A contested election—especially one in which an unelected body casts the final vote—is the worst possible outcome next week. Trump winning in a landslide would be preferable. So would a Biden blowout. Neither of those outcomes will delegitimize the rules of the game as much as the rules failing to supply a clear outcome; pray it does not come to that.
But landslides carry their own risks—and as we approach what could well be a landslide, it is worth keeping two of them in mind.
First, the loser risks having his agenda repudiated in its entirety, the good thrown out with the bad. If you hate every aspect of that agenda, you should welcome its wholesale rebuke. But if, like me, you think both candidates in this race have pros and cons, you should not want either one to lose too badly. Trumpism did provide some much-needed correctives, its standard-bearer notwithstanding, and a truly “restorationist” presidency would put us back on the path that made them inevitable and indispensable, dooming the restoration from the start. On the other hand, Biden offers some much-needed correctives of his own, chief among them the return of decorum and absence of Trump. He is also more moderate (temperamentally, at least) than the average Democratic Party activist; in the implausible event he loses by a landslide, it could accelerate the activist takeover the old guard is worried about.
That brings us to the second landslide-related risk, which is the total vindication of the winner. In a recent symposium for the American Conservative, Scott McConnell gave Trump’s administration a “C+,” noting its nepotism and incompetence. That is a generous grade, and not one we should reward with a generous mandate. But Biden has run on what is arguably the most progressive platform in history, despite presenting himself as a centrist; his party, and certainly his running mate, have all but endorsed the Great Awokening that gained so much ground this year, and will likely gain much more. Anti-woke Biden voters, then, should not hope for a blowout. Their ideal scenario is similar to the reluctant Trump voters’—a clear but narrow win that generates a clear but narrow mandate, just wide enough to confer legitimacy. (A divided government, whose legislative and executive branches are controlled by different parties, might also accomplish this.)
Giving Trump or Biden the minimum mandate would no doubt exacerbate gridlock, fuel partisan frustrations, and leave a great many problems unsolved. But of all the possible outcomes—Bush v. Gore Part II, Electoral College landslide, or something comfortably in between—it seems by far the lesser of three evils.
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