing hardball – to take out the President of the United States. He is close after a night of counting, but his hand grenades were not direct hits. Florida stuck with Trump. Texas too. The counting lagged in the three crucial midwest industrial states that spurned the Democrats and turned to Trump in 2016: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The votes could not be banked fast enough for Biden to claim victory on day one of counting. Iowa and North Carolina are not fully reported yet either. Biden has a clear shot in Georgia.
Biden therefore does have a roadmap to victory, especially with Arizona in hand, but Donald Trump has the bully pulpit, the Oval Office megaphone, the Fox News platform, the full bench strength of the United States Department of Justice, an army of lawyers, and a conservative Supreme Court that appears to be just waiting for the right election counting case to come before it.
The nation was exceptionally tense these past few days. Everyone, whether you were for Trump or against him, had knots in their stomachs. Everyone agitated. Too many armed. Trump convoys surrounded a Biden-Harris bus in Texas, nearly running it off the road. Trump car carnivals stalled highways and bridges in New Jersey and New York. Merchants boarded up buildings from Washington DC to Beverly Hills.
Trump sees an election count that does not have him in first place as rigged. For him, the only legitimate elections are where he wins. Democrats see an election on the verge of being stolen in all the states that are still counting votes – and the result hinges on that outcome. Millions are ready to flood the streets to protest any Trump declaration that he has won and will continue in the presidency despite again losing the popular vote, this time by perhaps 8 million votes. By Thanksgiving, Washington could look like Belarus. A new "unscaleable" wall is up around the White House and Lafayette Park to keep demonstrators away.
The inconclusive result is an open sore - 100 million people don't turn out early to vote unless they want to send a message and vote the incumbent president out. They did not stand in line for 10 hours across the country to give President Trump a second term. In every major demographic where Trump had traction in 2016 – independent voters, women, white voters, white men without college degrees, seniors – Biden reduced Trump's edge and cut his margins by far more than Trump did to seal his 2016 Electoral College victory.
This election was poised to end the bitter divisiveness, the chaos, the abuses of power, the incivility and vulgarity, the endless provocations and Twitter rants, the lies, the sense of perpetual crisis and confrontation. But substantial demographic shifts, with more people of colour living in the south and west, especially in Texas, have not yet reached critical mass. Late visits there did not work for Biden. Ohio remained impenetrable. Trump's armies conquered Florida again.
Still, victory for Biden is in sight while not in his grasp. With confirmation from Wisconsin and Michigan that Biden is in and Trump is out, and together with Arizona, Biden can prevail. Pennsylvania and Georgia can yet add the icing on the Electoral College margin.
Lawsuits will spawn. Trump will take those battles deep into the court system.
Trump will use the White House as a stage to project an image of continuity and determination – that he is the presumptive winner. He will make and execute plans to reshape his administration and his cabinet.
He will formulate policy and programs for the second term. He will get a vaccine approved and ready to go to the American people. He will get back on board Air Force One and fly around the country to continue to stand with his supporters who voted again for him.
To revive the economy, he will lean on the states to open up and emulate the normality he projected in the final blitz of campaign rallies, so that an image of "pandemic over" is projected – notwithstanding tens of thousands of deaths, and millions more cases ahead. He wants a big Thanksgiving. And an even bigger Christmas.
As for Biden, he will not play softball like Al Gore in Florida in 2000. He cedes no states where the counting is not complete. He believes he will win the contested states. "My response is the President is not going to steal this election. I'm here to tell you tonight we believe we're on track to win this election." The Democrats control the House of Representatives and they will put a blowtorch on the post-election activity of the President and the Republican Party.
This battle has a way to run. This may yet become a full-fledged constitutional crisis as it moves from the counting rooms to the courts. But for the moment, the angst throughout the country is unrelieved. The election result of 2016 has not been affirmed and it has not been repudiated. The nation is stuck, hurting, angry, and uncertain.