In this edition: One last look at the 2020 election, the emerging Republican message on election reform and the left’s belated Cabinet coup.

Jan. 6 is the new Dec. 14, which was the new Nov. 3. If you find that confusing, keep reading: This is The Trailer.

In court, and in the minds of some Republican members of Congress, the 2020 election isn’t over. On paper, it ended last week, as each state certified its vote after recounts and re-canvasses. A total of 158,537,765 valid votes were cast in the presidential race, the highest in American history and the highest turnout of eligible voters since the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Millions of those votes were counted after Election Day. When President-elect Joe Biden declared victory on Nov. 7, he claimed to have “won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of the nation, 74 million.” A month later, when counting wrapped up, Biden had won more than 81 million votes. New York’s backlog of absentee ballots and California’s perpetually sluggish canvass added to the pile and complicated some of the first-draft takes on the election.

But it didn’t complicate them too much. The trend we saw before the election, of once-Republican suburbs moving hard toward Biden, played out nearly everywhere. The trend that surprised Democrats the most — though it was well-covered before the election — was the president gaining ground among non-White voters without college degrees, a mini-breakthrough that helped expand his margin in Florida but was visible everywhere. It just wasn’t enough, this year, to be decisive.

Forty-four states got bluer. The rest got redder. The surge in total turnout from 2016 to 2020 was remarkable, with more than 21 million new voters showing up. Biden ran 15,431,101 votes ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 total, while President Trump beat his 2016 tally by 
11,239,438 votes. 

The biggest shift toward Trump came in Hawaii, where he lost by 29.5 points after previously losing by 32.2 points; the biggest shift toward Biden came in Vermont, where he won by 35.4 points after Clinton won by 26.4 points. But from 2012 to 2016, a dozen states saw their margins shift more dramatically than that. 

That trend held if you zoom in, too. There are 3,007 counties across the 50 states. From 2012 to 2016, 247 counties flipped from one party to the other, 217 of them backing Trump after having backed Barack Obama. This year, the number of “pivot” counties fell to 75: Sixty from Trump 2016 to Biden 2020, 15 going the other way. Eight of the blue-to-red flips were in Texas, part of the well-reported gains for the president among working-class Latino voters. 

This wasn’t a realigning election. The last one was. With one exception.

Trump gained Latino votes. It has frustrated some liberals that after four years of deep media obsession with the president’s voters, the weeks after his defeat have focused, once again, on the candidate who lost. But Trump’s improvement with Latino voters was the only genuinely new trend in this year’s electorate, and one of the few that Biden refused to consider. Asked by reporters in September about polls that showed Trump running better with Latino voters, Biden said that he was still beating him with that electorate overall.

That was true, but margins matter. In Florida, Biden won two heavily populated urban and suburban counties that no Democrat had carried since Harry S. Truman: Duval and Seminole. But he only won Miami-Dade County by 85,031 votes, and he only won Osceola County, on the outskirts of Orlando that many Puerto Ricans have resettled, by 23,817 votes. Hillary Clinton had carried them, respectively, by 290,147 and 35,157 votes. That was a difference of 216,456 votes. Statewide, Trump’s win margin grew over 2016 by a total of 258,775 votes.

Florida’s demographics make it easy to focus on a few key counties, but precinct by precinct, the shift was visible even in places Biden carried, like the Tampa Bay area. Four years ago, Trump won just 9.5 percent of the vote in the Bronx. This year, his support in the county grew to 15.9 percent, and he ran slightly stronger there than he did in Manhattan’s New York county. 

Remember how a majority of Trump’s blue-to-red counties were in majority-Latino parts of Texas? Four of the other seven flips were majority-Latino Alamosa County, Colo.; majority-Black Burke County, Ga., and Dillon County, S.C., and majority-minority Scotland County, N.C. 

Ticket-splitting is nearly dead. When the new Congress is sworn in, as few as 16 of its members will represent a district that voted for them, but against their party’s candidate for president. That could grow to 17 or 18 depending on the final resolutions of races in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District and New York’s 22nd Congressional District, where the vote count has Republicans ahead, but Democratic candidates are pursuing a contest. 

But that’s as high as it will go, and that’s historically low. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton carried 25 districts represented by Republicans, while Trump carried 13 districts held by Democrats. The 2018 midterms wiped most of those Republicans off the map, and the president lost ground this year in some of the suburban districts he had carried in 2016. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Haley Stevens (Mich.) and Susie Lee (Nev.) all represent districts lost by Clinton, but carried by Biden.

Now, just nine Republicans will represent Biden districts. Four of them won racially diverse parts of California: David Valadao, Mike Garcia, Young Kim and Michelle Steel. Three of them represent places where Biden ran just ahead of Clinton, or worse: Florida’s Maria Salazar, New York’s John Katko, and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick. The other two, Rep. Don Bacon (Neb.) and Rep. Beth Van Duyne (Tex.) represent urban districts won by Trump four years ago and Biden this year. Valadao’s central California district is now the bluest held by any Republican, voting for Biden by 10.9 points.

Pending those Iowa and New York results, just seven Democrats carried seats that were simultaneously carried by Trump: Reps. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), Cindy Axne (Iowa), Jared Golden (Maine), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Andy Kim (N.J.), Matthew Cartwright (Pa.) and Ron Kind (Wis.). The reddest seat held by a Democrat in the outgoing Congress, Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, had backed Trump by 30.8 points; Golden’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers nearly all of rural Maine, went for Trump by 7.5 points, making it the reddest seat carried by Biden.

Put another way: In 2016, Democratic Rep. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.) was able to run 22 points ahead of his ticket to win reelection, while Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) could run 16 points ahead of her ticket. In 2020, Golden ran eight points ahead of the Biden-Harris ticket, while Valadao ran eight points ahead of Trump.

Third parties had their worst results in years. In 2016, voters rejected Democrats and Republicans in favor of another option at the highest rate in 20 years. Four years later, most of those third-party gains evaporated. The Green Party, blamed by Democrats for spoiling both the 2016 and 2000 races, tumbled from 1,457,288 votes to just 404,090. Nominee Howie Hawkins appeared on just 29 ballots, after Democrats sued him off some others. The far-right Constitution Party, which had won 203,107 votes in 2016, won just 60,066 votes this time.

Both of those parties were run over by left-wing and right-wing voters, returning to the major parties after being unsatisfied with their 2016 choices. The same dynamic dramatically cut down on write-in voting; just 291,682 people availed themselves of that option, down from 1,171,436 in 2016. When you factor in the higher turnout, fewer voters wrote in an alternative candidate for president than had done in 16 years. Even in Nevada, the one state that gives voters a “none of these candidates” option, the number of people using it fell from 28,863 in 2016 to 14,079 this year.

Outside of Utah, where the fluke 2016 candidacy of Evan McMullin had attracted hundreds of thousands of protest votes, the re-sorting usually helped Biden. In Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, support for Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen was slightly larger than the gap between Biden and Trump, and no other third party appeared on the ballot. Jorgensen, the first Libertarian nominee since 2004, who had no experience in elected office, ended up with 1,865,917 votes, the second-highest total in party history. She ran strongest in Alaska, with 2.5 percent of the state’s vote; she cracked 10 percent of the vote in just one place, Ohio County, Ind., as the party’s Libertarian nominee for governor rode anti-mask sentiment to the party’s strongest vote anywhere in America.

Nearly nobody voted for Kanye West, either. How does one of the most famous men on earth run for president and get fewer than 100,000 votes? He started late, moved slowly to get on ballots, then engaged in nearly no in-person campaigning whatsoever. Other than that, it went just great.

West, 43, told an awards show audience five years ago that he planned to run for president in 2020. His political beliefs at the time were inscrutable. He had donated some money to Obama, and he had famously attacked George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina. After Trump’s victory in 2016, West declared himself a “freethinker” who “felt like Superman” when he wore a “Make America Great Again” cap. By July 4, when West tweeted that he was really going to seek the White House, polls found him to be far more popular with conservatives than with the median voter.

It was an inauspicious start, and after an opportunistic campaign by Republicans to get him onto ballots, West ended up as an option for voters in 12 states. He placed no higher than fourth place in any of them, faring best in Utah, with 0.5 percent of the vote, and worst in Iowa, with 0.2 percent. West’s strongest showing anywhere in the country was in tiny Houston County, Tenn., where his 38 votes represented 1 percent of all ballots cast. 

All told, just 70,486 valid votes were cast for West across the country, though perhaps thousands more voters wrote him in. (Most states don't publish that information. In New Hampshire, which does, West wound up with just 82 of its 1,158 total write-ins.) West won 60,160 votes in California as perennial candidate Roque de la Fuente’s candidate for vice president, but he didn’t ask to be put on that ballot and urged voters to write his name in for president instead. 

The lack of voter interest in West’s campaign actually said plenty about the election. Even though turnout rose from 2012 to 2016, the Clinton-Trump race looked like the nadir of two-party politics, with write-ins and third-party candidates capturing 6.1 percent of the vote. In 2020, turnout broke every model, and the none-of-the-above vote fell to just 2.1 percent. 

But there’s no bipartisan cheer about that. The final count proved to Democrats what they worried about on Nov. 4: There were millions more voters open to Trump-style politics than they thought. To many Republicans, including the president, the final vote total was so unbelievable that it is worth challenging at every level and is already sparking conversations about how to make registration and voting more complicated before the country heads to the polls again.

Reading list

The breaking of the dam.

Why the good down-ballot results for Republicans canceled any hand-wringing about the presidential defeat.

How the “restore the soul” candidate is trying to get Republicans to trust him.

A deep look at the Biden-voting Georgians who were fine voting Republican down the ballot.

The logical loop of post-election doubts about the vote count.

On the trail

The story was the same in every contested state, from Nevada to Georgia to Wisconsin. First, attorneys for the president held news conferences, promising to uncover enough fraudulent votes to overturn the unofficial Biden victory. Next, they went to court, losing nearly every case. When they regrouped, they went to state legislatures, where Republicans held hearings that allowed them to once again share the allegations that they couldn’t get through a courtroom.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) ran a hearing in the Homeland Security Committee that completed this circuit. Two attorneys for the Trump campaign, Jesse Binnall and James Troupis, insisted that their cases had been thrown out by judges who were too easily pressured by Democrats and had refused to consider their evidence. 

“It’s essential to our country, to our democratic republic, if we’re going to restore confidence in this election system we have,” Johnson said. “We have to do this. We can’t ignore the problem. The first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one, and then dealing with it honestly.”

Johnson’s witnesses were sworn in and did not go as far afield of the facts as presidential attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani had in his visits to unofficial hearings. But they got a lot of leeway, and the Democrats on the committee weren’t particularly interested in arguing with them. Binnall insisted that Trump’s attorneys had amassed enough hard evidence of voter fraud to overturn the election in Nevada, and that the team’s failure in court was the result of judges not allowing them to submit it.

“Our evidence has never been refuted, only ignored,” Binnall claimed — technically true, because neither reporters who asked for the evidence or courts that heard the case were ever given the names of voters who the Trump team had accused of fraud. Troupis, whose lawsuit did not present any cases of voter fraud, had instead argued that any votes cast under rules not agreed to by the state legislature were susceptible to potential fraud and should be disqualified. But he slightly misrepresented this in the hearing.

“Three million people properly voted in the state of Wisconsin,” Troupis said. “More than 200,000 identified during this recount did not.” Troupis’s first number wasn't accurate: While 3.3 million votes were counted in the state, the Trump campaign only pursued recounts in Wisconsin’s two biggest Democratic counties. Hundreds of thousands of voters in the other 70 counties took advantage of looser, pandemic-friendly rules, but Republicans didn’t challenge their ballots.

Troupis insisted that Wisconsin’s judges — which included a federal Trump appointee, and a conservative Supreme Court justice elected with Republican support one year ago — did the bidding of Biden’s campaign. Democrats on the committee didn’t really get into the details, instead condemning Republicans for organizing the hearing at all, and directing most of their questions to former election cybersecurity adviser Christopher Krebs, who was let go by the president after vouching for the election’s integrity.

Republicans directed more of their questions to the Trump attorneys, to a Pennsylvania state legislator who supported the effort to toss out the state’s absentee ballots and to Ken Starr, who hadn’t worked on any of the cases. But Starr joined the Republicans in an emerging argument: The very fact that many Republicans felt the election was unfair was reason to tighten laws next year.

“I was talking with some of the constituents back at home, a group of about 30 people,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “Every single one of them, every one of them told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn’t matter, that the election had been rigged. These are normal, reasonable people. These are not crazy people. These are reasonable people who, by the way, have been involved in politics. They’ve won. They’ve lost. They’ve seen it all. These are normal folks living normal lives who firmly believe that they have been disenfranchised.”

Hawley has introduced legislation, which won’t get acted upon this year, to introduce new federal standards to limit how states can expand voting access. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced a similar bill, which would put a hard cap on the period — generous in some states — for ballots sent back before the election but received afterward to be counted. 

“I live in Naples,” Scott said, referring to his Republican-leaning city in southwest Florida. “Every time I go out, people come up to me and say they’re frustrated with the unfairness of the system. Now, of course, these are people that wanted to Trump to win. They think that he lost unfairly. But they’re mad. They’re mad because they read or they hear about what happened in Wisconsin. They hear about what happened in other states. And then they’re furious, they think the whole system is rigged.”

Ad watch

David Perdue, “Man of His Word.” The senator from Georgia, the only candidate in next month’s runoffs who has won a general election before, continues to alternate between commercials that whack Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff and those that reintroduce him as a reliable conservative legislator. Here, we see a group of women sharing their ad-ready thoughts about their senator, liking how he’s “concerned about our veterans” and “looking out for all Georgians.” The only gloved punch at Ossoff comes near the end, when one woman says that Perdue won’t “defund the police.”

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, “Asking You.” The president-elect headed to Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for its Democratic U.S. Senate nominees, who then teamed up for a Biden-starring ad. Speaking straight to camera, Biden says he wants to pass a coronavirus relief package that will deliver more to small businesses and allow free testing and vaccines, but he needs both Democrats to win to “get this done.” Biden doesn’t mention direct payments as part of a relief package, departing from Ossoff’s line. But that he’s involving himself at all shows how Democrats want to fight the election: As a referendum on an incoming president and his relief package, not on any of the personal qualities being fought over in other ads.

Lawsuit watch

A Republican effort to change Georgia’s absentee-ballot rules ahead of the Jan. 5 runoffs was stymied by a federal judge on Thursday. James Randal Hall, a U.S. district judge nominated by George W. Bush, tossed a lawsuit that sought to unwind some of the rules followed in November: allowing voters to “cure” mail ballots if their signatures were flagged, allowing ballot envelopes to be opened before the election so that officials could process them and allowing the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots.

“We are not even on the eve of an election,” Hall said. “We are, as it relates to this particular election, closing in on halftime.”

Early voting in the state began Monday, and absentee ballots went out weeks earlier, with hundreds of thousands of votes already cast by Thursday afternoon. 

Dems in disarray

The left scored its first clear victory of the Biden-Harris transition on Thursday as Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) was tapped to run the Department of the Interior. No Native American has ever held that role in a presidential Cabinet, even though its purview includes all of the country’s tribal lands.

“We had a president who put Andrew Jackson’s portrait over his desk,” said Julian Brave Noisecat, a Native American activist with Data for Progress, who essentially kicked off the “Deb for Interior” campaign with columns urging Biden to pick her. Trump’s “interior secretaries greenlighted pipelines that tribes are universally opposed to, and shrunk monuments that were sacred places for tribes. And now the Secretary of the Interior is going to be a Native American congresswoman who went to the camps in the paths of the Dakota Access pipeline and cooked for people.”

Haaland, who won a competitive 2018 primary to represent New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, had campaigned for the appointment and had loud backing from tribes and liberal groups. Although Pete Buttigieg, the nominee for transportation secretary, actually ran against Biden, Haaland was a co-chair of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and has been a vocal liberal member of the House.

The last hurdle to her nomination was purely electoral: Democrats were worried about creating too many vacancies that would have to be filled in special elections, risking their slim House majority. Reps. Cedric L. Richmond (La.) and Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio) will be vacating safely Democratic House seats, drawn that way by Republicans. Haaland’s Albuquerque-area district is more competitive, but the GOP’s problems in the suburbs have made it bluer. Obama carried it by 15.7 points. Hillary Clinton carried it by 15.3 points, and Biden carried it by 22.8 points.

Still, seats like that have been competitive in special elections before. A perfect storm in 2018 helped Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.) win a seat that had backed Trump by 20 points. Ultimately though, Haaland’s backers made two arguments that won the day. First, New Mexico’s special-election law would allow Haaland to be replaced quickly, before Richmond or Fudge if all three resigned on the same day. Second, the party had a deep bench in a blue-trending seat, and even though the GOP’s nominee for Senate this year ran stronger than expected, he soundly lost Haaland’s district.

Countdown

… 19 days until runoffs in Georgia 
… 20 days until a joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election
… 34 days until the inauguration