Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.
So much of the 2020 election remains unknown, and so this column is laced with caution.
What do we know? That the final outcome of the presidential election is not yet known. Predictably, that did not stop Donald Trump from asserting victory in the early hours of the morning in front of his supporters. Claims were made of fraudulent voting, but they remain unproven.
It was all very President Trump – and you should read that in a pejorative way. In many ways, it is those excesses, idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that make the maverick so popular amongst his base. He has once again defied the odds and fended off the suggestion from pollsters that was down and out of this race.
The President is evidently frustrated with the slow pace of returns, and he is perhaps not alone. Americans are not used to waiting this long for their results – although in 2000, it took 36 days, a recount and the Supreme Court to make a determination in Gore v Bush in the swing state of Florida alone.
The stress put on the election system by Covid-19 means that record numbers of Americans have voted early or by mail. Counting those votes takes time. Crucially, the system varies on a state-by-state basis. For example, in the absolutely vital swing state of Pennsylvania, the deadline for military and overseas ballots is next Tuesday.
Whilst the final outcome of the presidential race is not clear, we do know that it the result was not that which many expected. Pollsters and forecasters’ models had suggested a blue wave looked likely, albeit by no means guaranteed.
At this stage, we do know that it has not materialised. An early indication of a blue wave would have been victory for Joe Biden in Florida or Texas – the latter a Republican stronghold but recent object of Democratic desires. But Trump has won both. He and Joe Biden are locked in a razor-sharp battle for a handful of swing states which will determine the outcome of the election. There will be no Democratic demolition of the electoral map.
Next, it looks increasingly unlikely that Democrats will take control of the Senate. Under the (correct) assumption that the Republicans would flip a seat in Alabama, the path to picking up four additional Senate seats seems unclear. That will have a seismic impact on the next four years on Capitol Hill should Biden win the presidency.
If weeks of recounts and litigation end with Mr Biden securing the White House, a Republican majority in the Senate will severely curtail his ability to govern. In this event, Senate Republicans will frustrate and handicap Biden’s agenda – so his ambitious $2 trillion green energy and climate plans will be trimmed in order to protect traditional energy production in states like Texas
Such a result will all but guarantee gridlock ensues on Capitol Hill, with the Senate providing a serious check on the President’s power. A President Biden would therefore rely on Executive Order to govern, while trying to find bipartisan issues that he can work with Congressional Republicans on like infrastructure.
Finally, it may be that the most volatile and unpredictable election in recent history returns a strangely familiar outcome. Continuity on Capitol Hill look set to ensue, with Republicans holding the Senate and Democrats keeping the House. That will mean Speaker McConnell in the Senate and Speaker Pelosi in the House continue to be the two most important figures on the Hill for years to come. The great unknown, of course, is whether there will be change or continuity in the White House.