The “Biden Wins” Edition

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S1: Hello and welcome to a special edition of the Slate Political Gabfest for November 7th, 2020, The Biden Wins Edition. I am David Plotz of Citi Cast. My windows are open. So in the background you may hear the celebratory horn honking along Connecticut Avenue here in Washington, D.C. That’s part of the the the texture of this show, I think for today. I’m joined from New Haven from her home by Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School. Hello, Emily.

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S2: Hello, David.

S1: And from Manhattan, New York City of 60 Minutes on CBS, John Dickerson. Hello, John.

S3: Hello, David. Hello, Emily.

S1: It is it is a mark of how unusual this episode is that Jonathan, a T-shirt never wore before we get started. I just want to thank our Slate Plus members for supporting us through this. It’s allowing us to do some of these extra episodes. So thank you, dear Slate. Plus, members go to sleep, dotcom slash gabfests. Plus if you want to become a slate plus member, although this whole episode is for everybody. So as we are taping on Saturday afternoon, yes, it’s Saturday afternoon. Joe Biden has won the presidential election. The television networks, newspapers and global leaders have concluded that he is going to win by dint of having won the states of Pennsylvania, Nevada and possibly Arizona and Georgia. But it was Pennsylvania that that cemented it for most of these folks who made a call. John, you’ve been you’ve been deep in one of these newsrooms for days and days and days. Was that what took so long? And was that was that good that it took so long?

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S3: Yeah, I think it was good. I mean, if you believe what I what my reporting tells me, which is sometimes, you know, sometimes that true. Sometimes the reporting takes you the wrong way. The elections officials were being incredibly methodical. They were dealing with obviously voting and covid times and then also dealing just with the sheer number of ballots coming in. And they were being methodical. They always told us that slowness is a good thing because it meant they were measuring twice and cutting once. What happened to us is what day is it? Saturday? On Friday we went in, we saw the trajectory of votes coming in from around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were going towards Joe Biden more heavily in Philadelphia than around Pittsburgh, but nevertheless heavily going towards him. The trajectory was there. He overtook President Trump. And what the worry was, is it started to kind of level off. He was still winning, but not by the big margins. Then it turned out they they they announced they had all these provisional ballots. So what happened was it was like a racetrack where the horses are running and then suddenly you don’t know the length of the track. So you knew the one horse was ahead and you knew he was continuing to be ahead, but you didn’t know the length of the track. And that’s what slowed things down. And that broke through on Saturday morning. And also Biden in Pennsylvania, which was the key to sending him over, had enough of a lead, which as we’re taping is at about thirty eight thousand thirty seven five. That’s over the recount number. And so if you’re going to declare that he’s won the presidency, you want to have done it in states where he doesn’t have a recount.

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S1: Emily Biden has been declared the president elect. Is there any ambiguity about this?

S2: No, there is no ambiguity about it because it’s a victory that involves so many different states. There are a bunch of states that are close, but there are a bunch of states in the end that will probably put him over the top. So on Saturday, the news organizations called Nevada for him as well as Pennsylvania. And Arizona is out there, I think will probably get called soon and they’ll probably win Georgia, too, in the end. And so what you’re going to see here is an actual virtue of the Electoral College, which is that it disperses power and it disperses accountability. And because we’re going to have multiple states voting systems in play, it’s it will not be an outcome that will be disturbed. It’s going to hold.

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S1: Why do you think, Emily, that this electoral system, which is so messed up in so many ways, so problematic in so many ways, so troubled in so many ways, acquitted itself so well during this is it that there were there was just such a sense of alert. There were so many warnings, there was so much sense that we have to do well, that it acquitted itself so well. Because my sense is that, man, they these folks did their job. They did it thoughtfully and well and carefully. And as a result, it’s not that people will not question the outcome, because we already see that President Trump supporters are full of doubts and are casting aspersions upon it. But but I think it’s a fairly neutral observer. People will say this was done well and fairly despite the vagaries and weirdness of the Electoral College.

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S2: Yeah, it’s kind of a miracle, honestly. I mean, I’ve been following this pretty closely since the spring when coronavirus. Hit the United States and it became clear this was going to be an election like no other and that states that had never had any kind of vote by now operation on a scale. Right. Everybody had a little bit of absentee balloting, but they’d never done it to scale that they were going to have to super ramp up that part of voting while they simultaneously continued to give people an opportunity to vote at the polls. And there were some primaries that went really badly, especially in Wisconsin, but also in New York. Pennsylvania wasn’t so great either. And I think in some ways those dress rehearsals really did help make everybody aware how much was at stake, how much could go wrong. And then I think you also see I mean, I find this quite moving. This is a part of the government where it’s not particularly partisan, like people are doing their jobs. The Office of secretary of state, which in most states really oversees the electoral systems that is then decentralized and allotted of counties. It’s just not a hyper political office. And so outside of a couple exceptions, like particularly in Texas, what you saw were people just like getting it together to do this work. And I was struck this week. Philadelphia’s electoral you know, the actual administration is controlled by a three member commission. It has a Republican on it. He was out there sticking up for Philadelphia’s vote counting as President Trump and his people were trashing it. And so I think this is one place where we still have some bipartisan flickers and that has really made a difference.

S3: It was amazing to see the secretary of state in these local election officials armed with the facts and also having been methodical not just in their vote counting, but in the in the practices leading upward, basically taking all these hot takes that were coming at them and just bashing them to the side with, you know, just facts, unspinnable, straight up facts.

S1: We started the show sort of talking about some of these logistics and actually like how the media called it. I actually want to pause. This is a really moving day here where I am in Washington. And I don’t think it’s not a secret to probably get better listeners. I am pleased that Donald Trump has lost this election. He, I think, has been an absolutely appalling president and an appalling presence in American life and has caused inordinate and remarkable massive amounts of damage. And he still will be president for several more months. And I hope he not several to two more months, two and a half more months. And he has the capacity to do more things. And but as a as a as a person, as a human being, I’m very pleased that Joe Biden has won. And I am very moved by what’s happening where I live in Washington. I went down this morning to the White House in front of the White House. You can’t get anywhere near the White House because in part because of what’s happened with this president and the crowds of people there, the joy, the excitement, the kind of sense of it is different than it was, I think, when President Obama won, when I was also in Washington and for the Obama inauguration, there was this great sense of possibility. And I don’t think that’s what is there. But there’s an enormous sense of relief. And I like want to bathe in that relief. And it doesn’t change some of the deeply problematic dynamics that this country has. And some of the divisions are sharp and and deep. And they are not they’ve not gone away at all. And it’s not clear that President Biden will have the capacity to do as many things as his supporters hope. But just I mean, I feel it just a really profound sense of relief and gratitude toward the hard work that the people who work to defeat President Trump displayed. And you guys don’t need to comment. You both work for news organizations and and you don’t have a partisan position. But I, I feel less constrained. The celebrations are really moving. I if you guys got a chance to see them, but they’re they’re not like anything I have seen ever in this country. And not even like when sports teams went like when the Nationals win, when the Washington football team won the Super Bowl. Not at all like this.

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S3: It is it is amazing what’s happening in Washington right now in New York, when we were on the air Saturday morning showing pictures of celebrations in Washington, you could hear the celebrate. We’re in the middle of a building in Times Square and you could hear the celebrations in Times Square coming through the walls. It was so loud and boisterous and and reports that walking down the street in the city of New York, people were just bursting into tears as they saw strangers in the streets in response to the to the news.

S2: And, you know, some of it is partisan and is about the end of President Trump’s presidency. And part of it is about relief for the democracy and the kind of celebration of the process and the sense that, like voting happened and it held and we are going to have a peaceful transfer of power. And from now on, whatever President Trump says about it.

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S1: Is essentially a sideshow, actually, John, let’s jump into that, which is we can talk a little bit about President Trump’s legal challenges, which remain operational, I guess. But I’m interested in your sense about what President elect Biden will do to try to unify the country or try to speak to the country and more importantly, how you think this Trump administration will handle a transition?

S3: Well, I don’t know. I mean, they’re legally obligated to have started the transition, which they have. And then there are different stages of what they must participate in to ensure a transition that makes sense. And President Trump didn’t ensure the transition that led up to his own office. So you have to think of a have a pretty dismal view of the way things might go. But there are obligated they are obligated to basically train up the Biden team. And that’s all that work has already started before the voting took place. I think one of the fascinating things that we will see and as somebody who’s spent, you know, many, many, many months writing chapters about transitions and management and the difficulty of starting a White House is that you will have somebody who’s been in Washington for their entire career and knows how Washington operates in obviously not how it’s operated over the last four years. But but the theory of American government and will have people around him who’ve either worked for him or worked in politics since the Clinton administration. Now, that is not a guarantee of wonderful outcomes and constant rainbows and unicorns. But what it means is two things. One is a matter of history. It’s the most experienced Washington experienced presidency we can we’ve had, I guess, since Johnson in terms of the president and then the people around him. But then it also just means people who believe in the process of government and believe in reason and science and all of that. So that’s the biggest thing coming back into the government that we haven’t seen for four years.

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S1: You mentioned, of course, that the Trump team has cooperated and doing its obligatory transition. It started it before before the voting, as you say. Have you heard anything about whether this is going OK?

S3: Yeah, I think it’s going OK. One of the one of the things that everybody should be happy about is the person who is in the Trump administration is Chris Liddell, who’s worked who worked on the Romney transition that never came to pass, but who kind of has a specialty. And this is in the Trump administration and is working on this. As I understand it, he doesn’t talk to reporters, as far as I know. He doesn’t talk to me. But as I understand it, he’s working very hard with on the transition. Again, this this is supposed to start before you even know who wins the election. And there’s also the Partnership for Public Service, which has been working hard over the years to try to make transitions better and has been working with the Trump administration and the Biden folks. So it’s not there are a lot of people who care about the continuation of government who are involved in this. And so they’re kind of the equivalent of of the people we were just talking about, the people who were involved in the counting of votes, who care about how they do their job. And a lot of those people are involved in transition planning. So that should give people some some hope. The fact that the chief of staff of the White House, Mark Meadows, is now diagnosed with covid means that the really high level meetings are going to have to be delayed a little bit. And that’s not great.

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S1: Not by Mark Meadows. Mark Meadows seems perfectly happy to show up. He’ll show up unmasked at those meetings, Emily. But we shouldn’t forget the fact that President Trump at the moment certainly does not accept that he has been defeated and has signaled or his people have signaled there will be legal challenges, any legal challenges that anyone should keep an eye out on?

S2: I don’t think so. Not really. I mean, look, the thing about overturning the results of an election is that you have to have evidence of fraud. And there are a lot of accusations of fraud being made. But they are just like falling apart, vanishing in the air when they actually see the light of a courtroom. And so, you know, the notion that there is going to be some way to overturn these results, which are going to be out of recount range in enough states to provide a majority in the Electoral College, I just don’t see it. Here’s my theory. I wonder what you guys think about this, my theory for what’s going on right now. I mean, first of all, like President Trump is the kind of person because he’s such a narcissist, it would take him a while to get used to this idea and admit it. But I wonder if also what he’s doing is giving himself away, that for the rest of his life, people who want to kowtow to him can say, oh, they cheated you out of this like you had it. And there can be a. Kind of pretend coddling of him in his inner circle and maybe like in his media future, a way of pretending that he didn’t really lose and that that’s what this is. It’s show it’s not real litigation. It’s not a real threat to not step down. It’s just show it’s therapy.

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S1: Yeah. It’s like it’s there’s so many things that have happened during this Trump presidency, which is, I mean, the emperor’s new clothes, but where they do things just to clearly to salve him to to I mean, it’s sycophantic, but it’s also, as you say, therapeutic. But I remember there was there was some point where they ran a bunch of TV ads in Washington. They must have spent, you know, a million dollars of campaign funds just so Trump could see them, even though it’s a terrible place to run TV ads. There’s there’s so much that was done for the emperor to feel better about himself. Emily, are you saying that they will put up these challenges, they’ll lose the challenges? Are you saying they won’t put up the challenges and they’ll be always be able to say, like, well, we could have challenged it and just, you know, we just chose not to.

S2: I mean, I don’t know, like, either way, they’ll be some lawyer who’s willing to take money to put up some challenge. And, you know, they won’t get paid. Trump doesn’t pay his lawyers. Well, that could be a problem. Look, David Bossie is supposed to be in charge of the strategy. They’ll look at what they can and who knows how far they’ll go. But the notion that there are some Hail Mary pass in the courts, like it’s just not going to happen. It is one thing to challenge one very, very close result in one place. It’s another to start attacking the voting systems in two or three or four or five states. It’s just it’s out of reach. John.

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S1: Do you? Get a sense that Republicans outside of the inner circle have are detaching themselves, are cutting some frayed edges here and and letting letting that lifeboat go out to sea.

S3: No, really. I mean, you saw Jeb Bush congratulate Joe Biden, but that’s hard. You know, that’s hardly I mean, one, it’s he’s no fan of the president. Mitt Romney congratulated the president elect. The interesting thing about Jeb Bush just tangentially is, of course, he’s the son of a vanquished one term president. So that that’s somewhat interesting. But no, you don’t see it. And what strikes me is that, you know, let’s allow for the news to sink in that Joe Biden is president elect and then let’s allow for the idiosyncrasies of this individual president and the therapeutic exit ramp building that we just discussed. OK, but Republicans who were either elected or re-elected using this democratic process have an obligation at some point real soon, maybe by the time people are listening to this, because when Donald Trump continues to say that Biden was elected by fraud, he’s burning Democratic furniture, as I said, on on air. I mean, he’s playing with real something really sensitive here. And he’s building into he’s telling his supporters that this is a legitimate and Republican lawmakers have an obligation to say this is not so. And if they stand there and watch that and do nothing, that’s that becomes the last act of standing there and watching something. They know better, they know better and are watching and doing nothing. And, you know, a lot of people would say that’s what they did through the entire four years. And I don’t think you want to go. I don’t think you want to do that if you’re a politician. But so far, that’s what most of them are doing.

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S2: I mean, is that I hate to say it, but is that a rational calculus on their part? Since Trump was so strong with their base, he turned out their voters, his voters in greater numbers than ever before.

S3: The most rational calculation from a self-interested, not public good standpoint is to do the equivalent of I didn’t see that tweet to basically get really busy with your home improvement project and hope there’s not a microphone near and just hope that the weight of events makes things pass along because you’re 100 percent right. What’s unique about this instance is that Donald Trump has lost and yet his coalition is stronger than ever. And he turned out and did better with a lot of constituent groups than he did in twenty sixteen. You know, you remember a lot of people said in twenty sixteen, if only the media had told every voter every awful thing that Donald Trump did. Well, there was no voter who didn’t know the awful things that Donald Trump did and they voted him into office anyway in twenty twenty. They had four years of the president doing things that a lot of people thought were awful and they came out and voted for him in extraordinary numbers. So there is a lot of there is a lot of support for the president that’s still out there. And if you’re a Republican, you’d be an idiot not to pay attention to that. And so I’m just affirming everything you’ve said, Emily, which is as a politically self-interested act, you want to you want to pay attention to those voters as a public good act and and self respect act for American democracy. You might want to do something else.

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S1: That’s beautifully said, John. I want to make one little last point. And you guys may have other lost points, but one of the things that was really striking down at the celebrations by the White House today were that there were repeatedly sort of spontaneous or generated chants that that happened. And over and over again, there were chants for Stacey Abrams that Stacey Abrams has emerged as a as a truly iconic figure in the Democratic Party. And her work registering voters in Georgia is clearly being appreciated and recognized. Emily, you obviously know Stacey Abrams and are friends with her. So you have a kind of a dog in the fight. But where do you think she goes with this?

S2: Yeah, I mean, I think Stacey deserves all the accolades and the praise. There is a way in which the fact that she is not running for office makes her even more appealing because she appears to transcend politics right now. You know, I wonder if she was in one of those Senate races in Georgia, whether this would be more of a wave of Abram’s appreciation or if it would sort of politicize her and then it would actually change. You know, I would bet that she will run for governor in two years in Georgia before then. She is someone whom I would think that the Biden team would be looking very closely at for a high level position in Washington. And there is something about her star power as well as her talent and intelligence that just seems like you would want to grab a hold of it.

S3: And how do you where where do you where is the best place to deploy? That is a really interesting.

S2: Yeah, I don’t think I really have the answer to that, and I haven’t asked her where she wants to be or anything like that, so I don’t have any inside.

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S1: I kind of feel like the two people who have really made their bones in these last weeks for different reasons. One is, is Stacey Abrams, who has been working a devilishly hard for years and years on this incredibly important project. And the other, oddly, is people to judge who I think has emerged as an. Unbelievably effective commentator, and he will probably end up I mean, I assume you’ll end up with a talk show or something, but wow, he is if I were that if I were Democrats, I’d be like, how can we get this guy speaking on our behalf as much as possible?

S2: Because he is again, I mean, one thing that’s important about both Budha Judge and Stacey is they’re young, they’re are the next generation. And, you know, Biden in the beginning positioned himself as a kind of transitional figure and including people who are in their 40s who are, you know, really young our age or even younger than us. I’m not I’m not in my 40s anymore, Don. It’s going to be really important to bring those people in and make them part of what happens next even more than people our age.

S3: I mean, one of the really one of the things that will be interesting is that we are going to spend a lot of the time on future gabfests, not talking about the president of the United States, thank God. I mean, think about the brain space that is going to be freed up. I mean, I’m remembering old phone numbers. I’m remembering memories from my youth that’s not kept up with the constant drama because it’s not just the drama, it’s the pattern recognition is all thrown off. You know, you have a certain set of people and one person makes an argument, another person makes an argument, and then you kind of see who wins the best. And not everybody is acting in 100 percent good faith, but they’re in the 90 percent good faith. And you kind of figure it out and then you figure out what, you know, which argument won the day. We haven’t had that for four years. Mostly in just it’s been just mayhem of all kinds and different sorts. And some of the political questions of American life shouldn’t be filtered through the presidency. And what I really hope is and this is Stacey Abrams makes me think of this because she obviously had a tremendous political effect on the presidency by the work she did in Georgia. But her she represents to me action. And there’s been this is there are ways in which this isn’t doesn’t necessarily just have to be on the left, but action that exists outside of the kind of main obsession of the moment, which was constantly dictated by the unpredictability of the president.

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S1: All right. Gaffes, listeners, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you today. It’s you know, it’s been a good day for me. So we will historic. We will check in with you. And I think we can we we won’t be at the three Gabfests Week schedule any longer. I think we’re just going to get back to just doing just doing one show a week, because that’s about as much politics as anyone should have in their life. One gabfest worth a week. That is a show for today. The Gabfest today is produced by June Thomas, our old beloved friend and colleague. Whoof, thank you and thanks, June. Yeah, June. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcast. June Thomas is also the managing producer of Slate podcasts. Apparently, Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. You should follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfest and tweet chatter to us there for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson, I’m David Plotz. We will talk to you on Thursday.