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The election is happening right now

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A critical factor in how the presidential election unfolds will be the willingness of Republican elites to accept the apparent fact that Trump is going to lose badly, and that it won’t be worth trying to contest the results as fraudulent, which Trump himself of course will.

Here’s an optimistic sign in that regard:

Attorney General Bill Barr has begun telling top Republicans that the Justice Department’s sweeping review into the origins of the Russia investigation will not be released before the election, a senior White House official and a congressional aide briefed on the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans had long hoped the report, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would be a bombshell containing revelations about what they allege were serious abuses by the Obama administration and intelligence community probing for connections between President Trump and Russia.

“This is the nightmare scenario. Essentially, the year and a half of arguably the number one issue for the Republican base is virtually meaningless if this doesn’t happen before the election,” a GOP congressional aide told Axios.

Barr has made clear that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3, our sources say.

Barr is very evil but he’s not dumb. The fact that “Obamagate” has always been a complete fabrication isn’t really relevant here: when has that ever stopped Republicans before? The fact that Barr isn’t even willing to take a couple of arguably ambiguous emails between a couple of low-level staffers and turn it into THE BIGGEST SCANDAL IN HISTORY is a sign that he doesn’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows: In other words, his priorities may well be shifting to keeping his own ass from being indicted.

In that vein, his Times story notes that the GOP’s own internal polling indicates Biden and Trump appear to be effectively tied in states like Georgia and Texas, and that even Kansas and Montana are now competitive.

A crucial factor is that because of the loosening of our ridiculous early voting laws as a result of the pandemic, a huge percentage of the vote is being cast now and over the next couple of weeks, and it’s obvious to everyone that the status quo is horrible for Trump’s increasingly non-existent chances. This of course produces an atmosphere where the rats start scuttling for the side of the ship: hence Moscow Mitch’s none-too-subtle social distancing yesterday, when he pointed out that he hadn’t been to the White House in months, in part because of the lax COVID protocols (not) enforced there.

(Note that Republican voters are far more likely to say they’re going to vote in person, although some of this just may be vice signaling).

Another critical variable here is how states count early voting. Some states process their early votes to greater and lesser extents, so that they’re ready to be officially recorded on election day, and some don’t. This handy chart indicates that for example Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Arizona are, if I’m reading it right, more in the former category than the latter, and that therefore it should be easy to call those states at the time the polls close, if the votes there are not extremely close.

Florida in particular is the key: If it gets called for Biden by 9 or 10 eastern time, then you will see the GOP elites pivot faster than Fred Astaire in a tux and dancing shoes, and it will be discovered instantly by Chuck Todd et. al. that nobody actually supported Trump if you really study the record of the last four years carefully. (This of course won’t go down smoothly with the GOP base to put it mildly, but this will certainly be the initial play for much of the leitership in the event of a big Democratic win).

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