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On Saturday, after four days of tallying votes, several media outlets called the election in favor of former Vice President and now President-elect Joseph R. Biden, giving him the presidency after defeating incumbent President Donald J. Trump. While many outlets have yet to call states like Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania was enough to meet and surpass the 270 electoral vote threshold. Assuming the results will stay the same, Joe Biden will become the tenth U.S. president to defeat an incumbent president and the first since former President Bill Clinton defeated then-incumbent President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Even with the major news outlets projecting Biden as the winner, President Trump has refused to concede the election, alleging widespread voter fraud despite a lack of evidence to back up that claim. Trump’s claims have created a rift amongst certain voters as they feel the electoral system is flawed.
In understanding why Biden won and why Trump lost, it is essential to look at four major reasons: Trump’s failure to fulfill his 2016 campaign promises, Trump’s weak 2020 campaign, COVID-19, and Joe Biden.
Trump’s Failure to Fulfill His 2016 Campaign Promises
In Trump’s 2016 campaign, he positioned himself as a populist, anti-establishment outsider who railed against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s record as being a career politician who voted for the Iraq War, orchestrated a disastrous and horrific war in Libya, and supported trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It is worth noting that Trump himself endorsed the Iraq War and the 2011 military intervention in Libya, though he was able to dominate the narrative by repeatedly calling out Clinton for also supporting these disastrous wars. Despite his anti-establishment messaging, Trump was a fraud all along, and it took him no time to backpedal on his plea to “drain the swamp,” and instead, the swamp drained him. He packed his administration with the same kind of people he railed against, such as Goldman Sachs executives like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and neoconservative war hawks like Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Eliott Abrams, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. With the exception of rhetoric and perhaps trade policy, Trump has governed just like an establishment Republican on war, taxes, spending, surveillance, civil liberties, and other issues. Representative Justin Amash (L-Mich.), the sole Libertarian member of Congress, put it best when he said, “[Donald Trump] essentially merged with Mitch McConnell at some point. He took his rhetoric and his style and merged it with Mitch McConnell’s policies.”
Trump’s Weak 2020 Campaign
Despite Trump’s failure to fulfill his 2016 campaign promises, he could have channeled much of the same populist rhetoric on the campaign trail that helped him get elected in the first place. Instead of prioritizing the themes that got him elected in 2016, he tried to position Biden as a trojan horse for the “radical left” and socialism, which may resonate with boomer conservatives and immigrants from socialist countries like Cuba and Venezuela but is simply false, lazy, and redundant. Biden is far from a socialist; he’s a neoliberal corporatist who is very much in cahoots with the establishment. Another failure in the president’s campaign was his strategy, which was all over the place. At times, we would see elements of his populist rhetoric from 2016, and at other times we would see Trump try to tie Biden as a puppet for the “far left.” Moreover, Trump would tout his achievements on criminal justice reform with signing the First Step Act and criticize Biden’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, better known as the Crime Bill, which disproportionately affected black Americans. At the same time, Trump positioned himself as a “tough on crime” and “law and order” candidate, which contradicts his signing of The First Step Act and his critiques of Biden.
If it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump would have likely cruised to re-election, just because of how unimpressive and uninspiring Joe Biden’s campaign was. While having a global pandemic on your watch is not easy for any president, Trump could have used COVID-19 as leverage and appear as a leader. However, Trump’s botched response to the pandemic and his downplaying of it early on did not resonate with the American people. Even though there are people, like myself, who are opposed to lockdowns, many would have liked to see President Trump take the virus more seriously from the start. And the data showed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from September 30, to October 5, 57 percent of those surveyed said they were very—or at least somewhat—confident in Biden’s ability to handle the coronavirus pandemic, while only 40 percent said the same when asked about Trump.
By no means did Joe Biden run an impressive campaign. Even after Trump’s weak campaign, Democratic hopes for a blue-wave landslide were crushed due to Biden’s similarly unimpressive campaign. He ran on a lot of vague platitudes, but also very simple things and wearing a mask and taking the virus seriously. Essentially, his main appeal was that he is not Donald Trump, which for many was enough to give him their vote. However, it is still worth noting that Joe Biden is more popular than Hillary Clinton. According to Gallup, Biden had a favorability rating of 46 percent as of September, while Clinton had a favorability rating of 40 percent going into the election in 2016.
What Does This Mean?
While Trump was defeated, Trumpism was not repudiated. In fact, Trump expanded his coalition, especially with minorities and particularly with Latino voters. Much of this can be attributed to the Biden campaign’s insistence on focusing on identity politics rather than actually focusing on issues that affect the Latino community. Despite the fact that never-Trump never-Trump Republican groups like The Lincoln Project raised $67 million and Republican Voters Against Trump raised $10 million, Trump increased his support with the Republican Party from 90 percent of Republicans voting for him in 2016 to 93 percent of them voting for him in 2020. Moreover, the GOP looks set to keep control of the Senate and also gained seats in the House with running candidates who embraced Trump. Despite Trump’s gain in vote totals and the expansion of his coalition, he was still unable to defeat Joe Biden. While Biden was victorious, Trump will not be going away anytime soon, and Trump or Trumpism, more broadly, will be a major force in the GOP and in American politics.