Red Dawn: Election Night of the Living Dead

We probably won't know the winner on November 3. Don't panic! Remember: this year, Election Day is only halftime.

ON THE NIGHT of November 7, 2000, the nation watched with great anticipation to see who would succeed Bill Clinton as President of the United States. The contest between George W. Bush, the Republican governor of Texas and son of Clinton’s predecessor, and Vice President Al Gore, came down to the wire—and by “the wire,” I mean “Florida.”

The eight and a half-plus hours between 7:50 pm and 4:30 am EST were a nadir in broadcast journalism. The TV networks tripped over themselves to be the first to declare Florida for Gore, only to reverse course a few hours later. All of the major television networks—CNN, Fox News, CBS, NBC, and ABC—botched the call, some more than once.

Only one stalwart stood firm, insisting, under enormous pressure, that the Sunshine State was too close to call. Her name was Sandy Johnson, and she was the AP’s Washington bureau chief—and thus, on Election Day, head of the “decision desk,” responsible for the final decision to call a state. She did not let the peer pressure of the other networks making the call sway her decision. She relied on AP’s superior methodology, she trusted her own judgment, she didn’t panic—and unlike her cohorts at the news networks, she didn’t fuck up.

When the sun rose the next day, Florida had been called for Gore, then rescinded, then called for Bush, and then rescinded. Gore conceded, then withdrew his concession. On Wednesday night, when the ballots were finally counted, Bush led by a mere 300 votes. What came next was a chaos involving hanging chads, automatic recounts, old ladies voting accidentally for Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader remorse, Florida Secretary of State fuckery, Roger Stone fuckery, jurisprudential fuckery, and, ultimately, one of the fishiest and most momentous Supreme Court decisions in recent memory, Bush v. Gore, which handed the presidency to Bush. The case was not decided until December 12, more than a month after the election.

It is probable that the election of 2020 will make the extra-inning marathon of 2000 look like a Maddux. As the columnist Will Bunch put it, “We’ve given people more ways to vote—that’s a good thing—but doing that has slowed the vote counting. The era of calling the presidential winner at 9 p.m. on Election Night died with MySpace and Blockbuster Video.”

In our instant gratification society, where we all get grumpy if the wi-fi flickers out for a few minutes during Games of Thrones, the onus is on us to be patient. We must resist the urge to jump to conclusions.

Too, we have to not take the MAGA bait—and there will be bait. Republican ratfuckers already have a hashtag, #StopTheSteal, and a social media campaign ready to deploy:

And then there’s the “The Dems want a Civil War so they can round us up and kill us” false narrative peddled by the vile propagandists at Fox News:

(Note to Greg Gutfield: Don’t flatter yourself, you self-important windbag. We don’t want “blood in the streets,” you Trumpist lickspittle; we want collaborators in prison, as any patriotic American should).

We have to fend off the Russian disinformation campaigns, which will only intensify as October turns to November, as the historian Heather Cox Richardson explains:

Three drafts of a report from the Department of Homeland Security reviewed by Politico today give some insight into the upcoming election. They warn that Russia is trying to spread disinformation in the U.S., saying that “Moscow’s primary aim is to weaken the United States through discord, division, and distraction in hopes of making America less able to challenge Russia’s strategic objectives. Some influence activity might spill over into the physical world and motivate domestic actors to violence.” The report predicts foreign cyberattacks on the 2020 election, focusing on the personal information of voters, municipal and state networks, and state election officials. It notes that “Russia already is using online influence operations in an attempt to sway US voter perceptions” and to drive down minority participation in the election.

No less an authority than Peter Strzok, the FBI’s former Chief of the Counterespionage Section, warned of what Trump and his Russian cronies might pull during that period of post-election uncertainty, in a must-listen interview with Allison (“AG”) Gill at The Daily Beans podcast:

What worries me the most is, I think there’s a very likely chance that we’re going to have an election decision that isn’t clear until well after Election Day, and that intervening period between Election Day and the final Electoral College result is going to be an absolutely fertile ground for Russian mischief and disinformation.

We have to hope against hope that CNN, Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC, and MSNBC heed the warnings of observers like Bunch, at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Margaret Sullivan, at the Washington Post, and don’t screw the pooch like they did 20 years ago. As Bunch writes:

For four years, many of us have been waving our arms about the essential role that good journalism plays in a functioning democracy—hoping to drown out a demagogue who’s declared the media “enemies of the people.” This fraught national moment is an opportunity for the profession not only to rise to the occasion but go beyond the call of duty. If news orgs can calmly steer their audience through the rapids of 2020, they might even clear the way for a future in which facts and expertise will begin to matter again.

On Election Day, in short, we all need to be Sandy Johnson.

While any number of harrowing things could happen in November—you can read about them here, but please have your Xanax handy—there is one scenario in particular the Biden people are most worried about:

Red Dawn / Red Mirage

In an eerie reboot of 2000, one suck-ass network after another, mistakenly believing that this election will behave exactly like its predecessors, calls the swings states for Trump on election night. Wolf Blitzer seems positively turned on by the outcome (as he also seemed four years ago when Hillary “lost”). Joe doesn’t concede, but Trump declares victory, bullying Fox News and Breitbart and OAN to call the election for him. Your MAGA uncle gloats on Facebook, although you know better than to go on Facebook. Libs appear owned, once and for all.

We decent folk are freaked out. We go to bed despondent and broken, wondering if we can apply for amnesty in some obscure EU country, and then realize that, because of Trump’s negligent pandemic response, we are effectively North Koreans and can’t travel anywhere, not even to Canada, not even to Mexico, where, as it turns out, in irony that would make O. Henry do the chef’s kiss, there is a kind of wall, after all. We wake up to a Red Dawn—Trump has won (and also the Russians are invading, because really, what’s the difference?)

But AP knows it’s too close to call. The 2020 incarnation of Sandy Johnson stands firm. Because there are hundreds of thousands if not millions more absentee/mail-in ballots this year, overwhelmingly for Biden, and this has skewed the usual methodology. And by the end of Wednesday, or maybe Thursday, or maybe even Friday, it’s clear that what seemed, on election night, to be a red wave gushing from the elevators like in The Shining, is, in fact, a BLUE TSUNAMI IN DISGUISE. Remember when the 49ers celebrated in the end zone after going up 10 late in the game, but the Chiefs won the Super Bowl? The mail-in ballots are Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter.

The “Red Dawn” scenario is not me being paranoid. The Biden campaign is rightly concerned about it. Josh Mendelsohn, the CEO of Hawkfish, a Democratic data and analytics firm bankrolled by Michael Bloomberg that works with the Biden/Harris people, calls the scenario a “red mirage,” telling Axios: “We are sounding an alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility, that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump.”

But—and this is the crucial point (italics mine): “When every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day,” Mendelsohn explains, “which will be some day after Election Day, it will in fact show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage. It looked like Donald Trump was in the lead, and he fundamentally was not, when every ballot gets counted.”

We would have to be patient when the votes were counted. We would have to have faith in the American people, and in the process. We would have to ignore Hannity and Tucker and Laura Ingranazi yowling about how we can’t possibly wait this long to find out who will be president in 2021—because, guys, we waited almost six weeks in 2000.

(Important: It would help mitigate the panic and the spread of disinformation if everyone knew this was coming—forewarned is forearmed—so please tell your friends about the Red Dawn/Red Mirage scenario.)

And when Biden’s victory is declared, we would have to prepare for Trump’s reaction. He will refuse to concede (who the fuck cares?). He will insist the election was rigged. He will blame mail-in ballots, saying that there was obviously some shenanigans, that “many people” voted illegally. Bill Barr will make similar bogus claims. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, who will have both lost their Senate seats (please oh please), will scream bloody murder. Trump will call it a “Deep State coup.” He will say something like, “I can’t leave in 2021, with the outcome in doubt,” and the media will freak out, neglecting to mention that Trump must vacate the premises on January 20th, no matter what lies spew forth from the asshole pucker he calls a mouth, per the Constitution. And we would have to resist him—nonviolently, but resolutely, and to the bitter end.

In the event, the only “coup” will be Biden winning the election resoundingly, with 58-60 percent of the popular vote, easily capturing most of the battleground states, and sending Trump out of the White House and off to the Big House.

Remember: Trump can only cheat if the election is close. The wider the margin of victory for Joe and Kamala, the less likely there is to be panic, violence, unrest, and Constitutional crisis. Vote early, vote once, vote blue—and if you can, please donate to the Biden/Harris campaign.


Photo credit: Screenshot of CNN’s election night coverage, 2016.