Joe Biden is projected to become the next president of the United States after an election that was historic, messy, chaotic and uncertain.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will be with him as vice president, the first woman, Black person and Asian American to ever hold the position.
The decisive call came in Pennsylvania, which gave Biden the necessary electoral votes to clinch the presidency. Biden could further pad his Electoral College victory in Arizona and Nevada, where he leads, and Georgia, which is neck and neck. (Trump has a more comfortable lead in North Carolina.) Biden already flipped two other states that Trump won in 2016: Michigan and Wisconsin, reclaiming Democrats’ Rust Belt “blue wall.” The former vice president also decisively won the most total votes, besting Trump by about 4 million.
“One of the things I’m especially proud of is how well we’ve done all across America,” Biden said in a speech Friday night as his vote total continued to climb over Trump’s. “We are going to be the first Democrat to win Arizona in 24 years. We are going to be the first Democrat to win Georgia in 28 years. And we re-built the Blue Wall in the middle of the country that crumbled just four years ago. Pennsylvania. Michigan. Wisconsin. The heartland of this nation.”
For months, Trump had been laying the groundwork to reject the election results if they didn’t go his way. He not only tried to undermine mail-in voting but claimed that if the winner wasn’t declared on election night, the results would be suspect ― even though some state rules allow mail-in ballots to be received after Election Day.
And sure enough, Trump did exactly as he said he would.
“Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said Wednesday shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern, while millions of ballots had yet to be counted, a number of key swing states were still in limbo and no news organization had yet to project a winner.
He also tweeted that Democrats were trying to “STEAL the Election” and wrote, “Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” (No votes were cast after the polls closed.)
On Thursday, he held a lie-filled news conference in which he baselessly claimed that there was vote fraud, without providing any evidence.
Defeating an incumbent president is difficult and rare. It hasn’t happened in nearly 30 years. It's only the fourth time it's happened in the past 100 years. Biden did it during a pandemic against a president with a devoted following who is willing to lie and cheat.
Biden also amassed more than 70 million votes, the most a presidential candidate has ever received in a U.S. election.
Yet the Electoral College meant that the nation was obsessing over the latest batches of votes in places like Arizona and Georgia to see who would be declared the winner ― even as Biden was leading Trump by about 4 million votes nationwide.
Democrats expected the election to be a referendum on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Biden and the party kept their message squarely on the virus and health care, while Trump tried to divert attention to crime, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), China and Biden’s son Hunter.
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus hurt the reelection prospects of the president, who wanted to run on the health of the economy under his watch. Without the pandemic, arguably, Trump may have won.
Early exit polls show that more voters said the pandemic was the most important issue facing the country. Those voters went for Biden, while people who cited the economy and jobs went for Trump.
Defeating Trump was an incredible achievement for Democrats and will have significant consequences.
Trump used his presidential powers to separate migrant children from their parents, enrich his family and encourage far-right conspiracy theorists. He mocked American troops who died in war, made racist comments and tried to use the Justice Department as his own personal enforcement agency to go after his political enemies. He was also only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House.
His toxic brand of racism, sexism and fear-based politics propelled him into the White House in 2016. But it wasn’t enough this time. He was no longer an outsider who could come into Washington and shake up a tired old establishment.
Instead, the nation chose Biden, a man who embodies the political establishment. He spent 36 years as a senator from Delaware and eight years as vice president. He will be 78 when he is inaugurated in January, the oldest president in history.
Biden ran on character. He showed qualities that Trump didn’t seem to possess: kindness, empathy, a history of overcoming adversity, experience, caution and an aversion to drama.
And many voters ― many of whom had to vote by mail because they’re still waiting out the raging coronavirus pandemic ― decided that was exactly the person they were ready for this time. Turnout was massive, the highest in 200 years.
At first, Trump tried to pretend the coronavirus wasn’t a problem. He said it wasn’t all that worse than the common flu and predicted it would be gone by April. At the Republican National Convention, Trump and his allies portrayed the crisis as largely over, defeated by the valiant president.
Even after Trump himself was hit with a positive coronavirus diagnosis ― a perhaps inevitable conclusion to his refusal to wear masks and his insistence on holding large in-person gatherings ― he and his administration continued on course, using the experience to claim that the illness wasn’t all that bad.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 5, after more than 200,000 Americans had died from it.
Biden took a far different approach. He kept his focus squarely on the coronavirus pandemic. He wore masks, cautioned the public to listen to scientists and stopped large in-person rallies and events. His campaign even stopped door-knocking for most of the campaign, restarting it only at the very end.
And he showed empathy for people who had struggled with the virus.
Biden is a politician who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s had little choice. A month after being elected to the Senate for the first time in 1972, he lost his wife and daughter in a car crash. In 2015, his son Beau ― the attorney general of Delaware ― died from brain cancer.
Those struggles helped people relate to him. And he responded in kind to people who shared their stories of loss with him.
The Democratic Party aggressively encouraged voters to cast ballots by mail to avoid potentially long, dangerous lines during the pandemic. Trump, meanwhile, engaged in fearmongering about voting by mail, insisting the election results wouldn’t be legitimate and falsely claiming the method is ripe for fraud and abuse.
That rhetoric was a problem, and the Republican Party worked to clean up his mess by sending out mailers and robocalls insisting to people that voting by mail was safe ― even doctoring Trump’s own tweets to make it seem like the president agreed.
Still, it was not the decisive blow that Democrats hoped for. The election revealed larger trends and problems that have nothing to do with Biden that the party will be dealing with for years.
“Yes, Trump is horrible, but it’s never been all about about Trump,” said a Democratic Senate strategist. “And now because of events, it’s just that much more obvious. There’s the Supreme Court and not having the Senate and everything they’ve done to rig democracy.”
“We got what we needed, which is to end the Trump presidency,” a House Democratic lawmaker told HuffPost. “We didn’t get what we wanted.”
Even though Biden won, the polls, once again, underestimated support and turnout for Trump. The president made inroads with Latinos, and he actually performed better this year than he did in 2016 in counties with high coronavirus rates. Trump also won the majority of votes in states with the highest death rates from the disease, including Florida and Texas, although many of those areas are more conservative and more likely to shun the mask-wearing and social distancing that Trump has also mocked.
Significantly, Biden’s success didn’t translate down the ballot. Democratic hopes of picking up a robust majority in the Senate melted away, and Democrats appear set to lose ground in the House. A surge of grassroots donations in Senate races like South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas weren’t enough to overcome Republican dominance in those states. And Republicans who were considered sitting ducks for Democratic wins ― like Susan Collins in Maine ― won reelection.
“It was a bad night,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on MSNBC Wednesday, adding that Democrats “need to sharpen our message.”
And the larger picture looks tough for Democrats. The election results underscored that the Senate grants disproportionate power to rural Americans ― who are far more likely to be old, white and conservative than other voters — and basically ensures that the Democratic Party won’t pursue the demands of its left flank.
Democrats also failed to cut into GOP control of state legislatures ahead of redistricting next year.
The challenges facing Biden are enormous. He has a steadily growing pandemic and an economy suffering from the fallout, an emboldened racial justice movement that wants to see reform, climate change, a hollowed-out civil service and a fractured country. His policies will no doubt be challenged in the courts, where they will ultimately come up against a U.S. Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority.
And he will have to get as much as done as he can without the robust Senate majority for which he had no doubt hoped. Control of the chamber is still up in the air. If it stays in Republican hands, Biden will be the first president since George H.W. Bush who will take office without his party controlling Congress.
“If Democrats don’t win the Senate, governing in the Biden era will make the post-Tea Party years of the Obama Administration seem idyllic in comparison,” a senior Senate Democratic aide predicted.
Trump will not be disappearing. His campaign has filed last-ditch lawsuits challenging the results in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
And he’s still the dominant force in the Republican Party with no obvious successor, aside from his own son.
For now, however, he is what he has always feared the most: a loser.