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Americans vote for change as Joe Biden is elected 46th President

November 7, 2020, 4:30 PM UTC

Joe Biden has been elected the 46th President of the United States. His success is the culmination of 50 years in public service: 36 years in the Senate, eight years as Vice President, and two failed previous presidential campaigns. At 78 on Inauguration Day, he will be the oldest President to take office. 

Biden crossed the 270 electoral threshold Saturday morning, clinching the race with his victory in Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press. Sen. Kamala Harris will join the President-elect as the first Black, Indian, and female Vice President in American history. Biden received more than 4 million more votes than Trump overall.

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Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov. 4, 2020.
JIM WATSON—AFP/Getty Images

The win ends 18 months of constant campaigning in what was the most tumultuous presidential election in modern history. Within the past year alone, President Donald Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress; 235,000 Americans have died in the COVID-19 pandemic; the President tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized; the U.S. fell into recession with an unemployment rate that neared 15%; George Floyd was killed by a white police officer leading to massive civil unrest and protests across the country; and wildfires ravaged the West Coast, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. 

There is no campaign handbook for navigating a deadly and airborne global pandemic. There’s no sage adviser who can explain exactly how to calm an angry and anxiety-ridden population. Add to that a news cycle moving faster than the speed of sound, propelling with it a sonic boom–esque din that makes it impossible to focus on any one thing for too long, and you’ve got a potential recipe for chaos.

But both candidates tried to figure it out.

The campaigns made mistakes, some deadly. Candidates made gaffes; staffers struggled with technology and with childcare. Americans struggling to put food on their tables were asked again and again to donate. Fundraising was done digitally. The all-consuming intricacies of a presidential campaign didn’t take place on a trail; they took place on a couch.

The contrasts between how the two campaigns functioned were stark. Trump continued to hold large rallies with little to no social distancing or mask-wearing protocol. His campaign ran much like it did in 2016, just with the addition of the backdrop of the White House, utilized for a number of events that certainly tested the boundaries of the Hatch Act.

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Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign rally in the parking lot of Cellairis Ampitheatre on Oct. 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Biden and his team, meanwhile, pivoted entirely. The vast majority of fundraising and campaigning took place from home or online. Instead of stumping on a number of initiatives and policy proposals, Biden hammered in on two messages: COVID-19 and the economy. Without travel, local surrogates and coalition groups became essential components of the campaign. TV ad budgets were increased to make up for a lack of in-person events, and they were front-loaded for September and early October instead of late October, to account for an increase in early voting.

Throughout this pivot, Biden maintained a strong, sometimes double-digit lead over Trump. And though Biden struggled to raise funds in the initial months of his run, he easily outearned Trump in the general election.

In the final full month of the election, Biden had three times more cash on hand than the sitting President. That extra money allowed him to spend on ads in states that wouldn’t typically be in play for a Democrat: Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. They worked. In a long-unprecedented accomplishment Biden won Arizona by at least a point and a half, a state Trump won by 3.5 points in 2016. He also broke records in Georgia, a ruby red state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 28 years.

If the logistics of the campaign were the bread, then Biden’s ability to position himself as a clear alternative to the status quo was the butter. The campaign operated as a vessel to deliver the good stuff. Biden’s folksy, man-of-the-people demeanor paired with his experienced, seen-it-all steadiness convinced Americans that he could guarantee a return to normalcy while progressing toward the future.

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Supporters listen as Biden speaks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Nov. 3, 2020.
ANGELA WEISS—AFP/Getty Images

Trump, meanwhile, repeatedly refused to acknowledge the problems that plague the country. He insisted that America was, indeed, great. Just weeks before the election, the Republican National Committee tweeted out its priorities for a second term. The first goal? Colonize the Moon.

The country had turned a corner on COVID-19, said Trump, as infection rates increased dramatically and governors of red states begged for help. The economy was the best it had ever been as over 100,000 small businesses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. America had no race problem despite Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, implying on national television that Black Americans lacked the ambition to be successful. 

Biden appealed directly to Americans with a simple message: It’s time to face reality. 

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A broken “Make America Great Again” hat model lies on the ground as people gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on Nov. 3, 2020.
Hannah McKay—Reuters

Biden used his win to present himself as the great uniter, a theme woven through his entire campaign. Democrat or Republican, he said frequently, I’m here to represent you.

His actions stood in great juxtaposition to the rhetoric that has come from the White House over the past four years. Through both campaigns and his presidency, Trump rarely missed an opportunity to berate Democrats, question Biden’s mental state, and challenge the validity of U.S. elections. 

There was no come-to-Jesus moment for the sitting President upon his loss. His tone was remarkably familiar during a speech delivered Thursday evening.

“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” Trump said without evidence. At least 65 million Americans mailed their ballots through the USPS or left them at local drop-off boxes, according to the non-partisan U.S. elections project. That’s about double the 33 million Americans who voted by mail in the 2016 presidential election.

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Philadelphia election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the general election at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Nov. 3, 2020.
Matt Slocum—AP Images

In reality, vote-by-mail fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States. The right-leaning Heritage Foundation maintains a database of all recent instances of recorded voter fraud and found just 204 reported cases involving the fraudulent use of absentee ballots over the past 20 years—only 143 resulted in convictions. That means that over the past two decades, about 0.00006% of total vote-by-mail votes cast were fraudulent—far from the rampant manipulation that the President described. 

The President has said that he will pursue legal action to challenge the results of the election. If he does his options are limited, and his chances of success are incredibly small. But here’s what he might do: The electors in the Electoral College do not meet until Dec. 14 to cast their votes, and those aren’t counted and finalized until Jan. 6, 2021. That means the President has some time to continue to shout his accusations of foul play and demand that mail-in ballots received after Nov. 3 aren’t counted. If he can get some states to agree to change their rules, either voluntarily or through the courts, he could shift elector votes. But that’s a very steep battle.

Biden, meanwhile, will continue to work with his transition team and function as the President-elect.

Given the myriad of crises currently facing the country, Biden won’t be looking at a leisurely transition into the White House. He’ll immediately be faced with limiting the toll COVID-19 takes on American lives and the economy, the escalating environmental devastation that is worsened by climate change, and deteriorating global relationships. Americans will be impatient: They’ve been waiting for another stimulus bill for months already.

The team tasked with these issues will likely be contain a number of Biden’s Democratic primary competitors, especially those who rallied around him last March in an attempt to stall his competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, ahead of Super Tuesday. In an unprecedented move, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, former congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar all announced that they planned to back the former Vice President within a week of one another.

Sen. Kamala Harris, who also endorsed Biden, went on to become his VP pick.

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Biden and Kamala Harris at the Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually, on Aug. 20, 2020.
OLIVIER DOULIERY—AFP/Getty Images

Coalescing behind Biden did the trick. His campaign had floundered during the primaries: He was unable to raise funds, and his debate performances were weak. But once he had the full support of establishment Democrats, he flew through Super Tuesday and picked up the nomination with ease. In April, Sanders publicly backed Biden and urged his followers to do the same. 

“Today, I am asking all Americans—I’m asking every Democrat; I’m asking every independent; I’m asking a lot of Republicans—to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy, which I endorse, to make certain that we defeat somebody who I believe is the most dangerous President in the modern history of this country,” Sanders told Biden. 

The pair pledged to create six task forces to bridge policy divides between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. 

Biden’s attempts to engage with younger progressives lent Trump a strange and unfounded talking point that became a major element in his campaign for reelection. “Biden has made a corrupt bargain in exchange for his party’s nomination,” Trump said. “He has handed control to the socialists and Marxists and left-wing extremists like his Vice Presidential candidate,” he said referring to Harris, who previously served as the attorney general of California. The election, said Trump, was “a choice between a socialist nightmare and the American dream.”

But polling found that the President’s attempts to tether Biden to policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal didn’t work.

The President used his socialist nightmare messaging in a play for the Latino vote, which aided him in certain communities, particularly in Florida. Donald Trump Jr. led a Fighters Against Socialism bus tour in Florida to court voters from Latin American countries that had been governed by Socialist or Communist leaders. Trump ultimately received a higher percentage of of the Latino vote than he did in 2016. In Florida, a state Trump won, Biden earned just over half of the Latino vote, compared to the 62% who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm about Dem vulnerabilities with Latinos for a long, long time. There is a strategy and a path, but the necessary effort simply hasn’t been put in,” said New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez via Twitter.

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Latinx supporters attend a Biden-Harris Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus at the Walnut Community Center’s early voting location in Las Vegas, Nevada on Oct. 24, 2020.
Melina Mara—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Progressives also turned out in droves for Biden, though many claimed that they were “settling” for a lesser evil. Worries about voter enthusiasm and turnout proved to be unfounded as a record breaking 73.5 million Americans are projected to have cast their votes for Biden this year. Nearly 9 in 10 voters who identified as liberal on most political matters cast their vote for Biden, according to New York Times exit polling, rebuffing fears of a divide within the Democratic party.

The President, however, had more up his sleeve: the dreaded October surprise. Biden’s son Hunter, who has struggled with addiction, reportedly left a laptop computer at a repair shop and never returned to claim it. Items from the hard drive, which the New York Post claims to have seen, included compromising pictures, emotional and personal texts between Hunter and his father, and emails that mentioned Hunter’s work with Burisma, a Ukrainian holding company where he served on the board. Emails about business dealings in China were also recovered. The Trump campaign claimed that these emails were proof that Biden had conspired to position his son into lucrative jobs abroad in order to rake in money. The story is still unconfirmed, and the accusations did not stick, as most mainstream outlets decided not to speculate without real facts.

The world wasn’t expecting President Trump to win in 2016. His tough, often mean-spirited, sexist speech created a spectacle that Americans couldn’t help but gape at. His promise to make America great again appealed to voters who felt abandoned by the system. He was an outsider like them, he said, a very successful one.

But four years later, surrounded by death, economic turmoil, and growing civil unrest, Americans did not find the name-calling as entertaining as they once did. They did not buy it when the President told them that America was great and that he had succeeded in his policy initiatives. They were ready to try something new. 

Biden strongly considered a run in 2016, but he ultimately abandoned his decades-long dream after the death of his eldest son, Beau, to an aggressive form of brain cancer. For years, this election was litigated and re-litigated. If Biden had run, analysts said, he could have taken the race. Of course that’s speculation. 

It’s impossible to predict what would have happened if Biden, a political figure known for giving his personal cell phone number to grieving strangers, who has suffered through unthinkable personal tragedy of his own, had appealed to the voters of 2016. Those voters were sitting on record-low unemployment numbers, and they had just experienced a two-term presidency where the wearing of a khaki suit was considered a great controversy.

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A Trump supporter argues with a Biden supporter on the street outside Sacramento McClellan Airport on Sept. 14, 2020.
Gabrielle Lurie—The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

2020 voters are different: They see the world with new eyes. 

Every American has experienced some sort of hurt this year, and we have all suffered to varying degrees. We’ve fought for our health. We’ve lost a loved one, our income, our home, our sense of personal freedom, our physical community. Voters felt this deeply when they went to the polls this week, and they picked the candidate who they believed would right the ship, not charge the iceberg.

Now is not the time for name-calling or conspiracy theories, Americans said with their votes this November. Now is not the time for drama or for laughs at another’s expense. Now is the time for Joe Biden.