Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was elected the nation’s 46th president Saturday in a repudiation of President Trump powered by legions of women and minority voters who rejected his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his divisive, bullying conduct in office.
Biden’s victory, the culmination of four years of struggle for Democrats, came after a hotly contested election in which it took four days for a winner to be declared after the former vice president was projected to win a series of battleground states, the latest of which was the state where he was born, Pennsylvania.
Voters also made history in electing as vice president Kamala Devi Harris, 56, a senator from California and daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants who will become the country’s first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to hold the No. 2 job.
Biden had no immediate comment, but late Thursday, he had declared that he had “a mandate” on a number of policy issues.
“I know watching these vote tallies on TV moves as slow as it gets and can be numbing,” he said in remarks from Wilmington, Del. “But never forget, the tallies aren’t just numbers. They represent votes and voters, men and women who exercised their fundamental right to have their voice heard.”
Biden won three swing states that Trump had claimed in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — reconstituting the “blue wall” that had protected previous Democratic nominees. He also was leading in the formerly Republican terrain of Arizona and Georgia as he boosted Democratic votes across the Sun Belt, and he remained ahead in Nevada. By early Saturday, Biden had amassed a record 74.4 million votes, beating Trump by more than 4 million, a margin that was expected to increase once all ballots are certified.
The Trump campaign has called any “false projection” of a Biden victory “far from final.” It has filed multiple lawsuits since Election Day, and without detailing evidence
“From the beginning, we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn,” Trump said in a statement Friday, falsely characterizing the Democratic position in the statement released by his campaign. “We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government.”
By denying Trump a second term, a country convulsed by health, economic and social crises brought to an end a tumultuous presidency that polarized the nation and was characterized by attacks on undocumented immigrants, political adversaries and, at times, the rule of law.
After the voting, Biden had made repeated appearances at which he expressed his confidence in his eventual victory but counseled Americans to be patient as election workers tallied the ballots. He also vowed to be a president for all Americans, not just those who elected him.
“It’s been a long and difficult campaign,” Biden said Wednesday in Wilmington, Del. “But it’s been a more difficult time for our country, a hard time.”
“I know how deep and hard the opposing views are in our country,” he added. “But I also know this as well: To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies. We are not enemies.”
Trump, meanwhile, continued to vent his frustration on Twitter and in a defiant speech from the White House on Thursday night. He and his aides alternately demanded that vote counting end or continue as they searched for dwindling opportunities for a path to 270 electoral votes. They filed multiple legal challenges over the election in several states.
Voters punctuated the extraordinarily ugly and disruptive campaign season by choosing as Trump’s successor his antithesis — a career Democratic politician who offered himself as a healer with the compassion and empathy he said was needed to usher in an era of civility and restore the soul of America. He won the presidency on the 48th anniversary of his first election to the Senate, on Nov. 7, 1972.
Biden, who will be 78 when he is sworn in on Jan. 20, will become the nation’s oldest president and will arrive with nearly a half-century in elected office, including eight years as vice president and 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate.
Harris’s ascent to one of the nation’s two highest offices marked a particularly momentous occasion in the history of women’s rights and came a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed all women the right to vote — and four years after the first female presidential nominee of a major political party lost unexpectedly to Trump.
It came as a record number of women have been elected to offices across the country, amid the tenure of a president who has insulted women, demeaned their looks and belittled the #MeToo movement against sexual assault.
Biden’s win was powered by a record number of votes by women, with Black women providing an especially large boost, according to preliminary exit polls. More than 90 percent of Black women supported the Biden-Harris ticket, making for the widest margin in any voting bloc in the country.
Harris, who attended Howard University in Washington, is also the first graduate of a historically Black university to be elected to serve in the White House.
Biden nodded to some of the history of his election during remarks Wednesday in his hometown of Wilmington, where he was awaiting final results in a close electoral college race.
Calling the voter turnout “extraordinary,” Biden said he and Harris were “on track to win more votes than any ticket in the history of this country.”
While Biden’s path to victory became clearer Wednesday after he secured wins in key battleground states, the apparently narrow margins in several states left the outcome in doubt for days. During that period, Trump made baseless claims of voter fraud and dispatched his campaign and legal team to file lawsuits in multiple states.
Trump has previously declined multiple opportunities to commit to a peaceful transition of power, saying he reserved the right to object to what he has defined as fraud despite the lack of evidence.
Throughout the campaign, Biden pitched himself to voters as a uniter who would restore the nation’s governing norms, respect long-standing institutions and reconnect relationships with international allies that have frayed as Trump embraced autocrats and brushed aside leaders of other democracies.
Unlike in his two other attempts at the White House, in the 1988 and 2008 contests, Biden entered the race at the top of the polls. He crafted a decidedly centrist pitch as many other candidates vied for attention from the energized liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But his candidacy struggled in the early contests. He placed a dismal fourth in Iowa, then sank to fifth in New Hampshire.
Biden’s chances brightened in Nevada, where he was powered by a more diverse electorate. And then the race moved onto turf far more agreeable to a man who had long worked with Black elected officials and served the first African American president — South Carolina, and its predominantly Black Democratic electorate.
Boosted by support from Rep. James E. Clyburn, an influential Black Democrat in the state, he rallied to an easy victory, and he replicated it in a host of states over the next few weeks to effectively clinch the nomination just as the nation closed down under the explosion of the coronavirus.
Even in the general election, the campaign tried to maintain a low profile, with Biden avoiding showmanship and making a point to elevate others in the party.
He focused insistently on the coronavirus, keeping a card with an updated death count with him at all times and deploying his own personal story of loss to convey a sense of empathy that he said the president lacked. He hoped that his experience with the death of his first wife and their daughter in a 1972 car accident and the 2015 death from cancer of his son Beau would help him connect with a country in mourning.
Biden’s campaign also reflected his desire to model the guidance of public health officials in minimizing the spread of a virus that has killed more than 236,000 Americans. He wore a mask at all public appearances, at times for entire speeches, unless he was yards from anyone else, and urged Americans to follow suit. Even as the president resurrected mass gatherings, filled with maskless supporters who refused to socially distance, Biden held no large rallies, instead speaking before parking lots full of cars as supporters honked in agreement.
He rarely left his Wilmington home over the summer — occasionally holding news conferences at a nearby high school to announce new policies — even though it was just miles from the border of swing state Pennsylvania.
Until the final week of the campaign ushered in a few multiple-event days, the splashiest the campaign got was a day spent on a train ride through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Biden’s wife, Jill, frequently told supporters that during a Biden administration they would be a little bored as they flipped through newspapers.
The light, coronavirus-safe campaign schedule worried Democrats who grew concerned that Biden was not exciting voters or vigorously making a case for his candidacy. And the campaign’s decision to shut down an in-person door-knocking operation, a tactic long used by Democrats to motivate infrequent voters, was criticized as creating a huge disadvantage, especially as Republicans sent volunteers door-to-door to pitch Trump. Under pressure, Biden’s campaign partially restarted a field operation in October.
Clinching the nomination early offered advantages, affording Biden time to unite the Democratic Party. He rolled out back-to-back-to-back virtual endorsements by former rivals in which they would appear together on video, events that fostered a sense of Democratic bonhomie after a bruising primary. He worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporters to develop policies, effectively muting the criticism from the left that had hounded the 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Trump used the cooperation as an attack line, saying the “manifesto” that the two wings of the party developed showed that Biden was controlled by the left. To respond, Biden would point to his long record as a moderate. “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party,” Biden snapped to Trump as the president made a case that the Democratic Party is controlled by its liberal base.
Though Biden’s team largely avoided major shifts in his message and tended not to respond to news events, the campaign made a rare exception after the May 25 killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and the accompanying unrest. Biden lifted his self-imposed travel ban to fly to Texas to meet with Floyd’s family to show solidarity with the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. But he also resisted pressure from the left to endorse defunding the police and highlighted his plans to increase funding to local law enforcement while also saying his sympathies were with peaceful demonstrators.
Biden, known historically for gaffes, made some self-inflicted errors. In May, toward the end of an interview on the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” he sounded as if he was taking Black voter support for granted when the topic turned to undecided listeners.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black,” Biden said to Charlamagne tha God, a host of the show. Biden quickly offered regret for the comments, but within hours the GOP — trying to drive a wedge between Black voters and Biden — plastered the comment on T-shirts, and it became a frequent attack line.
The GOP also tried to weaponize Biden’s authorship of the 1994 crime bill, which critics say led to mass incarceration. Biden never apologized for his role in shepherding the legislation, which also included a 10-year ban on assault weapons. But while the Republican effort appeared to have nominally boosted Trump’s support among Black men, Biden retained the overwhelming backing of non-White voting groups.
Biden’s ascent to the White House reflects a decades-long quest for the presidency and a remarkable rise from his roots in Scranton, Pa., a childhood he often references in his speeches.
His family moved to Delaware when he was a boy, but Biden maintained his ties to his native town. On Election Day, he made a campaign stop at his former home and wrote a note on the living room wall. “From this house to the White House with the grace of God,” Biden wrote.
His first White House campaign, in 1987, ended when he bowed out after being accused of plagiarizing. His second, in 2008, ended after a bad showing in Iowa but put him on the path to becoming vice president.
But Biden situated himself as an institutionalist and creature of the Senate, where he served for six terms. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, overseeing the hot-button Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. His regrets over how Anita Hill was treated as a witness during the latter hearings led him to push to add women to the Judiciary Committee and ultimately to elevate Harris as his vice-presidential pick.
Trump is set to leave office with a tenuous legacy and a long string of unfulfilled promises. His final months in office aren’t likely to change that, with the country beset by a surging public health crisis.
Although he launched his first campaign promising to be “the greatest jobs president God ever made,” his loss all but ensures that he will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he was sworn in. The 6.9 percent unemployment rate in October, while down from the pandemic high of more than 14 percent, is still significantly above the 4.7 percent rate when he took over in January 2017.
The national debt has soared, thousands of troops remain in overseas war zones and the kind of Washington influence-peddling Trump calls “the swamp” has only increased under his watch. Trade deficits persist, and the fence project on the border with Mexico has been neither completed nor, as Trump promised, financed by the Mexican government.
The president’s decision to sign hundreds of executive orders and bypass Congress rather than securing policy changes via legislation means that much of his legacy can easily be overturned. Yet while Biden campaigned on a promise to roll back Trump’s signature legislative victory — a tax cut passed in 2017 — he may not be able to do so if Republicans maintain their Senate majority.
Trump also will leave office with the country more divided and bitter than it was when he won in 2016, after using that unexpected victory to promise a return to unity but diverging constantly from that vow.
“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. We have to get together,” Trump said four years ago on the night of his 2016 victory. “To all Republicans, Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”
Instead, Trump used his national platform to spew insults, denigrate foes and tweet about matters big and small.
Still, Trump’s term in office will be recorded in history books as turbulent, norm-shattering and consequential on numerous fronts. He was impeached by the House last year for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after he encouraged Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate, but remains only the third president in American history to be impeached.
He has cemented his impact on the federal judiciary, appointing more than 200 judges and three Supreme Court justices. Their impact on American life will extend long past Trump’s term.
When Biden is sworn in, he will have an opportunity to leave his own stamp on a country he has served in public office for the vast majority of his adult life.
“What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart,” he said Wednesday. “We are campaigning as a Democrat. But I will govern as an American president. The presidency itself is not a partisan institution. It is the one office in this nation that represents everyone. And it demands a duty of care for all Americans. And that is precisely what I will do.”