2020 Election — Michael Anton’s Complaint

    Then-president Donald Trump and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

    Michael Anton takes this post of mine as a personal insult, and responds in kind in the course of a larger essay about the 2020 presidential election. I was dismissive of his line of argument, so I can see why he reacted that way. I’ll try here to lay out my continuing disagreement with him as dispassionately and unsnarkily as I can.

    Let’s start with the specific question each of us discussed. Anton claimed that for 53 batches of votes in a row in Georgia, Biden led Trump by 50.05 to 49.95 percent in each batch. This was, he said, a suspicious anomaly. I quoted a Factcheck.org analysis that offered a plausible explanation: The claim of an anomaly was based on a misreading of the data. Each batch didn’t have the same percentage breakdown. It’s just that each batch left the total percentage each candidate got substantially unchanged. After each one, Biden was still leading Trump in the overall vote by the same percentage, at least as calculated out to two decimal points. That’s what you’d expect to happen during the portion of the ballot-counting that took place three days after Election Day.

    If Anton is wrong about this batch of votes, as I think, it’s not entirely his fault: He’s relying on other sources, and all of us are looking at a chart of uncertain provenance with somewhat confusing labels. But Anton avails himself of no such retreat.

    Instead, he makes two responses to me: Factcheck.org is left-wing, and it confirmed the accuracy of what he had said anyway. But Factcheck.org can be extremely biased toward the left in general without being wrong in a particular instance; and in this case it appears to be correct. Anton himself concedes as much by saying that it backs him up. It doesn’t, though. If Factcheck is right, then he’s wrong (as are the sources on which he relies).

    Then there’s the general question of whether the election was, as Anton puts it, “on the level.” He faults me for not addressing the many other anomalies he brought up.

    What I said was that every time I’ve seen “an eye-popping claim about election fishiness,” it hadn’t checked out. I used Anton’s 53-batches claim to illustrate the point. It was the most startling claim he had made, which is presumably why it was the first example he brought up.

    Anton is also wrong, though, when he says that “none” of the other “irregularities” he has adduced “have been explained, nor will they ever be.” I clicked on a link he included in his list of alleged irregularities. It’s to a tweet, and the tweet immediately below it explains what happened pretty well. But to knock down every such claim would be to play Whack-A-Mole.

    Does the sheer multiplicity of such claims suggest something went wrong with the election on the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire principle? I don’t think so: Not when there are more likely explanations for their multiplicity, such as the unusual circumstances in which the election took place, the unfamiliarity of the claimants with election procedures, the passions the election understandably aroused, and the losing candidate’s penchant for conjuring conspiracies and making excuses.

    Are we entitled to conclude that Biden won the election fair and square just because Anton was wrong about those 53 batches, or because he was wrong about that tweet? No. But I haven’t seen anyone make anything close to a strong case that Trump won Wisconsin, or Georgia, or Arizona, let alone that he won all three, as he would have had to do to beat Biden. I mean no offense to Anton in saying that the set of arguments he is making are an instance of the burden not being met.

    Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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