The Last Best Hope? Understanding America from the Outside In
The Better Angels Episode
Series 2 (Michaelmas term 2020)
Published 11 November 2020
NB the text below was transcribed automatically by https://otter.ai.
Adam Smith 00:07
Hello, and welcome to the Last Best Hope podcast from the RAI, Oxford University’s centre for the study of the United States and its place in the world. I'm Adam Smith.
Recording: Joe Biden 00:19
I've long talked about the battle for the soul of America, we must restore the soul of America. Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. And what presidents say in this battle matters. It's time for our better angels to prevail. Tonight, the whole world is watching America. And I believe that our best America is a beacon for the globe. We will not lead, we will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.
Adam Smith 01:04
President-Elect Joe Biden speaking after his victory in the 2020 election became clear. Throughout the campaign he spoke of the election, with evidence sincerity, as a battle for the soul of America. A reminder, if one was needed, of the epic scale of American politics, its grandiosity, the ease with which it defaults to universal redemptive language. If Biden didn't quite say his victory restored America as the world's last best hope, he easily could have done. But though Biden has won quite comfortably in the national popular vote, this rancorous, bitter election has once again been a reminder of how profoundly polarised the country remains. So what does this election tell us about the state of America and its place in the world? Well, joining me now to discuss this are two Oxford colleagues. Kate Guy is a lecturer in international relations, a D.Phil. student, and was a staffer on Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016. And Mitch Robertson is a Fellow of the RAI and the director of our 2020 election programming. Kate and Mitch, thank you very much for joining me. Kate – so with, we're speaking now on Tuesday morning, so Election Day was a week ago, how are you feeling right now?
Kate Guy 02:34
Luckily rested at this point. I think if we had recorded this a few days ago, that wouldn't have been the case. But But feeling good feeling newly hopeful and excited about everything to come back home for for us in the States.
Adam Smith 02:49
How were you feeling on Wednesday morning last week?
Kate Guy 02:53
There was certainly a moment. I, both my husband and I sort of barely slept at all until the race was called. I feel like because especially being based here in the UK, all of the big returns come in the middle of the night for us. So we were glued to our cable news feeds back home. There was certainly a moment on Tuesday night where things looked scary. And despite the fact that we were all sort of prepared for the eventuality of mail-in votes coming in much later, and and the race to shift, I think any of us who who were on the campaign in 2016, knew what it felt like to sort of have the map sort of fall apart very quickly and have the bottom fall out of things. So there was certainly a moment on Tuesday night where it felt like that was maybe going to start happening. But I think by the time we woke up on Wednesday, it was clear that it was likely going to be a Biden win. And it was just going to take time to count the votes. So at that point, it was just sort of a steely ‘hang in there’, and as Biden likes to say, keep the faith, for Democrats in the room.
Adam Smith 04:00
I mean, there are two narrative frames, both of which are true simultaneously. I mean, one is, it's absolutely incredible to unseat an incumbent president. I mean, this just doesn't happen very often. The other thing is that this is a stasis election in spite of that, I mean, it's just remarkable. You look at the little, the little red and blue arrows on, the New York Times have this cool has this particularly good graphic showing sort of, county by county, whether the voters moved in one direction or the other. And in 2016, it was just, it was just a sea of red arrows going in one direction across most of the country. This time, really small arrows with little exceptions. Otherwise, it just looks like the election is a no change election. Which of those things is more seems more important to you, Mitch?
Mitch Robertson 04:47
I mean, I think to me, as you lead with, the idea of unseating a first-term president is just incredibly rare in US politics. It's not it's been 40 years since a party has only held the White House for four years. Obviously the george bush – George H.W. Bush – was a third Republican term. So anything that happens once every 40 years in American politics is remarkable. And I think, as we've seen, Donald Trump is this once-in-a-generation character, so to unseat him out of the White House, I think there was this narrative that came up around – be interesting to hear Kate's view on this – the Hillary Clinton campaign that, oh, they, they made a mistake in their campaign, Trump was easy to beat. I think what we've seen throughout 2020, is that Trump is very difficult to beat. And that is a, that it is a big scalp for Joe Biden.
Adam Smith 05:30
Yeah. I mean, what did, what did, I mean, Kate, you so you've, you were at the heart of a campaign four years ago trying to beat Donald Trump. And I don't know. I mean, you know, at the time, there were there were sort of two views of this, weren't there? I mean, one was that he was a, completely unlike any other candidate, and just had the ability to reach voters that no other Republican had ever seen before, and so he was going to be really hard. The other was, my God, how can anyone vote for this guy? He's so out of it that surely… You know, and and the narrative of the 2016 election wavered between those two things didn't it? I mean, what, were there things that you think that Joe Biden got right this time, that Hillary Clinton got wrong in 2016? Was he was he a better candidate? Was it a better-run campaign? What was the difference?
Kate Guy 06:19
Well, I don't think it's either of those. But I'm highly biased on both the candidacy of 2016 and the campaign operation and and for full disclosure, I worked for the campaign manager who's sort of like the CEO of the campaign determining strategy and every sort of minutiae of the campaign in 2016. And I would say we had an incredible operation there, even even a bigger operation than in 2020, just because of the ground game that we were able to run on, like in these days. And Jen O'Malley Dillon, the campaign manager of Biden's campaign was phenomenal and and worked with us as well, in 2016. I think the biggest difference though, and in a way, I think I was maybe a little bit too close to it in ’16 and then further away in ’20, was how sort of unimaginable it was to everybody involved that Donald Trump could could be elected in ’16. And that, as we saw, has a real implication actually, on how people vote. So if if, as you said, Adam, people really don't take seriously that this person could be doing well, from the media to President Obama to James Comey, sort of all acting with the inevitability that that Donald Trump would lose, that ultimately changes many outcomes down the line. And I think we saw a lot of proof of that. Now, on the flip side, that makes things easier, I think when Donald Trump is the president, that people obviously can imagine it can can realise and see where he could win. And I think as you saw the the turnout from both sides, it was massively bigger. And a lot of that is just because people know that, that this could happen again. And in terms of just strategy, I think there was certainly a moment in 2016, where, you know, after the Access Hollywood tape, and as things were getting sort of near the end, it looked like it was going to be a blowout, as we probably talked about the polls in that regard have been wildly off in terms of what a blowout looks like. But there was definitely a moment I think that everybody wanted to get in there and make that win as big as possible, right. We needed to win the Senate, we needed to go to Texas, we needed to do sort of all of these things. What the 2020 campaign did, it also had that moment as well, where it looks like it was going to be a blowout.
Adam Smith 08:31
And, I mean Kamala was was, Harris was in Texas, wasn't she? And Biden was campaigning in Ohio, which she ended up losing by eight points in the end. I mean, you could see some of the same mistakes being made there.
Kate Guy 08:44
I don't think it was mistakes, though, I think they they tried that just to you know, sort of sort of help the down-ballot races there and sort of improve turnout. But they didn't take their eye off the ball and the ball was Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. And they did not get distracted from that effort, which was from the beginning sort of the map that they needed to turn out.
Mitch Robertson 09:04
Yeah, I think that's a good point.
Adam Smith 09:05
What do you think Mitch, how did how did this, yeah go on.
Mitch Robertson 09:08
Oh, no, I was gonna say I think that's a great point about where the use of candidate Biden, I mean, Biden didn't go to Texas, he spent the last couple of days in Georgia, which has turned out to be pivotal, you know, spent this time in western Pennsylvania, areas that were critical to getting him over the line. I think a lot of, you can't really speak highly enough, I think, of the Joe Biden campaign. It's it's been this thing, I'm sure there's a litany of articles that have written off the Biden campaign, from all the way through the primaries, you know, that he, you know, he was focusing on an old message, he was too old, he was spending too much time in his basement, he shouldn't – he should – be doing these rallies. I mean, I think a great degree of credit needs to go to the campaign. It's played this beautifully. And it’s won, it’s won, I mean, that that's what campaigns need to do. That's the only metric really that we measure presidential campaigns against, is winning, and this is a winning campaign.
Kate Guy 09:55
Definitely. Incredibly disciplined, but also innovative, which I think, that can be lost sight of, especially given, you know, the candidate’s age and the message that they had to…
Adam Smith 10:04
What are you thinking of?
Kate Guy 10:06
They had to flip on a dime to everything being digital, sort of at the moment that you need to build a huge operation. And the Democratic Party has not been has not been great that digital games, sort of aside from AOC and some of the younger progressive candidates. And for the the Biden campaign to rapidly be producing the videos they were, sort of engagement on all elements of social and digital media. That took a lot of effort and a lot of investment.
Adam Smith 10:34
Yeah. I mean, it's, I still want to, I still want to talk a little bit about the candidate himself, though. And how much, you know, whatever the operation that the campaign was putting in place. I just wonder whether, you know, Joe Biden turned out to be, I mean, there's nothing, there's nothing that makes a candidate look better than winning, right. But with that, but nevertheless, whereas Joe Biden turned out to be maybe the one guy who could pull this coalition together, right. Because it seems to me, okay, the Democratic Party has got a problem at the moment because it's clearly over several election cycles is losing ground in the old, in the Midwest and the Rust Belt states, which were its old bulwark. Unionised, formerly industrialised parts, the blue wall thing. And it's slowly gaining in other places – Georgia, Arizona, Texas, although way behind, further behind in Texas. And the challenge is that you can't invest in one and ignore the other, you still have to win enough in the old blue wall, post-industrial states, even while still rallying the the new, more multi-ethnic Democratic base in other parts of the country. And that's a really hard trick to pull off, because you've got to, you've got to get enough votes in, in Trump-ish America. You can't just rely, given the nature of the electoral college, if you're the Democrats, on winning in new sunbelt America. And Joe Biden, it seems to me Joe Biden was the ideal candidate to do that, right? Because, I mean, he's, he's an old white guy. He's an old white Catholic guy who can't speak woke. Like, I mean, if anyone could be unthreatening to white voters, then it's going to be Biden. And in a way, you know, Hillary Clinton, and you were in the heart of that campaign, but Hillary Clinton just obviously pushed, you know, for, for all kinds of unfair reasons, you could say, but she pushed people's buttons, came across in a really negative way, came across as being a kind of snooty Metropolitan elite liberal, and everything that the, the old Democrat base hates about the new Democratic Party. So I don't know where that leaves the Democrats for the future. I mean, what do you think of that analysis, Kate? Is there something in that? Because that means Biden was the ideal man.
Kate Guy 12:55
No, no, he was he was the ideal man, for all you say and for the fact that, you know, he's an old white guy, I guess, but an old white guy who has never budged from from the image of working class Joe, right. From Scranton, you know, riding the Amtrak, and a huge, huge partner of unions for his entire career. So it's, it's something that, you know, you couldn't make make that up as a narrative in the last two years, it had to have been something that was true. And I think that's, that's why as you say, he was the perfect candidate to sort of win back those voters who who went to Trump in ’16 in these states. Now, I would be more sort of cautious as as, is Biden the only Democrat that can ever do this again, because I think there's one huge element here that we sort of miss when we look at just the Democratic Party, and that's Trump. You know, I really, and you asked me how I felt on Wednesday, the biggest thing in my head on Wednesday was how much of this is sort of a reshaping of the party? And how much of this is an issue of Trump. All of those those voters who, in in these blue wall states have turned out massively in droves for Trump and, and and, you know, rural areas across the country. Do they turn out for Republicans in 2022 and 2024, if Trump is not on the ballot? You know, have they become Republican voters or are they Trump voters? And I think that makes a difference. Because if it, if they're really just turning out for the excitement and the character that is Trump, that means one thing for the Democratic Party, if they would sort of be swinging again in a future cycle, then you could win them in in sort of different ways. Mitch, what do you think of that?
Mitch Robertson 14:35
Yeah, I think that's a, that's a very good question. I think perhaps the the 2018 election might point that way, the 20, mid 2018 midterms which Trump wasn't on the ticket, on the ballot, and the Democrats did significantly better. I think I just like to say one more point about about Biden as a candidate. I think what sometimes we overlook is the empathy of Joe Biden. I think that is, perhaps more than anything, what what made him president. He just has this this fundamental decency. And people realise and people can people acknowledge that. And I think it was just thrown into such stark relief compared to President Trump with COVID. And it's it's not a surprise that in, you know, in his acceptance speech, Biden mentions, you know, the families, you know, these empty seats at the table that he talks about, he, this is just the language that he speaks in. And I think that really resonated. I mean, in terms of the future of the Republican Party, I think that's a fascinating question. Although one might say here, is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in 2024 not Donald Trump?
Adam Smith 15:36
It is, isn't it? I mean, you, you read news reports just today saying that he's already telling everyone he's going to run again in 2024. I mean, he's, the playbook there is, is Andrew Jackson, after after the 1824 election. Now, admittedly, Andrew Jackson hadn’t already served a term in office by then. But, you know, the corrupt bargain, as he called it after 1824, Andrew Jackson never accepted the legitimacy of his defeat to John Quincy Adams and ran a wave of that resentment to a crushing victory in 1828. I mean, since we know that Trump, or at least I don't suppose Trump reads very much, but I mean, you know, people around him, you know, like to make this comparison with with Andrew Jackson, that's surely what they're going for. I mean, if I were, if I were in the Democratic Party, the top of the Democratic Party now, I'd just be planning on the assumption that there was going to be a rematch in in ’24, no?
Kate Guy 16:29
You saying we have to do this all again, Adam? No, no, it's it's true, though. Because, you know, we sort of forget that there is this in history of of incumbents who have lost coming back. Teddy Roosevelt did a similar thing as well, right, but but actually switched parties. But I think the the one thing that cautions me on whether he will be sort of the shoe-in there is there are many Republicans sort of with their eye on that prize, and already vying, many that were in the the Donald Trump cabinet. And so the question there is with, with all of these people running from from maybe Chris Christie again, but Mike Pompeo to Nikki Haley, do we see a primary where Trump runs away with it again? Or do we see a primary where perhaps there's a little bit more involvement from party elites and things like that to to sort of put their own interests at play and make sure he doesn't get, not made it again? I mean, that's, that's certainly the next…
Adam Smith 17:28
Good luck with that, good luck with that. I mean, who are these party elites who, where is the Republican establishment, who has the capacity to stand to stand against him?
Mitch Robertson 17:35
I mean, they're lockstep in with Trump. I mean, that's, that's it. It's not that they don't exist. They're, you know, you saw Mitch McConnell, you know, accepting the result of the election for the new Republican senators, but not for Joe Biden. I mean, this is, this is what the Republican Party is now, I think, in Kate’s scenario, you would expect to see someone come out against the President, or the current President, the soon to be former President, but we're not seeing that. Not really on on the mainstream of Fox News. We're not seeing it in Mitch McConnell, not saying it in Kevin McCarthy, the House leader. We're just not seeing it. Sort of unfathomable. But then it's sort of like entirely predictable for the last four years. I think we're sort of hoping that, you know, the Republican Party is going to get better or that Mitch McConnell is going to wake up in a sort of Ebenezer Scrooge moment, but he…
Kate Guy 18:19
Grow a spine. Yeah.
Mitch Robertson 18:22
Well, I one observation I wanted to make was about the death of split-ticket voting in this election, so the idea that you vote for the different presidential candidate to down-ballot. I think, as of as of this moment, Susan Collins is the only candidate to run differently from how her state went in the presidential election. And that is quite a historically unique phenomenon. I was looking back this morning, in 1992 13, states elected a different senator to how their their party voted in the general election. Looking back to 1984, Al Gore carried Tennessee with 60% of the vote as senator, while Reagan carried it for president with basically 60%. So we're not really seeing any evidence, which may be this polarization, this trumpinization, I don't know exactly what it is, of people just voting down the ticket for the one party.
Adam Smith 19:10
It's really it's really striking that sorting at the Senate level, we've seen it happening in the House level over several election cycles. But the, this happening in the senate level is really, really striking now. This has got potentially quite serious implications for governance, hasn't it? Because, I mean, one of the reasons why historically, it was possible to broker deals in the Senate was because you had a significant number of senators who, who knew it wasn't that they were kind of better people or naturally more bipartisan than they are today. It was just that they knew that their political interest lay in serving two different constituencies, you know, I mean, I don't know, you know, Kate, what, what, how do you break out of that kind of deadlock?
Kate Guy 19:51
I mean, if you've got a way to do that, let me know and I'll pass it on to the Biden White House now. Well, first, on the split ticket, I think you're right. And we've sort of further polarised in this electoral cycle. But I think that actually looking into the numbers, you do see a few, and it's not necessarily split ticket, as it has been historically, but there were some Republicans who held their nose and voted for Biden. You can see because there are many states where the senate candidate won with a healthier margin than than Trump did. And the reason I pull this out is because it's actually one thing that the Trump campaign team is pointing to as a quote-unquote, voting irregularity, that there would be some some ballots that went for Republicans down-ballot, but Biden at the top. Now, I don't think that's a voting irregularity, I think it's just because he was unpopular with a lot of more traditional conservative Republicans, especially suburban voters. But but there were some people that did that. So that that is one of those signs of potentially a little bit of a party realignment, if if those people sort of come into the Democratic Party, but it doesn't necessarily look like it, because they stuck with Republicans down-ticket.
Mitch Robertson 21:02
Could I take us back a step here, just talking about the the candidates for the Senate. And something I want to ask you about Kate. Something that I observed this election was the the explosion of this thing called Act Blue, which is an online fundraising, which you know about, online fundraising platform for the Democratic Party, and we saw huge numbers, huge amounts of money coming in, in these Senate races, you know, for people like Jamie Harrison try and, unseat Lindsey Graham, you know, hundred million dollars, something like that. I wonder whether that backfired in some sense of, it enabled Lindsey Graham to say all these, you know, liberals, you know, these sort of Pelosi-ites want to come in and tell you how how South Carolina should be run and whether whether there's a bit of potential for that to backfire, and whether perhaps, the money doesn't go exactly, perhaps where it should? I was thinking someone like Joe Manchin is a, would Joe Manchin and get any money on Act Blue? But I don't know whether any other democrat could win West Virginia.
Kate Guy 21:58
Mm hmm. No, it's such a good point. I mean, yeah. So Act Blue is has been around since the Obama years and sort of as a space to marshal donations. I think the reason they exploded was not, not anything about Act Blue, though good on them that they were able to handle this volume. It was honestly just the sort of entertainment and fetishization now of politics that we're seeing in the US, where people that never ever cared about politics are now listening to the podcast and watching cable news, and everything like that. So they're newly sort of this universe of people who on the Democratic side want to donate and otherwise would have sort of stayed away from it. And I think you're you're maybe right on the point about it sort of giving Republican candidates a narrative to run on. We saw this in 2017 when Ossoff ran for the special election in Georgia, then that the Republican in the in the race was able to say look at all of these sort of liberal elites coming in here trying to fund us. But I think your second point is probably more true now. There were a lot of candidates who were exciting and races that were exciting to Democrats that probably should have been putting their money elsewhere. It was unlikely that we were going to Democrats were going to unseat mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham. If that those millions of dollars that Jimmy Harrison in South Carolina and McGrath in in Kentucky raised, if that had gone to, to Alaska even, or to some of these closer races in Georgia, or North Carolina, it could have made the difference there. And so it's just again, that entertainment quality of of politics now. You want to as a Democrat want to give to the people who are the stars, not necessarily to the people who maybe could benefit from it the most.
Adam Smith 23:47
That would have been so so satisfying for Democrats to defeat Lindsey Graham, because he just was the, is the ultimate example of someone who went from being I mean, not just Trump sceptic, but I mean, really, you know, has been repeatedly had played, you know, his, his excoriating comments about Trump from 2015 and 2016. He's gone from that to Trump toady-in-chief, and so to have taken him down would have been immensely satisfying. But it wasn't just that was it. It was also that the polls indicated, bizarrely, as it now seems in retrospect, that Jamie Harrison had a real chance in in South Carolina. I mean, in Iowa as well, it’s another, it's another race where the Senate, the polls indicated that that was going to be potentially a very close Senate race. And it wasn't it wasn't close at all. So that was another one where there was a lot of money went in a lot of national attention. So I mean, there's so this brings us on to the polls, right. I mean, how much of a polling I mean, Mitch, you know, you follow this stuff very closely.
Mitch Robertson 24:45
Adam Smith 24:46
Yeah, and I mean, I do, I do too, but I mean, what, is the 538 business model just broken? I mean, it doesn't matter how many, you can run your simulations 40,000 times or whatever they do, but if the inputs are fundamentally wrong, it's, your outputs are going to be wrong. I mean, what on earth, I mean, what I mean, how bad a polling mess-up was this?
Mitch Robertson 25:09
I think it was very bad. And perhaps we can slightly differentiate the senate versus the presidential race. I mean, the presidential race was actually pretty accurate. If we think about, if you look at something like the Cook Political Report, they said Biden was going to get 306 electoral college votes, I think he'll get 306 electoral college votes. I mean, Florida is the outlier there. But noticeably people like Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report, were giving that Republican…
Adam Smith 25:32
The, Larry Sabato’s crystal ball thing did did did pretty well, in terms of predicting states. And the Cook Political Report, as you say, had had a had a, in terms of overall electoral college votes was was was around about right. But the reason, but that was surely that was more chance than anything else, because their underlying assumption was that Biden would be four points higher than he is about in terms of national share popular vote. So they were thinking he was going to win, maybe the same states he may end up winning, but win them all comfortably. Whereas in fact, in, in Arizona, in Pennsylvania, if he wins Georgia, certainly in Georgia, and in Wisconsin, and even in Michigan, these are squeakers in all of those states. And in all of them, well, in most of them, he was expected to win more comfortably. So, Mitch, you’re giving them too much of a free pass, aren’t you?
Mitch Robertson 26:23
Well, I mean, they might be hiring soon. But, well yes, I guess you can say that. I mean, maybe we just – we, I don't know who the we is here, the people that consume these media – wanted a blowout, wanted a sort of a knockout, wanted Florida to go the other way, and it was all gonna be over, we could be in bed at 11 o'clock. Like, this is still a bigger victory than than than Bush in 2004. I mean, it's looking it might be the exact the exact inverse of 2016. I don't know. I mean, maybe we do. I think we do. This is the problem with politics now, as we follow, the polls of the story, the polls don't tell us about how it's going. Every morning, we wake up and we say what's the New York Times got, The New York Times, got to get on 538. I mean, that's not what, that's not the purpose of polling. But that's what, I mean, that's a marketing message, I think of 538. I mean, they’re, they’re sort of trapped there, though, because they want people to be obsessing over it. But when you obsess over it, you're not getting a true picture of the race.
Kate Guy 27:18
Mm hmm. We desperately want something to cut through the uncertainty in the days leading up to the election day, but it's not something that can do that. The only thing that can do that is the actual result. Two things on my side from the polling. The first is I think Mitch is exactly right. I think the polls, at least in the presidential, were not horribly off, you'll you'll you'll quickly hear all the, you'll quickly hear all the pollsters say that right?
Adam Smith 27:46
Yes. I mean, let's assume let's assume Biden has a what, four point, maybe a five point margin nationally, maybe maybe when all the votes are counted in California, New York. And and, you know, that's, well, that's very bottom end of their expectations, but yeah, sorry, go on Kate.
Kate Guy 28:02
But no, but but it makes a difference, though, as you say, because that margin is everything, that margin changes where you spend your money, that margin changes, you know, if people turn out and vote or not, I mean, again, back to 2016. The reason people didn't vote is because because they thought Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in, at least on the Democratic side, or they voted for a third party. The reason they have those sort of inclinations is because that's what the the polls are saying. And that's what the media is interpreting them. So it is an actual sort of feed into someone's decision that is problematic if they are wrong. But the reason why I think they are often, not I mean, this is what sort of folks are saying, is that you have a whole population of people who are unpollable, not just because you can't reach them on cell phones or whatever. It's because they're actually antagonistic to pollsters, they're antagonistic to media, they have been told that pollsters and media sort of reaching them are bad. So you, you have the end, those are the Trump voters, right? Those are the very, very sort of aggressive and enthusiastic Trump voters and so they do not want to be polled and want to like, you know, actually run away from those polls. And so obviously, what what the pollsters and modellers tried to do was weight things much differently this time around and and, you know, give higher weight to people that were non-college or things like that. But a simple non-college voter is not the same as an enthusiastic anti-pollster or voter. Those are those are they actually act differently, and they behave differently. So clearly, the the weighting didn't didn't work. And I think either Mitch or Adam, as you said, if your inputs are wrong, the model is going to be wrong. And we have not found a way around this. And instead, I think that the tinkering that happened between 2016 and now sort of helped give a better picture, but it clearly didn't right all of those wrongs. But the last thing I think I'll say here is that that is what we're seeing on the public side, on these public models like 538. And the polls done state by state, it's clear that internally both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign had, I think, better, better sort of margins. It's because they both said and had been saying for weeks, and this was unfortunately, on the Biden side, written off as spin to the media. But they had been saying we're seeing a race that's much tighter and much closer in the States than those public polls are showing.
Adam Smith 30:21
That's interesting. So you think from from what you understand, the internal Biden polls, were showing something closer to what actually transpired?
Kate Guy 30:29
Yeah, the internal polls are always better, because you you actually have, you know, a universe of voters that you're working with, and indifferent data that you're working with internally, that you have sort of crafted to sort of give you or be an input to the outcome that you want. Where on the polling side, you're just trying to, you know, model what the overall voting universe looks like. And and from what I know, and from what people have said, internally, it did show a much tighter race sort of consistently, internally.
Adam Smith 31:00
I mean, there were some pollsters, I mean, the the Ann Selzer poll of Iowa, which freaked out blue America on the, was it the Sunday before the election, and there was, you know, there was a huge amount of sort of, in quotes contextualization of that poll, right, by, you know, the Nate Cohens and the Nate Silvers and the, and the Harry Entens, and so on, were all saying, I don't know, you know, this, this can't possibly be right. And they're benchmarking it against other polls. Well, it was bang on. I mean, you know, she got, she got bang on, right. So it clearly is possible sometimes to get it right. So is the proclivity of these low-trust voters to come out in 2020 and in 2016, I mean, this circles back to this question of how much is this just about Trump? I mean, he's, you know, he is a man who's made the world go mad. I mean, he's made America go mad, I mean, mad either madly crazy for him, or just madly crazy against him. And he's kind of he's messed up the whole world in the most extraordinary way, I mean, perhaps he is just a one-off. Or perhaps we're seeing some profound shift towards a new kind of national populist politics, which the Republican Party is going to embody, and which can which it can take forward, post Trump. I mean, I guess that's one of the that's one of the big questions of American politics right now, isn't it?
Kate Guy 32:24
Yeah, I like to think it's hard. Trump is Trump, I think it's hard for another Republican to come in and sort of take that mantle. And, and this is, I suppose, what what gives me hope that maybe there is something that will sort of pass with with Trump. And it's because he's not a politician, despite the fact that he became a politician. Voters do not see him as one. And so in ’16, we would sort of call him Teflon Trump, and it's because anything that you throw at him, the media throws at him anything, it just does not stick. Whereas with a politician, you know, any of these things would sort of be like the final cut, the final straw with him, people have already built that into their impression of him. And it's because he's an entertainer, it's because he is seen as a businessman, all these things, he's also sort of seen as not a politician. Anybody else that sort of tries to come in and and have those same tactics, does not have that sort of identity with the voters. And so I think that, you know, maybe they'll, they'll try to use the same rhetoric and obviously, take take on the same policy agenda or whatever, like for the Trump side, but will not I'm thinking and perhaps hoping be able to do so so effectively, because Ted Cruz is a politician, right. Pompeo is a politician, regardless of…
Adam Smith 33:40
…unless Trump runs again in 2024. You know, or Don, Jr. He could he take it on? Mitch?
Mitch Robertson 33:50
And I think that's, I think that's a it's a good, it's fascinating to speculate about. I think what it sort of boils down to is can you have trumpism without Trump? And I'm not so sure that you can, I mean, he is just this, as you say, he’s this Teflon Don, like nothing sticks. I mean, you can't take out one element of Trump. You can't say, you've seen people say, well, maybe if Donald Trump didn't attack John McCain, he would have won Arizona and he would win. I mean, but you can't have that, that was part of what people for – who the hell knows why – people enjoyed that he would go after the sort of shibboleths like, you know, you can't go after war heroes. That, you just can't pick and take, oh, what would you look like a slightly sort of sharpened or slightly sanded-edges Trump. I mean, it is just, Trump is the only one who can do it, I think. I don't think Ted Cruz can.
Adam Smith 34:37
But if trumpism is actually something else, if trumpism is actually something analogous to what the Front National stands for in France, if it's actually a nationalist, populist, close the borders, pull up the drawbridges, anti-immigration kind of movement, then sure, that can exist without Trump.
Kate Guy 34:58
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think that there is something to that. Because if you really want to look at it, and I'm sure there are good scholars probably at the RAI doing this, trumpism existed before Trump, right. This was the Tea Party. This was the the massive reaction against the policies of the Obama administration, sort of fed by by Fox News and and other right-wing outlets that many people say gave rise to to Trump and gave rise to the, his coverage and birtherism and all of that. And so I think that, even if he were to go away and sort of, you know, go on to greener pastures, whether that's his own media company, or whatever, that that impetus in society is clearly there. And it's clearly part of the electorate. I mean, I don't think it's half the electorate. This is one thing that that we often sort of mistake when we're saying these things. The people that voted for Trump and did so enthusiastically is about 20% of the American population. It's not 50% as the sort of outcomes would would show. So it's important to know that we're always…
Adam Smith 35:59
The rest of just loyal Republicans who want…
Kate Guy 36:02
Or Democrats. Or or nuns, right, that don't really care. So you're dealing with one fifth of the American population that certainly has these these ideas and these proclivities. So are you going to, as was sort of happened after 2016, focused extensively on them and their needs, just because they're a very loud minority? Or is there something else you can do with the rest of the population to sort of fight back against it? I do think that sort of Trump-ism without Trump is going to have to decide how, how it wants to move forward, and what narrative it wants to take forward. And I think you'll sort of see this battle begin, you know, is it a reaction against a socialist left? Is it a reaction against, you know, whatever, big stimulus plans are there? How do they deal with the economic growth and and investment a Biden administration certainly wants to bring forward? Do do they all of a sudden become austere Republicans again, I guess, is what I'm asking, which many people are already sort of showing signs of.
Mitch Robertson 37:08
Haven't heard the word debt for four years. But we're hearing that a lot now from Senate Republicans, aren’t we?
Adam Smith 37:13
I mean, sort of bringing this towards an end, I kind of want to end up really, where I sort of started off in the intro really. I mean, it's the it's the sort of the the epic scale of American political rhetoric that you know, that I've once again been reminded of here, you know, you that you can talk, if you're a politician like Joe Biden, about the soul of the nation being at stake, and nobody, as they would in British politics, kind of titters behind their hands. And, you know, people really feel this and really mean this, don't they Kate.
Kate Guy 37:44
Yeah. It's been so fascinating for me, I think, watching at least the last two years of this cycle unfold while being here in the UK, and have have the sort of European rejection of American exceptionalism, all around me. Because I mean, and there are many, many people of my generation and younger, who do not buy into American exceptionalism as a theory at all, because, you know, we grew up during the Vietnam and the Afghan and Iraqi wars, and sort of that bubble was popped probably already in Vietnam. But what I think that the epicness shows is, is the importance of American politics. And you know, the bells ringing across Paris when Biden won, the the fireworks going off here in the UK, which yes, were sort of kept over from from Bonfire Night, but yet they all went off as soon as the results came in. As well as you know, you see the the leaders in Ireland sort of feeling and and India and, and Jamaica as well feeling something about the fact that immigrants from or emigrants from their countries are now in charge of the American sort of government. It just, people buy into it and and feel it because it impacts the rest of the world so much. It's not just epic and rhetoric, it's, it's epic and meaning as we've seen these past few years. I mean, if we want any action on climate change, any action on COVID, any action on any huge global collective action problem, it matters who is in the US. And so whatever that soul is, is is not just a soul for Americans to fight over, it's a soul, but everyone around the world wants to remark on to, you know, create podcast discussing, all the rest. And so we can't look away perhaps, in the rest of the world. And I think as an American, that's a good thing, because that is, if you looked at the polling from this year, something that Americans, Republicans and Independents and of course, Democrats, particularly did not like about the Trump era, was how he turned his back on the rest of the world. And so that epicness is something that that voters vote on as well. That soul of the nation, our character and how other nations perceive us, is something that actually really matters to Americans. Whether or not that matters to to Trump.
Mitch Robertson 40:09
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think what it felt like on was it Sunday here was this sort of exhaling, the idea that like, it wasn't so much the sort of, as well a joyous celebrations like, oh, America’s sort of back to normal again. Maybe, maybe we're approaching some form of normality, I think, as well as Donald Trump setting the media agenda in the United States for the past four years, five years, probably. It's set that in basically every other country around the world, like I would hazard a guess, I don't have any facts for this, but that Donald Trump has been on more front pages of the British newspapers and Australian newspapers, South African newspapers then than any other US president. And I think it did feel like there was something at stake here, it did feel like every time sort of Trump went further, you thought this is it, this is this is this is as far as he's got to go. And he just sort of went one step further, I think, even during the camp, you know, we sort of said the horrible things that he did to Hillary Clinton during the campaign, but the sort of, you know, in the in that second debate going after, you know, Joe Biden's son for having drug problems and things like that, it just felt it felt different this time it it genuinely did, we try not to be part of a, it did really feel like a good person against the not good person. You know, the day before the campaign, the day before the election, rather, you know, Joe Biden goes to visit his son's grave and say Mass, Donald Trump calls into Fox News to harangue them for being unfair on him. Like that is just a contrast, so many contrasts that have been thrown up in many different visions of America. And I think Joe Biden just represents these, this different, you know, the hope for a kinder America, hope for a kinder world, I think, yeah, he's kind of just the idea that like, this guy that overcomes, suddenly, suddenly, even there, like sort of getting a bit emotional talking about it, you know, he, he overcame, you know, the stutter, you know, he's his wife, his wife and child sadly passing away, his son, tragically passing away. This this idea that like, maybe good, good people can get ahead. I mean, that was sort of where I was on Sunday night.
Kate Guy 42:06
Yeah. And I think just as a last point there, I think, I think that fight for decency is something that so many parts of the world are fighting now. And there's something about the American experience, the soul of the nation is democracy, right? I mean, that is what is the American project is based on. And so I think the rest of the world, especially democracies across the world, or people who want democracies, wherever they are in the world, saw this fight as a fight for democracy and for democratic institutions, and for decent people getting ahead. And for that American dream of, you know, a 19 year old immigrant from India, his daughter, eventually becoming Vice President, that is the power of the American idea. And that's what was on the on the ballot this time. And so, I think that's why you're seeing this just relief, but rejoice in the fact that these institutions are not, you know, backsliding, as far back as we maybe thought they have been, that we can sort of, we can get back and the democratic process can work and can sort of reinvent itself along the way.
Adam Smith 43:08
Yeah, you know, Kate, you said, you've you've watched this election unfold in, in, in Europe, in which there's a sort of default rejection of American exceptionalism. And I I know what you mean, and and that there is a kind of tonal kind of this, perhaps especially in in Britain, kind of eyebrow raising about American exceptionalism. But I think for all of the reasons that you just said, I actually don't think fundamentally, there is a rejection of American exceptionalism. I think the reaction, the importance of this election around the world, and certainly in the UK, is testimony to that. I mean, I'm, you know, I'm basically a child of the ’90s. And so I can remember Bill Clinton's first inaugural address in which is, the most memorable line is, there's nothing – I'm just doing this for memory now – but there's nothing wrong with America that cannot be put right with what is right with America. And that's, I mean, you know, I was an undergraduate student then and I heard that line then and I’d barely been to the United States – not true, I had been to the United States by then – but you know, I didn't know very much about it then really. And and that was a massively resonant line. You know, you you couldn't say that in British politics. You know, I don't know Mitch, you couldn't say that in Australian politics and get away with it, could you, really? I mean, you know. But you can say that about America. And, and it manifestly means something to people, not just in America, but around the world, we want, we want America to be a place that we can look up to. You know, when the Lincolnian phrase about the better angels of our nature, that Joe Biden has invoked, you know, we want that, we desperately want that. And you saw some of that in 2008, when, when Barack Obama was elected, and there was this kind of sense of great kind of excitement around the world. And it wasn't just because he was a kind of celebrity, brilliant orator and a kind of you know, it was because he was an African American and this kind of amazing example, that was being set. And, and the Trump reaction, if that's what it was, to Obama, it is this intense sense of disappointment, I think. It's as if like America is letting us down now. And there's a sense and so there is a sense of restoration. And for all the manifest real world problems and massive systemic difficulties, you know, economically and politically and institutionally that the United States faces, there's still somehow this will for it to succeed. Well, we've we've all ended up on a kind of soaring, rhetorical…
Kate Guy 45:35
You can't help but go there when talking about the Americans.
Adam Smith 45:40
And yeah, it is that dream. And you know, if even, I mean Biden, you know, he's obviously a great guy but he's not one of the world's greatest orators, I think it's fair to say, but if even he, you know, because of his manifest decency can capture some of it, I do feel like he can, he can go there, he can reach that sort of, into that sort of sense of where I'm at where America needs to be.
Kate Guy 46:01
And I think he'll go there with a newfound, and and his team will go there, with a newfound humbleness as well, though. I mean, it's not going to be the American exceptionalism of the George W. Bush years, which is, we can force this vision on the world, it's going to be a sort of belief in and what I think we're talking about here, which is the ability to, for a democracy, whether it's American or not, but to be self-perfecting, right, that that what is so good about this – and this is the sort of Obama ideology as well – is that what makes America great is that it can keep making itself great.
Mitch Robertson 46:39
Absolutely. I think it's not just a rhetorical flourish either. I think Joe Biden genuinely believes that like, Joe Biden, you know, he's the sort of son of a car salesman who’s now President. You know, she's the daughter of the daughter of immigrants, now Vice President, I think he genuinely believes it. Like he sort of there is a sincerity to it, and he does believe that America will be the one to cure cancer, like he does believe that America will will beat COVID. And I think that's just a genuine thing about him, which is the, the genuineness has always been the defining hallmark of Joe Biden.
Kate Guy 47:11
Adam Smith 47:13
Mitch Robertson and Kate Guy, thank you so much for joining me on the Last Best Hope podcast and hopefully, perhaps the three of us can get together again, maybe to talk about Joe Biden's inauguration, inaugural address, which is something to, which will be something to look forward to. Thank you both very much indeed.