It wasn’t Biden or the coronavirus. Ultimately, it was his horrible conduct in office that proved his undoing.
On Saturday, the 2020 presidential election ended. It came down to delayed vote-counting in a handful of states, but once Joe Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania became insurmountable, the TV networks called the race in his favor. The nation erupted in jubilation. Spontaneous celebrations popped up in small and large cities throughout the country. While Donald Trump has not yet conceded the race, his feeble response makes it clear that he, too, knows it is over. He still has legal options and will still give liberals on Twitter heart palpitations for the next two months. But all the lawsuits in the world will not cause Pennsylvania to overturn the 46,000-vote lead that Biden currently has, and it will not swing the race Trump’s way.
Saturday’s excitement masked the growing concerns that liberals had expressed in the five days between Election Day and the Biden victory announcement. The question was not whether Biden had won, but why he had won by so little. Trump out-performed polls in a wide variety of states. He won a number of swing states, including Ohio and Florida. He kept the margin incredibly close throughout the country. While Biden still captured the presidency, his relative weakness against Trump and the Republican Party meant that he was unable to help Democrats retake the Senate or make gains in the House.
Trump’s path to victory, in hindsight, looked clear. He had vastly closed the gap with Hillary Clinton in the Hispanic and African American vote. Trump’s supporters turned out in massive numbers. His election involved the highest participation rates of voters since 1900. Despite numerous claims to the contrary, much of his base held. He still won non-college-educated whites by a high percentage and held much of his support from white women. In addition, his voters were primed to turn out on Election Day, which eliminated fears of misspelled names and missing witness statements that are associated with mail-in ballots. Trump clearly had a much better chance of winning than any pundit or prognosticator gave him the morning of Election Day.
But the amplified turnout that benefitted the president also greatly benefitted his adversaries. The lack of a blue wave in House and Senate races means that specific antipathy towards Trump drove millions of voters across the country to his opponent. Split ticket voting, which many observers thought was a relic, returned with a vengeance. Many individuals did not want unified Democratic control or particular Democratic senators and House members. They simply wanted to get rid of Trump and turned out in massive numbers to make that happen. According to reports, thousands of voters even turned in ballots that were entirely blank except for their singular votes against Trump. These ballots prove a visceral hatred of the president more than any concept of voter fraud.
Trump’s odious behavior caused this backlash more than any other factor. Many of the districts and counties that had been hardest hit by the coronavirus actually voted for Trump. As Josh Barro noted, he received credit for the economy even after unemployment shot up to its highest levels of the past decade. But to many voters, avoiding the idiocy and incompetence that another four years of Trump would bring was more important than their immediate monetary circumstances. They wanted the childish behavior to end. They were tired of the failed pandemic response, the worthless attempts to calm racial tension, and the president’s inability to articulate a path forward for the country. Americans voted for Joe Biden and his empathetic approach to the presidency, but they mainly voted for him because a vote for Biden was the only way that the country could rid itself of Trump in 2021 instead of 2025.
This upswell of purely negative voting may cause problems for the Biden administration. People voting against Trump did not necessarily vote for Biden. He may not have much of a mandate to enact, and most of his legislative agenda will be dead on arrival in a Republican Senate. But he will still be the president. Donald Trump, beginning on January 20, 2021, no longer will be.