The Unmaking of a President

Only a few today can remember the  1962 Pulitzer Prize book “The Making of the President 1960”, by Theodore H. White that recounted the quest for the US presidency by John F. Kennedy, a fascinating tale that changed forever the electoral campaigns styles.

The Kennedy campaign was a precursor of modern campaigns, a well-oiled organisation concentrating its efforts and funds in the most rewarding states. Kennedy by far the youngest aspirant managed to win 11 out of the 16 primaries before the convention, representing 178 electoral state votes out of a total of 258 where democratic elections had taken place.  In the week before the convention, Democratic heavyweights, Senator majority leader Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson, the likable but unfortunate looser to Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, announced their candidacies. After a television debate between Johnson and Kennedy, it became clear that Johnson could not expand beyond his southern base. Kennedy won on the first ballot with 806 votes to 409 for Johnson and 79.5 for Stevenson.

Kennedy announced his choice of Johnson as running mate under an ovation of the assembly. The rest was history. The most profound change was the use of the television which inaugurated the televised presidential debates that became the norm thereafter. The telegenic Kennedy won the popular vote by a razor thin majority of 110,000 votes but secured the electoral college by 303 to 219. The total turnout produced only 68,329,141 Million votes. Interestingly enough,  out of the 66 states  with  a margin of victory less than 1% ,  5 went to Kennedy, Hawaii, 0.06%  (115 votes f or3 electoral votes), Illinois, 0.19%  (8858 for 27 electoral votes),Missouri, 0.52%   ( 9980 for 13 electoral votes), New Mexico, 0.74% ( 2294 for 4 electoral votes), New Jersey, 0.80% ( 22,089 for 16 electoral votes and one , California, 0.55% ( 25,623 for 32 electoral votes) went to Nixon.  It was only 43,336 votes advantage. Yet, Nixon conceded a few hours after the preliminary results indicated a win for Kennedy. In his memoirs he stated that he had briefly considered forcing a recount but went against it as it would only harm his future political career but be devastating to Americas standing in the world.

We have witnessed in slow motion an agonizing drip of results from most of the States. Of course, the main reason for the delay was the humongous number of mailed in ballots for which most states were totally unprepared. Moreover, certain states such as Pennsylvania were not allowed to even open the envelopes containing the ballots.

This would mean that as brilliantly predicted by the progressive Vermont senator Bernie Sanders during the Jimmy Fallon’s, “The Tonight Show”, on the23rd of October, that the President would prematurely declare victory. His trend of thought was that, as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, the Democrats were more likely to use mail-in ballots whereas the fearless Republicans would vote at polling stations The machine voting could be tallied much faster than the mailed-in ballots that had to be processed by hand, checked and then be tallied by machines. This would be particularly evident in the large blue wall states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that had flipped to Trump in 2016 elections and had deprived the Clinton campaign from victory in the electoral votes. There was a chance he prophesised that by 10 o’clock on election night, Trump on the evidence of tallied ballots at that time seeing his immense lead would claim the election. Sanders’ prediction was wrong by only 4 and a half hours as at about  3 P.M., on November 4th, an unconfident Trump claimed victory marred by allegedly fraudulent votes to come.           

At that time, we had gathered with a group of friends for an election breakfast which lasted until midday Greek time, which was 5 A.M US eastern time. Things looked bleak for Biden as he had a narrow lead in Wisconsin, which Trump said he would challenge, and was trailing 1.5 % behind Trump in Michigan but was submerged in Pennsylvania where Trump’s margin was over 400,000 votes. The red tsunami had prevailed. Florida s cliff-hanger had gone on for hours with leads changing back and forth only to fall to Trump at the finish. Although it had been a faint hope, it looked like one nail in the coffin and the lead in Pennsylvania looked unsurmountable. There was no appetite for lunch and we returned to our houses.

Somehow in the evening a ray of hope happened as Arizona started leaning heavily blue and Nevada another west coast state started showing its traditional blue colour. May be with Nevada and Arizona one could get to 270 electoral votes without Pennsylvania

The next day became a nightmare the West states looked vulnerable specially Arizona where the mail in ballots were used by both parties and the Maricopa county, the largest in votes started to slash rapidly the initial Biden advantage. Although the blue mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania were progressively melting the Trump frost          it looked like a stiff challenge. Meanwhile Georgia was slowly squashing the Biden deficit. Could the implausible happen? Trump collecting Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia in a photo finish defeat for Biden?

Friday looked more hopeful The Maricopa county was not too noxious, the turtle was gaining some ground in Georgia and finally Pennsylvania turned blue albeit narrowly.   It would be Saturday that Pennsylvania was called in for Biden and he had formally become President elect.   

This slow movie that could be titled the “unmaking of a President” is a thriller that lasted as predicted several days after the election. This undoing is undoubtedly due to his failure to handle the Coronavirus epidemic coupled with his blatant lies and his callousness towards the old and the minorities. Looking at the results, this can be seen as an anti Trump verdict as opposed to a shift towards the Democrats as evidenced by a reduced majority in the chamber of Representatives and no inroads in the Senate. People voted in party lines for state elections but against the President as many Republicans and Independents joined in the Democratic process.

As the Florida results showed, the Trump campaign was extremely well organised with a sophisticated network of canvassers that kept tabs on all possible voters. Their campaign was imbedded in the State much earlier than the Biden campaign that had to cope with the primaries until it knew it was in the final race. As polls had been wrong in the past Trump confident of his superior organisation felt he could muster many more votes than in 2016 and indeed he did. As we write, it is clear that he lost Pennsylvania by some 46,000 votes vs a 44,289 advantage in 2016.  He had narrowly won Michigan by 11,837 only to lose it this time by over 46000 votes. In Wisconsin that he had won by 27,257 votes he had now a deficit of about 20.40 votes. Yet in 2016 Hillary Clinton conceded immediately without even requesting a vote recount. Those vote recounts statistically only change the margins by a few hundred votes.

Right wing social media are clamouring voter fraud but how can they explain that their local candidates did relatively better than the democrats on the same voting ballot? Nevertheless, the President true to his form has used the reversal of his lead in some swing states   fanned the myth of myriads of invalid ballots being added to against his tally. Even in Republican controlled states, the republican officials are flabbergasted by the Trump’s campaign allegations. Georgia’s Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger who is responsible for overseeing the votes and has stated that  he is confident that the results are unlikely to be changed after a recount  is being asked to resign by two disgruntled republican Georgia senators who failed to get the 50% milestone to get elected and are forced to a runoff in January.

This is not a threat to the actual majority of Joe Biden, but it delays and   impairs the transition. Furthermore, the standing of the US is mocked by its adversaries in particular by Putin who is ager to restore Russia’s influence in the world. It would be time for the Republican senators to remove their blinkers and start thinking of the interests of the US, rather than those of their parties and recognize that their President has been defeated. They probably little of geography outside their states but they should at look at the concession speeches of the defeated former Republican Presidents.


Concession  Speeches


By Digenis 12 November 2020

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