On Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, Chip Reid, National Correspondent for CBS News in Washington DC, spoke with Dartmouth students and community members as the polls closed on election night.
The program was the first in-person event hosted by the Rockefeller Center since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tents set up across Dartmouth’s campus allowed students to gather, view election returns, and pose questions to Reid over Zoom. The Rockefeller Center hosted a gathering of its own in Rocky 003. The event was moderated by Justin Anderson, Dartmouth’s Vice President for Communications.
Reid has extensive experience covering national politics and foreign affairs. From 2009 to 2011, he was the CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, and in that position interviewed President Obama on several occasions. In 1987 Reid was General Counsel to Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign, and due to this potential conflict of interest bowed out of covering the 2020 presidential campaign when Biden became the Democratic front-runner.
During the event, Reid discussed various election scenarios and their significance. In particular, he set out to answer the question: What would a Joe Biden or Donald Trump victory mean for the nation?
On the first part of the question – the significance a Joe Biden victory would have for the nation – Reid had a number of observations. A Biden victory would mean that “the pollsters and the experts finally got one right.” Underestimating Trump’s support, as pollsters did in 2016, would cause irreparable harm to their credibility. Some pollsters, such as Charlie Cook, had said the only question on election night was: “how big is Joe Biden’s margin of victory going to be?” Reid wryly noted that if President Trump were to win, pollsters like Cook would have to cover their shame with “Halloween masks.”
Next, Reid commented on the intense state of national politics and what that could mean in the event of a Biden victory. “I’ve never seen anybody who can fire up supporters and incite passions as Donald Trump can,” Reid emphasized. With that in mind, Reid was concerned by the possibility of a “red mirage, blue wave scenario.” In this scenario, Trump would appear ahead on election night before being overtaken by a “blue wave” of Biden mail-in-votes over the subsequent days. While ahead, Trump could “declare victory” and “insist the election is rigged.” That, Reid notes, would “really fire up some of his supporters.”
Reid then catalogued other implications of a Biden win. First, a Biden victory would mean a “crackdown on COVID-19,” drawing objections from many Americans. On policy, “Joe Biden is the ultimate Washington insider” and the scores of people who have worked for him have been “putting together detailed plans [to be implemented if Biden takes office] on everything from immigration to foreign policy.” This expertise means that Biden could have “an enormously successful first 100 days [of his presidency].” However, Reid believes the rift between moderate and left-wing democrats could hamper Biden’s governing agenda.
After discussing the implications of a Biden win, Reid answered the second part of his question: “What would a Trump victory mean [for the nation]?”
First, a Trump victory would cause “social unrest.” Reid observed that the windows of his Washington office were boarded as a safeguard against post-election violence. “Most of the trouble if Joe Biden wins will be outside the cities,” Reid said, but a Trump win could lead to chaos within America’s cities. Second, Trump would be “emboldened” by his reelection, leading him to fire scores of DC bureaucrats perceived as being disloyal. Third, Trump would continue to “increase the astounding number of judges he has appointed so far,” assuming Republicans maintained control of the Senate. Fourth, win or lose Trump “will continue to downplay” the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, Reid discussed the potential for a “Trump family dynasty” in the event of a Trump win. Over the past four years, Reid attended many Trump rallies, and remarked that in almost all of them he met people who “really believe that [Trump’s presidency] is just the beginning of a family dynasty.” While far-fetched, Trump’s reelection would cause Reid to take the possibility very seriously.
Reid concluded his remarks by anticipating a question from the audience: “Is this election a turning point in American history?”
Dryly, Reid replied, “duh.”
By Ben Vagle, ’22, Rockefeller Center Student Assistant for Public Programs