Gail Collins: Well Bret, the election’s next week. OK, you probably knew that. But let’s take a look back. Which part are you going to miss most? The debates? The polls? The chance to hear Donald Trump announce that he’s done more for Black Americans than any other president, with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln?
Bret Stephens: Gail, the only thing I can possibly imagine missing about this election season would be the expression on the faces of certain Fox News hosts in the event of a Joe Biden landslide. Otherwise, 2020 just felt like a long hostage crisis, this time with every American being held captive.
Then again, the moment I start dreaming about a Biden victory, a voice in my head screams: Jinx! At this point, do you see any prospect of Trump winning?
Gail: I bet every single dedicated citizen is thinking: Obviously it’s going to be Biden. And then: Hey, remember Hillary?
Bret: I’m worried. When it comes to the top battleground states, Trump is polling almost exactly the same against Biden as he was four years ago against Clinton.
Biden has higher personal ratings than Clinton, which is good news, but Trump seems to be campaigning much harder than Biden. And when I see a reputable poll that puts Biden neck and neck with Trump in Texas, it can mean only two things: Either we are headed toward the biggest electoral landslide in a generation, or pollsters are once again clueless about who is really going to turn out to vote.
In other words, pass the Maalox.
Gail: We’re superstitious and trying to hold off a jinx. But yeah, I predict Biden’s gonna win.
Gail: But presuming I’m right, do you think we’ll have a normal transfer of power or the scenario where Trump cries foul and chains himself to his desk in the Oval Office?
Bret: Even if he remains chained to the desk, he’ll go. I think.
Gail: Depends on how close he comes. If he’s just walloped, I’m presuming his friends and family will try to ease him out the door. But if it’s even vaguely close in the critical states he’ll go on missing-ballot meltdown.
Bret: I was struck by a recent column by our colleague Ross Douthat, bluntly headlined “There Will Be No Trump Coup.” Ross’s argument is that, as aspiring autocrats go, Trump is too incompetent to pull off anything so ambitious as stealing an election.
Gail: Reading it I was struck by how little it takes to make me happy these days.
Bret: Successful strongmen like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan spend years carefully laying the groundwork for autocracy by first gaining broad public support, then by getting their allies to control the mainstream media, then by appointing their toadies to key positions in the military, and so on. Trump, by contrast, is despised by more than half the country, most of the media and his own secretary of defense. If someone ever uncovers his college transcript, I’m guessing he got a C- in the class on dictatorship, which is better than the D’s and F’s that I’m guessing he got in his classes on business analytics, financial accounting and management essentials.
Gail: Yeah if we’re going to be under the thumb of a dictator you want one who got a good grade in his autocracy seminar.
Bret: On the other hand, Gail, this year has been so full of unpleasant surprises that I won’t be surprised by another one.
Gail: Then, Bret, we will have a very interesting holiday season. Hope you haven’t planned any family trips.
Bret: I was thinking: “The Mosquito Coast,” Paul Theroux edition. Actually, I’ve been leafing through a book my wife gave me as a gift a few years ago, “Atlas of Remote Islands.” It’ll come in handy in the event that things get really ugly here. Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic looks very intriguing, assuming I could get there.
Before that happens, Gail, any thoughts on the Hunter-Joe Biden corruption allegations?
Gail: On the real-life level I continue to feel that while Hunter pretty clearly got some swell-paying jobs because of who he’s related to, the relative in question didn’t do anything that remotely resembles a payback.
On the political impact level, the voters are aware of the personal loss Biden’s suffered — most recently with the death of his son Beau. And that they might be privately prepared to cut him a little slack on the familial front.
Bret: Part of the problem is that I haven’t yet seen a really deep dive by a fully credible news source into the Hunter story. So it’s hard to tell what kind of scandal (assuming it’s any scandal at all) we are dealing with here. Is it a Billy Carter-style issue, in which a close relative trades off his family name without the involvement of or consent of the officeholder? Is it something far less nefarious — or more? I’m skeptical that we’re dealing with Russian disinformation here, but we might well be dealing with Trumpian disinformation.
Whatever turns out to be the case, I doubt it’s going to approach the level of influence peddling and implicit corruption connected to Trump and his family. Can anyone say “666 Fifth Avenue”? Or Trump’s hotel in Washington? Trump accusing the Biden family of corruption is a good way of teaching children what is meant by the expression, “the pot calling the kettle black.”
Gail: But hey, we’ve got more than a president to pick next week. What have you been watching in the Senate races?
Bret: My friend Richard North Patterson had a very useful rundown of Senate races in The Bulwark: He hints at a 50-50 Senate split. My guess is that Susan Collins loses her race in Maine, so that’s a Democratic pickup, while Doug Jones loses his in Alabama, for a Republican pick up. I’m going to bet that Lindsey Graham holds his seat in South Carolina, as do Republicans Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Joni Ernst in Iowa. But I think Mark Kelly, the astronaut and Gabby Giffords’s husband, beats Martha McSally in Arizona, for a Democratic gain. In fact, I suspect Arizona is going to replace Ohio as a national bellwether: As it goes, so goes the rest of the country.
Gail: Colorado looks good for the Democrats — Senator Cory Gardner hasn’t been what you’d call a legislative star. I’m betting John Hickenlooper, the former Democratic governor, will whomp him.
Bret: Gail, it’s strange to think that in a little more than a week we’re either going to be toasting Gerald Ford’s memory by saying, “Our long national nightmare is over” — or we’re going to be reading Dante’s “Inferno” in the original Tuscan dialect: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura …
My mom taught me that. She thinks Trump’s going to win.
Gail: Your mom is so classy. If Trump wins I think I’m going to spend the next four years huddled in bed watching reruns of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
But I like to think we’ll be getting together outside somewhere for a celebratory drink or three. We could watch the reports on the Trump Family’s Last White House Christmas and ring in a happy new year.
We won’t be agreeing as much in Biden’s administration, but we’re going to be two very happy quarrelers.
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