Data nerds on social media have spent the better part of two days wondering why the networks won’t just make a call. The outcome hasn’t been in doubt. Biden needed only to win Nevada and Pennsylvania to lock things down; the writing’s been on the wall in NV since early Thursday and the outcome in PA was so assured given the drift in mail ballots there that Decision Desk HQ called it 24 hours ago. Biden’s remarks last night were scheduled at 8 p.m. ET in the belief that a call would be made before then and he could address the country as the apparent president-elect. But the networks held off. So he stalled, postponing his remarks past 8, to give them a little more time, and they still wouldn’t call it. So he spoke and gave another vague “we’re confident we’re headed towards victory” speech instead.
Why wouldn’t the networks pull the trigger earlier?
There are some innocent possible explanations for that and some less innocent ones. But let me just post the news here first and then I’ll come back with some updates to flesh it out.
JOE BIDEN DEFEATS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
The Associated Press declares Joe Biden the winner of a grueling campaign for the American presidency. He will lead a polarized nation through a historic collision of health, economic and social crises. #APracecall pic.twitter.com/lInwqjX3PB
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 7, 2020
BREAKING: JOE BIDEN WINS
Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States, CNN projects, after a victory in Pennsylvania puts the Scranton-born Democrat over 270 https://t.co/q8Fed74z0j #CNNElection pic.twitter.com/NADZm3qkvY
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) November 7, 2020
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 7, 2020
CBS News projects Joe Biden wins the presidential election with the projected win in Pennsylvania. The current electoral vote count is Biden 273 and Trump 213. https://t.co/T6GArkvEPf pic.twitter.com/XvFMHiWLWa
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 7, 2020
— ABC News (@ABC) November 7, 2020
Interestingly, Fox was the straggler in the group even though they (in)famously called Arizona for Biden on Tuesday night, long before the outcome there seemed assured to anyone else. Viewers were irate at them for that; clearly they didn’t want to be the first to call the presidency for Biden even though, with Nevada seemingly looking rock solid, Fox should have been quicker to believe that he had 270 electoral votes in the bank than any of their competitors were.
Now that the rest of the industry has provided some cover for them to break the bad news to their audience, though, they’re making the call too.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) November 7, 2020
Lots of updates to come. Stand by.
Update: Here’s the big moment on Fox, preserved for posterity. I’m genuinely curious to see if hardcore MAGA types channel their anger about the outcome of the race into anger at FNC rather than doubling down on a “voter fraud” conspiracy that has nothing to support it.
Here's Fox News calling the election for Joe Biden. pic.twitter.com/wIOJOv1fss
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) November 7, 2020
Update: Biden’s statement:
statement from Biden pic.twitter.com/RFOzTQv4A2
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) November 7, 2020
Update: As I say, there are innocent possibilities for why the networks held off on making a call until now. The obvious one is that they wanted to be very, very sure that Biden had an insurmountable lead in Pennsylvania, outside the margin of a recount. That margin is 0.5 percent. He’s either passed it as I write this or is on his way to passing it soon as the remaining mail ballots trickle in. Knowing that Trumpers would have looked for any reason to cry foul about the projections of victory — “Biden’s not even out of recount range yet!” — the networks were cautious.
The more troubling possibility is that the network chiefs are anxious about the president’s state of mind and were searching for an opportune moment to break the news. Trump is an unstable character, narcissistic even by politician standards, and cultivates an aura of invincibility that would be pierced in a shocking way once an “official” declaration of victory for Biden was made. He’s also obsessed with media perceptions, especially television media. Pronouncing him the loser of the presidential race on national television is asking him to cope with a singular, unimaginable blow to his persona. Here’s the last tweet he sent this morning before the networks started making their calls:
Around the same time, reports began circulating on Twitter that he had left the White House to play golf. Maybe network execs seized their opportunity to call it now because he’s away from the seat of power at the moment, surrounded by golf buddies, and may be able to take the news a little better under those circumstances. At the very least, he’d have a few hours to absorb it before returning home. As for what those execs fear that he would — or will — do, who knows? The whole point is that he’s unpredictable and seemingly unprepared psychologically for this moment given what we’ve seen of his personality for the past five years. Some members of the media are going to spend the next 70 days trying to “manage” his mood to some degree so that he doesn’t end up doing anything nutty. Maybe that started today.
Update: Drudge will not be participating in the mood management exercise, apparently.
How it’s playing on Drudge pic.twitter.com/iX55VdcOYJ
— Dustin Volz (@dnvolz) November 7, 2020
Update: Ironically, the call came not long after Trump got the first bit of electoral good news he’s had in days, that the race in Arizona is tightening based on the latest batch of ballots from Maricopa County. That one’s going down to the wire and Trump has an outside shot of winning it. The networks called the race anyway because Nevada and Pennsylvania are no longer in doubt, and that makes Arizona (and Georgia) irrelevant.
Update: Caught my eye:
Only a very personal note – I am relieved and look forward to having a president who respects POW’s who have been captured…
(*I had to say it)
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) November 7, 2020
Update: A noteworthy clip from Fox News last night. The universal consensus on social media is that this segment wasn’t aimed at the Fox News audience generally but at one very special Fox News viewer in particular.
Laura Ingraham prepares her audience for the likely possibility that the President will lose the election pic.twitter.com/tG50EIHj60
— Acyn (@Acyn) November 7, 2020
It’s weird to see a Fox primetime host entertaining the possibility of defeat — blasphemy — but remember that Ingraham and Tucker Carlson are nationalists on the merits, not just out of loyalty to Trump. She and he might be more willing than Hannity is to see Trump ride off into the sunset, believing that nationalist policies will have a better chance in the next election with a nominee who isn’t weighed down by Trump’s personal baggage.
Relatedly, the Wall Street Journal editorial page also gently urged Trump to concede gracefully if Biden has 270 electoral votes in the bank once the vote-counting is done. Between that, Ingraham, and Fox News making the call for a Biden victory today, we now have multiple Murdoch-owned outlets politely encouraging the president to accept reality.
Update: Foreign leaders have begun formally congratulating Biden:
Congratulations, @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Our two countries are close friends, partners, and allies. We share a relationship that’s unique on the world stage. I’m really looking forward to working together and building on that with you both.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 7, 2020
Update: God only knows to what degree Trump genuinely believes that he won and to what degree he’s merely saying so to keep up appearances of invincibility. But needless to say, the main “mood management” over the next 70 days will be performed by his own close aides, few of whom seem to have any real doubts about the outcome based on the reporting over the past 24 hours. Trump is vowing to fight on in court, with new legal representation if need be, because “fighting” is his brand and he has to be true to it even if he has no apparent legal leg to stand on. But his political aides are less concerned with that than with convincing him to pivot to post-presidential life in a somewhat kinda sorta dignified way.
“Barring any major cases of voter fraud or something drastic, this is over, and it’s been over for a day. Most people are aware. Some folks are taking a bit longer to accept it,” said a senior Trump campaign official. “There are a lot of people just sitting and staring at their desks.”
“My sense is that we lost,” added a former Trump aide, who on election night and the days after thought the president would win. The former aide said he shared Trump’s belief that pandemic-driven voting rule changes had negatively impacted his bid for reelection, but said the president no longer has a viable path to victory.
The immediate task: How to get Trump to acknowledge publicly that he won’t be president after January 20 knowing that he’ll never, ever actually concede that he lost for fear of ruining his “brand”?
Some close to the president are advocating that, if Biden is declared the winner of the presidential election, Trump will ultimately offer public remarks in which he commits to a peaceful transition of power, according to allies and Republican officials, who like others on Friday spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. One senior campaign aide, however, said there had been no discussion of a concession speech…
Yet even those who now believe a Biden victory is a foregone conclusion have struggled with how to break the news to Trump. “They know he’s lost, but no one seems willing to tell King Lear or Mad King George that they’ve lost the empire,” said one Republican in frequent touch with the White House…
Some advisers have also been talking about how to spin a possible loss, arguing that Trump could still take a victory lap — taking solace in the fact that, even in a deadly pandemic, he exceeded expectations, probably helped the Senate hold its Republican majority and gained Republican seats in the House.
This is not a referendum on you, they have told the president.
His “legal effort” is now being led by David Bossie, who’s not a lawyer, and prominently features Rudy Giuliani, who’s barely still a lawyer. Giuliani’s a scattershot oppo guy at this stage of his career prone to making wildly overhyped allegations of corruption. He’s quite literally one of the last people in politics whom Trump should want in front of cameras right now if he’s looking to convince a skeptical public that there are serious, credible allegations of widespread fraud. But oh well.
Kaitlan Collins: "We're being told tonight by sources that the president is raising questions about the effective of [his legal] team … basically suggesting he doesn't think they're up for the task. And he's even told one person he wants them to find him better attorneys." pic.twitter.com/ggwJP6ax33
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 7, 2020
Update: Biden will address the country at 8 p.m. ET tonight as the apparent president-elect. Meanwhile, here’s Trump’s statement insisting that the campaign will start “prosecuting our case in court.”
INBOX: Statement from President Donald J. Trump pic.twitter.com/LJxbbdQBJu
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) November 7, 2020
Update: An interesting piece at the Spectator this morning speculates that Trump behaving like a loose cannon as a lame-duck president might come back to haunt Republicans in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs. Those races will determine control of the Senate. If Trump keeps a low profile, writes Mark Gettleson, swing voters may side with the two GOP candidates in the name of providing a check on Biden via divided government. And if Trump doesn’t keep a low profile? “If the Trump meltdown does drag out until January, it will have a big impact on upscale, high-turnout swing voters in the Atlanta suburbs, and may end up costing the party its seats. One of the big reasons these voters have shifted away from the GOP was their objections to Trump’s lack of presidential style — which could well be writ large in the coming months.”
Not only that, Gettleson adds, but if Trump makes a sustained “I was cheated!” push, it’ll force Georgia candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to either side with him to appease their base at the risk of alienating swing voters or to keep their distance from him to appease swing voters at the risk of alienating their base. A low-key Trump would be good for the party, but he doesn’t care about the party.
Update: I’m not sure but I think Larry Hogan is the first elected Republican to formally congratulate Biden.
Congratulations to President-elect Biden. Everyone should want our president to succeed because we need our country to succeed. We have great challenges ahead of us as a country. Now more than ever, we need to come together as Americans.
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) November 7, 2020
Update: Boris Johnson has added his congratulations on behalf of the UK:
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 7, 2020
Update: And here’s the Obama statement.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 7, 2020
Update: Romney follows Hogan in accepting the networks’ verdict:
Ann and I extend our congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. We know both of them as people of good will and admirable character. We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) November 7, 2020
Update: Jill Biden posted this a few hours ago. Note Joe’s answer to the “Make America Great Again” cap: “We Just Did. 46.”
He will be a President for all of our families. pic.twitter.com/iGPKLMMIcK
— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) November 7, 2020