Former Vice President Joe Biden, who staked his candidacy on a vow to unite a polarized nation, has defeated Donald Trump to capture the presidency, a repudiation of an incumbent president for the first time since George H.W. Bush lost in 1992. Biden is scheduled to take the oath of office on January 20, 2021.
Vote totals are not yet official and Trump has not yet conceded, but the AP called the election for Biden. He appears to have won more than 74 million votes—the most of any American candidate ever. (Turnout was so high that even in losing, Trump surpassed Barack Obama‘s vote haul.) Biden is the oldest person elected to the White House, and he will be only the second Roman Catholic president in American history, the first since John F. Kennedy was elected 60 years ago.
Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, will be the first woman in that role as well as the first woman of color.
While not all states have been called, Pennsylvania tipped solidly towards Biden as mail-in votes were counted overnight Thursday and into the weekend, giving the Democratic challenger more than than the 270 electoral votes needed. More crucially, Trump could not win the Electoral College without Pennsylvania, even if other states that were still in play (or in dispute) on Saturday reverted to him. President Trump’s team has filed a flurry of lawsuits claiming voter fraud and several states are heading for recounts—but absent a historic reversal, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be America’s 46th president.
Biden’s win comes as the coronavirus outbreak invaded homes and hospitals, leading to more than 237,000 American deaths and dominating news coverage across the country. Many of the battleground states faced their own deadly spikes, with polls showing Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of the virus. At the same time, the harsh financial impact of the pandemic on businesses and families prevented the president from running on what had previously been a strong economy.
“It was chaos for four years, and incompetence for six months,” said Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “With the pandemic there’s an actual body count and people can see the damage he’s done to American families. The pandemic made President Trump’s incompetence, lack of preparedness, and disinterest in governing plain for all to see.”
The pandemic was top of mind for voters throughout the general election, but the issue of racial injustice became almost impossible to ignore after video of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police played over and over, prompting protests that spilled onto the streets. The president reacted to the demonstrations and the energized Black Lives Matter movement by promoting a law-and-order message. Early analysis suggested that the tactic largely failed.
The overlapping national crises gave Biden an argument for his candidacy that increased in resonance as racial and coronavirus issues piled up. And while the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg energized Republicans who craved a sixth seat on the Supreme Court, the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already rammed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett by election day meant that the Court was no longer a live issue for many conservative voters.
Biden’s first words during his April 2019 announcement video were, “Charlottesville, Virginia,” citing the place where white supremacists marched and killed a woman, leading Trump to declare there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Throughout the campaign the former vice president said the stakes were a “battle for the soul of the nation,” with the line emblazoned on his campaign bus.
“He read this better than so many others—including even some advisors around him—about what this election was about,” Felice Gorordo, national co-chair of Catholics for Biden and a member of the campaign’s finance committee, told Newsweek. “Trump has only exacerbated the divisions that were already there, especially in the last few months. The social unrest that resulted from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and unfortunately too many others, helped drive the contrast between the two.”
Biden’s win in many ways resurrects a young, multi-racial Obama-like coalition, one Gorordo said the campaign “had a laser-like focus on rebuilding,” which was aided by outreach and investment in the late stages of the campaign as record fundraising hauls left the operation flush with cash. Still, Trump was able to chip away at Democrats’ base of Latinos and African-Americans (especially Black men): a positive note for the GOP as the country becomes increasingly multi-racial.
“Biden built a diverse coalition of support, who in spite of a deadly pandemic, and record-breaking unemployment, came out in historic numbers to exercise their civic duty and vote out the most anti-worker, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino president,” California Rep. Tony Cardenas told Newsweek. “Biden’s victory will restore confidence in America’s leadership around the world and reinstate dignity to the White House.”
Many of those who cheer the Democratic Party victory over Trump are preparing to hold the Biden administration accountable for campaign promises made on issues like climate, immigration and criminal justice, amid economic and health crises the president-elect will have to prioritize. During the campaign Biden explicitly separated himself from the party’s progressive wing and resisted Trump’s efforts to portray him as part of the leftist Squad. But with a diminished House majority, the new Democratic president will likely be forced to deal with them.
“It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Biden’s stance on fracking, before discussing the approach young voters took to the election.
“I believe that young people right now have a very disciplined, activist mind-set,” she said, adding that they weren’t voting for their favorite person or the perfect president.
“Right now young people are so clear on their stances on many political issues,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “that they believe that they want to vote for a president that is at least going to be receptive to their advocacy, activism and protest, frankly.”
Democrats told Newsweek that communities of color were struggling even before the pandemic disproportionately wiped out their finances and endangered their health, leaving Biden with a full plate.
“Anyone that understands the moment we’re living in right now understands the huge challenges Biden will encounter,” said Vanessa Cardenas, a former Biden aide who remains close to his team. “Activists are going to push for him to fulfill his promise to build back better. But I have a sense the Biden team realizes that.”
“It worked against Trump, because really some level of competence and steadiness sounds good to people right around now,” James Aldrete, an Obama and Clinton campaign veteran, told Newsweek.
Biden banked on the fact that voters knew not just what the last four years had been like, but also, after his half-century in public life, knew him.
“You know who I am, you know who he is, you know his character, you know my character, you know our reputations for honor and telling the truth,” Biden said. “The character of the country is on the ballot. Our character is on the ballot. Look at us closely.”