Post-election thoughts

I wanted to post my reaction to the election outcome early, so that I’d be the first pundit out of the gate with a reaction. Please wait until the winner is announced, then immediately read the appropriate part of this post and discard the rest:

If Trump wins:

No matter how many times Nate Silver (correctly) says that 10% events happen more often than you assume; a Trump win would be a catastrophe for the polling industry and the web sites that rely on it (like 538). The problem here is that it already happened in 2016, and measures were taken to prevent a repeat. If the polls are now much further off in missing the Trump vote than in 2016, that’s a huge problem for polling.

Not much more to say. Obviously Trump will become much more Trumpian now that he doesn’t need to worry about public opinion. More corrupt, more racist, more lazy, more authoritarian, more immature. I was far too easy on him during the first term, commenting on only 10% of his outrages. As a result, many commenters here were simply unaware of the awfulness of Trump. Never again! Over the next four years I’ll dramatically ramp up the Trump criticism.

In other words, the Trump beatings will continue until the morals of my commenters improve.

If Biden wins (lots more to say here):

1. No sugar-plums. Progressives will have sugar-plums dancing in their heads, as they anticipate a Biden administration finally delivering a liberal utopia. Not me—I live in California and thus know how Dems govern when given extensive power. I have some hope for modest improvements in a few areas like immigration, Cuba/Iran sanctions, federal pot enforcement, etc. And I won’t blame the Dems for higher taxes, as the GOP always spends money like a drunken sailor and then lets the next Democratic administration pick up the tab. But overall I expect a bad set of economic policies.

2. The bursting bubble. Over the next few weeks there will be a torrent of stories about how Trump is one of the worst politicians in the history of the world. These stories have been held in check thus far by the nagging thought that Trump did win in 2016, and maybe those claiming he is a “master manipulator” might be on to something. If Trump loses, all the idiotic things he did in the campaign will be clearly exposed as being – – – well, idiotic.

3. The second Bush was a lousy president, but unlike Trump he was re-elected. That’s partly because after 9/11 he pretended to be a strong leader. He took a strong (and often misguided) stance against terrorism. Trump never even tried to look like he cared about the biggest crisis since 2008. Why? That will always remain a mystery. You don’t get re-elected by producing good results (1933-36 and 2001-04 were bad years) you get re-elected by playing a decisive leader.

4. Trump never tried to enact popular measures that he seems to have supported. Prior to being elected, he often spoke positively about popular causes such as infrastructure, higher minimum wages, leaving pot laws up to the states, etc. Matt Yglesias points out that he seemed too lazy to take up these causes as president, and just farmed policy out to mainstream GOP operatives who focused on stuff like corporate tax cuts.

5. No FDR/Reagan/Thatcher. Successful politicians change the opposition, making them accept their policy innovations. Not Trump. The corporate tax rate will soon go up to 28%, exactly where I predicted 4 years ago that Hillary would have placed it. Much of the “deregulation” (always greatly overrated) will be swept away. Perhaps the only enduring change will be a tougher line on China. But that came from a change of mood in our foreign policy establishment; Trump actually likes that fact that Xi put a million Muslims into concentration camps (as long as China bought a few bushels of soybeans from us.)

The almost unique awfulness of Trump will make it hard to continue his policies, even when Biden might otherwise be inclined to do so. Think of the criticism Biden would get from his own party if he continues Trump’s mean-spirited policy toward refugees. Or the Muslim ban. No one will want to be accused of “Trumpism”. Even protectionist trade policies are now tainted. NIMBYism has been exposed as a part of “structural racism.”

6. Are we facing a bad interregnum, as during 1932-33? Perhaps, especially if Trump becomes bitter and blames the American people, much as Hitler blamed the Germans for letting him down. (Oops, I’m not allowed to compare Trump to Hitler.) Perhaps the only constitutional amendment with a prayer of passing is to have presidents take office in early January with the new Congress, or better yet right after the Electoral College votes in mid-December. It’s hard to see how either party would object, at least if the interregnum ends up being a mess.

7. A leaderless GOP. Either Trump continues to be the leader of the GOP or the party will have no leader. Trump has completely emasculated the party. (OK, not Romney, but he’ll be toxic to the Trumpistas.) Read the story of how Trump publicly humiliated McSally in Arizona. Pence may be the favorite for 2024, but he’s obviously no leader.

8. Trump should be investigated and put behind bars if found guilty. It won’t happen because this is America, where the powerful are above the law.

9. The Roe v. Wade bubble may soon burst, and the public will discover that the contours of this issue are not at all what they imagined. Most interesting will be the reaction in purple states. In those states where the legislature goes back and forth between the two parties, a stable equilibrium will have to be found. The public will not accept abortion flipping between legal and illegal every 5 or 10 years. One party will be forced to accept defeat in the purple states. Which one loses will help us to better understand the actual politics of the issue.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t overrule Roe v. Wade, then the GOP will finally have to give up on the notion that appointing conservative judges will solve the “problem”.

10. We’re still becoming a banana republic! Time to turn all our guns around and begin relentlessly attacking the Woke People, just as the US military switched to fighting Japan after defeating . . . oops, I can’t keep making that comparison.



26 Responses to “Post-election thoughts”

  1. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2020 at 11:03

    Roe will not be overturned even with 6-3 conservative majority. They will probably chip away around the edges but that’s about it. If we let parents murder their own children when it clearly contradicts reason, science, and almost all faiths… it’s going no where. Clearly we value being able to go out drinking on Friday nights or having a nice car over caring for ones offspring… it’s going nowhere even with a 7-2 court.

  2. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    3. November 2020 at 11:30

    Chris Christie and W Bush show how a poor executive can take advantage of a crisis and use Kabuki theater to get their approval rating just high enough to win an election they otherwise had no business winning. So literally the day after those two were inaugurated the second time both of their approval ratings started to drop never to return to a level that could get them re-elected.

  3. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    3. November 2020 at 11:37

    Fair enough – 1 front war is the best reason to want biden to win. Woke’s push me towards trump. And I think in generally radicals on one side push the other sides moderates into the radical camp.

    But I’m also of the opinion outside of rhetoric trump wasn’t that bad. Comes down to your view on covid which I think our government would have failed at either way. Just with a different leader you get Cuomo type taking it seriously while not succeeding.

    Getting ACB on the court made me a lot more comfortable with letting Biden rule. Biden’s a moderate and now he can blame the court on blocking the wokes.

  4. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. November 2020 at 11:48


    On point 9: I am also not worried about Roe v. Wade. This story is told every time a new conservative judge comes to court, so far, thank God, nothing has happened. Why should this time be any different. Even Obamacare was not reversed. Conservatism is not a force that carries out big changes, let alone revolutions, it just slows down changes of the “progressives” a little bit.

    8) To persecute and convict Trump would be foolish in my view. It would further divide America and not pacify the country. A wise victor shows mercy towards the defeated. Is the left camp wise enough? Unfortunately I doubt it very much. Jacobin trials à la Robespierre seem more likely. But that paves the way again for another Trump-Napoleon. Not very wise.

    Something similar would apply if Biden would try to reverse all actions of Trump. America would only revolve around itself and in circles.

    4) is spot-on. Trump is very lazy. The authoritarian fears were exaggerated, Trump is simply too lazy for that. Covid-19 was Trump’s Reichstag fire, his 9-11, it would have been “perfect” for him, he could have exploited it to the fullest, but he didn’t do anything. He was simply too lazy for that. Probably he did not even notice the opportunity.


    The previous predictions for the election by some commentators here were super boring, they simply repeated the 538 predictions, but in a very secure framework. I leave these frames and move into really uncertain territory, which is theoretically possible, but daring and unrealistic:

    PA to Trump so that he gets 269 votes. Arizona, I’m not sure about. Let’s say that it goes to Biden, and all of Nebraska and 2nd Maine to Trump, then it would be 269:269. Now wouldn’t that be funny?

    The likeliest option is PA and AZ to Biden, so my reasonable but still unrealistic prediction is 290 to 248 for Biden. I’m not really happy with that, it’s not extraordinary enough.

    Trump’s path to win would be AZ and PA, let’s say 279 to 259 for Trump. So let’s just say that’s the miracle troll win option every non-American with no preference is rooting for.

    Of course a landslide victory by Biden is the more reliable prediction, but as I said, this has already been done by commentators before me, and anyone can repeat the 538 forecast 1:1. No, thank you.

  5. Gravatar of steve steve
    3. November 2020 at 11:53

    I am apolitical and an athiest (not that that matters). I have not watched network TV in years. This is an honest question. Why do people consider Trump a racist? I know he likes women, I saw that clip on the internet.

  6. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    3. November 2020 at 12:31

    The point of putting “Conservative” judges on the Supreme court is to protect elite interests like Citizen United, and voter suppression. Roe v Wade is just a scam on a vocal minority of “Christians.”

  7. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2020 at 12:33

    Christians 8 is tricky. I can see it both ways. Trump broke a lot of customers and prolly worse yet, a lot of laws… I can see the case for letting one slime ball off to prevent the cycle of political retribution that might ignite for one case of justice. then again, perhaps letting them get away with it, might lead to politicians realizing their is no consequence… I don’t know.

    If PA and AZ go, I could see WI, MI, MN, then sunbelt FL and and, NC and maybe even GA as well. There is not a lot of margin in most of the swings, so a slight bend in all of them (the errors are pretty correlated usually) might imply a slight bend in them all. I think we could see a tight race or and EC landslide in either direction with only a couple points bent either way nationally.

    I think when the final FL result starts to become apparent, you gonna see the betting markets rip in whatever directions it goes…

  8. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2020 at 12:34

    Roe is a scam issue Thomas… not as sure as u about what they are for tho, it seems to change.

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. November 2020 at 12:35

    Everyone, I said don’t read the post until the winner is announced. I’ll ignore these early comments.

  10. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. November 2020 at 12:56

    Good post, as always.

    “No matter how many times Nate Silver (correctly) says that 10% events happen more often than you assume; a Trump win would be a catastrophe for the polling industry and the web sites that rely on it (like 538). The problem here is that it already happened in 2016, and measures were taken to prevent a repeat. If the polls are now much further off in missing the Trump vote than in 2016, that’s a huge problem for polling.”

    I don’t quite follow this logic, though. If you observed 100 elections with the characteristics of this one, and 10% of the time the “Trump” candidate won, that means the model is correct.

    The “problem for polling” is independent of the final outcome. You have the exact same problem in the outcomes where the “Biden” wins. The problem is front and center in the model itself.

    But this does get at the question, should we believe the 538 model? Or does it have a built-in bias of some sort?

    In 2016, when Yglesias wrote a piece for Vox pooh-poohing Silver’s “70/30” forecast, I thought he was really drinking the Kool-Aid.

    This time, I guess it’s me that drinking the Kool-Aid – if you forced me to bet the over/under on Biden +8, I’d bet the over. I can’t see any reason to bet the under, whereas I can see one reason to bet the over, which is that the demographic breakdown of the 2020 polls mirrors the 2016/2018 changes in voting.

  11. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. November 2020 at 12:58

    For a somewhat more optimistic view on some of the “banana republic” issues, I recommend this post by Kevin Drum (responding I think to Klein & Yglesias):

  12. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    3. November 2020 at 13:00

    Sumner says not to read his comments until the winner is announced, but by who? Recall in 2000 the weeks long contest (which Gore would have won, and arguably saved at least a $1T in not fighting a war in the Middle East) had Gore asked for a recount of the entire state of FL rather than asking for a recount of Boward county, as he foolishly did).

    See you in 2021?

  13. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. November 2020 at 13:02

    “Everyone, I said don’t read the post until the winner is announced. I’ll ignore these early comments.”

    Election Day brings the Sumner Troll out from under the bridge!

    Anyway, here’s the best argument for optimism: the Kooky People have Tigers, but we, the Rational People, have Shermans!

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. November 2020 at 14:34


    Take the 2018 map and go from there.

    Trump “only” needs PA and FL. He will get IA as well but doesn’t need it. I have my doubts about AZ though which would lead to an incredible 268:270 Biden win, if you start from the 2018 map. Trump could win Maine’s 2nd for the tie, but he could lose Nebraska’s 2nd, so it’s 268:270 again.

    And I don’t think 8 is tricky at all. One should not make a martyr out of Trump. Let him leave the country, make a deal with him, pardon him, whatever. Of course he would have to (mostly) keep his mouth shut politically, but is he able to do so? Mercy has been granted to much worse criminals, for example in 1865, 1945 and 1990. Nixon was worse, and he wasn’t in jail. I think it is better for a country.

    Thank you for the links to Kevin Drum. I haven’t read him for a long time. A voice of reason in a sea of madness. And he’s still allowed to publish on MotherJones with these comments? Not bad. Not all hope is lost.

  15. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. November 2020 at 15:04

    Scott Adams may have saved his finest Tweet for election day:

    “Trump said he would ‘leave it all on the field’ and he did. Nothing is more American than hard work in pursuit of dreams. Be worthy of his work.”

  16. Gravatar of Richard A. Richard A.
    3. November 2020 at 16:49

    Trump introducing McSally:

  17. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2020 at 17:25

    Not gonna lie, Trump just closed the lead… it’s 50/50 now. The race shifted up north now. Florida is going Trump bigger than expected, which prolly knocks our GA and TX, and maybe NC

  18. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. November 2020 at 18:27

    It looks like another nail-biter indeed. Nate Silver and his polls. Was it really just a 10% chance for Trump or were the betting markets more right than the polls? Fl, Ga, NC all trend to Trump. It’s like Student says. My only wish is that the result today is clear and transparent. Nobody needs another American election chaos.

  19. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    3. November 2020 at 19:18

    “As a result, many commenters here were simply unaware of the awfulness of Trump. Never again! Over the next four years I’ll dramatically ramp up the Trump criticism.”

    Have you considered the possibility that the tone of your criticism is generally, at best, inefficacious? I didn’t know you were actually trying to convince people to change their minds, I’ve always assumed your target audience – on politics – was people who already agree with you. Take a page out of Rammesh Ponnuru’s book, rather than Paul Krugman’s (if your goal is persuasion, that is).

    You’re right about pollsters. That science will be thoroughly discredited if Trump wins again, and election betting odds will be vindicated (they’ve been giving Trump better odds than the pollsters for while, almost 40% on the eve of election). So, a win for efficient markets hypothesis?

  20. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    3. November 2020 at 19:36

    I would be interested to hear professor Sumner’s take on why Democrats in California have such a hard time producing good government.

  21. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    4. November 2020 at 00:55

    Aside on the Jorgensen outcome: the traditional LP is done. The Mises caucus next round. The party will lose almost all of it’s meaningful policy planks and become singularly anti-woke.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. November 2020 at 12:21

    Not sure why there are comments here; the race hasn’t been called.

  23. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    4. November 2020 at 18:49

    Not sure why there are comments here; the race hasn’t been called.

    LOL, Sumner Inc is more legitimate than MSM. Call it for your homeboy Biden!

  24. Gravatar of xu xu
    5. November 2020 at 05:32

    Black people are idiots and they are racist.
    They vote for the same losers who destroy their cities for 50 years and still blame the opposing party. They see Union professionals walk away with millions (many proven corruption cases) yet still vote for the same corrupt party. They watch their communities go through forced gentrification, and still vote for the same corrupt party.
    They try and claim that Asian and whites are privileged because of our skin color 😀 That is just laughable. People already feel so bad for them, and give free things for them. And how do they show their appreciation? By asking for more, and more and more. On the other hand, the rest of us have to get perfect scores to be admitted to school and to be hired, and in many cases perfect scores are not even enough. But the blacks? No they just need to have a heartbeat and some school official or employer will accept them to meet some quota. Nothing would make me happier than to see the USA patriots go to civil war with those unamerican Marxist losers, and take back their country. I hope militia groups fight BLM until they all surrender and go to jail. What a bunch of big babies. And American white people are too soft. They are afraid of being called racist. You should just punch them in the nose every time they call you a racist. That would end the Marxist shenanigan’s pretty quickly.

  25. Gravatar of Anonymous Anonymous
    5. November 2020 at 11:16

    “The [LP] will lose almost all of it’s meaningful policy planks and become singularly anti-woke.”

    Why? A lot of LPers are somewhat woke.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. November 2020 at 09:21

    OK, the race has now been called; time for comments over here. Just read the part of the post for a Biden win.

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