At any moment I am persuaded by one of the following three outcomes tomorrow, depending on my mood and the last piece of information I thought about.
First and foremost, since about a billion people have asked, yes of course I voted for Biden I live in possibly the most competitive swing state. You all know my theory about voting; it's an instrumental act, not a venue through which we engage in the expression of our deepest selves. The problem with a lot of people is that voting for the guy isn't good enough, they also expect people to act excited about it and refrain from any criticism. Mostly I think that's pure projection. You have your own doubts and you lash out at people who verbalize them. Having doubts is understandable. Liberals and Democrats as a whole all still feel burned from 2016 when it seems very few people (myself included) saw it coming. There will always be doubts.
So, here's what I think could happen tomorrow, bearing in mind that 95 million people – a truly staggering number, about 2/3 of the 137 million who voted in 2016 – have already voted.
The most likely outcome is this conservative electoral projection of Biden coming in at 290. Essentially, I believe the election comes down to Michigan and Wisconsin. If Biden wins both, in accord with his current narrow polling leads in both states, there is virtually no way for Trump to win. In this projection I'm giving Trump a *lot* of benefit of doubt, giving him Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. And Biden can choke, lose one more important state (Arizona? Wisconsin?) and still win in this scenario. However, having one state be the difference between victory and defeat would be a bad outcome, since that would greatly increase the odds that some kind of Republican chicanery could swing the outcome.
In a scenario where Biden wins 290+ EV, I think Trump makes a colossal amount of noise – no matter what, he will scream until the day he dies that he was cheated in this election – but ultimately goes away. It will just be an extremely unpleasant 80-90 days. Most of the GOP seems to be expecting to lose the White House; McConnell has said as much out loud. I think they're perfectly content as a party to spend a couple years from the minority turning a Biden presidency into a complete disaster. They're good at it.
Remember that at his core, Trump does not put effort into anything, does not have the attention span to pull off a long, grueling post-election process, and doesn't even like having to do this job. Slinking away, crying foul, and cashing in on a central role in the right-wing media universe would suit him fine. As for the psychology of refusing to admit he lost, he will simply get around that by refusing to admit he lost.
A second possibility is that in multiple states the election is so close that nobody knows for days or weeks who really won. This is, from Trump's perspective, as good as a win. We saw in 2000 how good the right is at muddying the waters, sowing doubt, calling into question the validity of results, and general election-thieving. Trump will declare victory immediately while Biden will make some "appeal for calm" saying it's too soon to know who won, and that will be the first step to Biden losing in this scenario. A big part of W's success in 2000 was simply declaring that he won and acting like he was the winner for a month. That matters. The best case for Biden in this "bunch of super close states" scenario is winning the election in a series of court decisions and governing under a pall of illegitimacy. Of course Trump would too, but the right doesn't care about appearing legitimate while liberals tend to.
The third possibility is that all of the available data is badly flawed and Trump simply wins outright tomorrow. Everybody has been so focused on the potential for the GOP to steal the election that it appears not to have been considered that Trump might not have to. I do not subscribe to theories which posit that every poll is wrong and every polling error is in the same direction. Nor do I believe that the big Democratic edge in early voting is totally irrelevant. Republicans are currently pushing the narrative that people secretly support Trump but are too "shy" to say so. Have you met one Trump supporter, ever, who wasn't screaming the fact directly in your face? Anyway, there have been multiple analyses of the "shy Trumper" theory and there appears to be no empirical support for it whatsoever.
As for when we will know which scenario we face, I believe it will be apparent more quickly than many people are fearing. I've seen "end of the work day on Wednesday" proposed as a reasonable deadline to know who won unless the outcome is very, very close. There will be various courtroom challenges to follow immediately regardless of what happens. That is unavoidable. But remember, as I've been reminding you for a while, the "steal the election in court" gambit only works, maybe, if you have to flip one state. If Trump has to do it in like five places simultaneously it seems extremely unlikely.
Frankly, and I know many of you don't want to hear this, but if the Democrats couldn't come up with a candidate and campaign that could defeat this absolute moron by more than a tiny fraction of votes in multiple states at once, then why in god's name did they choose this candidate and this campaign strategy. But I don't think it will come to a debate like that. I think Trump won very narrowly in 2016 – more narrowly than anyone recalls accurately – and it's a real stretch to claim that one out of every 100 people who voted for him last time will not be voting for him again. He won by so little in a couple of states that he can afford no loss of support at all. I know Trumpers are loyal, but I see no reason to believe that no one – literally no one – gave him a "Well, why not!" vote in 2016 and didn't like what they saw. Whether those people abstain or hold their nose and vote for Biden, it helps Biden.
Overall, I think a lot of liberals are convinced that Trump is some kind of absolute evil genius and that no matter what happens, he will win, somehow. That reflects the trauma from the surprise defeat in 2016. In reality I see a guy who is an awful, awful politician who ran a ridiculous campaign and has a fanatically loyal but probably not big enough core of supporters. If Trump does win after the way he not only governed but campaigned in 2020, this country is farther gone than any of us imagine.
What I believe you're going to see is similar to 2018 – the Democrats will have an overall win but maybe it won't be the big blowout you were hoping for to restore your faith in your fellow Americans. Because let's be honest, what you're hoping to see is a massive repudiation of Trump and what he stands for. The more likely outcome is that he loses by a solid but unspectacular number of votes because he is terrible at politics and especially terrible at campaigning. It will be, despite all the noise and chaos of the next three months, pretty boring on paper.