By Daniel W. Drezner / Special to The Washington Post
President Trump could still win re-election, but over the past seven weeks FiveThirtyEight’s odds of him winning have declined from 32 percent to 13 percent, which political pros will tell you is not good.
Trump’s campaign is a financial nightmare: His fundraising numbers have shriveled, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign with three times the amount of cash on hand in the home stretch of the campaign. Trump is more hard-pressed to exploit free media, unable to sit down for an interview without pitching a fit. A glance at the polls suggests that what constitutes good news for Trump these days are findings that show him down by only high single digits nationally and tied in states like Iowa, Georgia and Texas. Needless to say, if the president is tied in those states, he’s losing states he has to win to be reelected.
The numbers do not look much better if one looks at Congress. The private polling is dismal. FiveThirtyEight puts the Democrats’ chances of controlling the House at 96 percent and the Senate at 74 percent. In other words, Republicans are looking at a roughly 70 percent chance of unified Democratic control over the executive and legislative branches come January 2021.
Perhaps the strongest evidence that Republicans think they are losing, however, comes from their actions and not their words. Simply put, the GOP is acting like they know they’ll be out of power very soon.
Consider three recent example. First, negotiations on another fiscal stimulus has hit a brick wall in the form of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats have been urging a stimulus package for months, and after weeks of idiocy Trump has come around to the idea as well.
The problem is Senate priorities, however. According to the New York Times’ Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos, McConnell, R-Ky., has told the White House not to agree to any deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. This is partly due to ideology, but the story makes clear that this is not the overriding concern: “Above all, Republicans fretted that a vote on such a package could interfere with their hasty timetable for confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by early next week. Mr. McConnell said he told the White House he was particularly concerned that a deal before then could inject unwanted unpredictability into the schedule, according to the four Republicans.”
The problem for McConnell is simple. He thinks his ability to confirm Barrett to the court goes down after Election Day. The only inference to draw from that calculation is that McConnell knows Republicans are about to receive a pasting.
This is also how the Trump administration is reacting. Last week the New York Times’ Eric Lipton reported that, “facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his Cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Again, this is not the act of an administration confident in its chances of being around after January 2021.
Finally, this being Donald Trump, the White House is hellbent on auctioning off public goods to firms with GOP connections in as opaque a manner as possible. CNN’s Jake Tapper explains what the Trump White House is trying to do with 5G:
“Senior officials throughout various departments and agencies of the Trump administration tell CNN they are alarmed at White House pressure to grant what would essentially be a no-bid contract to lease the Department of Defense’s mid-band spectrum — premium real estate for the booming and lucrative 5G market — to Rivada Networks, a company in which prominent Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump have investments.
“The pressure campaign to fast track Rivada’s ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP) by using authorities that would preclude a competitive bidding process intensified in September, and has been led by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was acting at Trump’s behest, sources with knowledge tell CNN. To push his case, Meadows has sometimes used as his proxy an individual identified by sources in the telecommunications industry as a top financial management official in the US Army.
“Sources tell CNN that Trump was encouraged to help Rivada by Fox News commentator and veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove, a lobbyist for, and investor in, Rivada.
“Untold billions are at stake. A government auction of 70 megahertz of spectrum in August went for more than $4.5 billion. The Rivada bid would be for 350 megahertz of spectrum — five times that amount.”
In acting this way, the GOP is not acting exactly like a party losing to another party in a normal democracy. Rather, they are acting closer to an authoritarian coalition in Latin America that decides to make its central bank independent just before the democratization of the regime. Simply put, the GOP wants to lock in favorable and/or lucrative institutional changes now for when they are out of power.
Some of these measures will work for some Republicans, but most of it might not. A Democratically-controlled Congress can pass a fiscal package. It can also reverse Trump regulatory changes in the same manner that the GOP did in early 2017. A Barrett confirmation could trigger a decision to expand the Supreme Court in response. And President Trump, if he loses, could face a legal reckoning.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.