THE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Why Joe Biden may have been the singular figure who could have defeated Donald Trump


Photo: Joe Biden for President. License.

The son of Scranton and the daughter of immigrants are headed to the highest offices in the land. To say that this is a history-making election would be an understatement.

Joe Biden is now President-elect, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a Black and Indian American woman who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, will now be the first woman to serve as Vice President. Biden made history of his own, becoming the first person with a disability (that is publicly known) to be elected president of the United States since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But the nature of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's election is unprecedented in more than the trailblazing nature of the individuals who have now earned the honor of public trust. Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump is without political parallel since the inception of modern political parties.

It is no secret that it is difficult to defeat an incumbent president. Sitting presidents have the machinery of government at their disposal, and they can implement policy that the public likes in an election year. They also have the advantage that enough people in enough states voted for them just four years earlier, and it is notoriously difficult to get people to admit they voted for the wrong person and switch their votes. The American people are also hard pressed to change leadership when there's an incumbent running for office, a psychological effect of not wanting to switch horses.

In the last 100 years, just four presidents have lost re-election before Donald Trump: George Bush in 1992, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gerald Ford in 1976, and Herbert Hoover, in 1932. But Biden's triumph over Donald Trump is much, much more historic than just beating an incumbent president.

In fact, Biden's victory over Trump is without precedence in American history. At least since modern concept of political parties has existed in this country, no incumbent president who did not face either significant opposition within their own party or a strong third party candidate has ever lost re-election, until Donald Trump's defeat at Joe Biden's hand.

When the first President Bush lost re-election to President Bill Clinton in 1992, he faced a strong challenge from libertarian independent candidate Ross Perot, who netted nearly 20% of the popular vote that year.

President Jimmy Carter, the incumbent in 1980, faced a particularly difficult primary challenge from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, just as his Republican predecessor, President Gerald Ford, had faced four years earlier from Ronald Reagan. And just like Carter defeated Ford in 1976, he himself lost to a resurgent Reagan four years later.

To find the president who lost re-election before that, one would have to go all the way to 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover. Though Hoover was unopposed for the Republican nomination, the Republican party was fractured and disunited. Several prominent Republican officeholders openly supported FDR's platform during the 1932 campaign, and not to mention, Hoover was beseeched by the Great Depression.

Donald Trump in 2020 faced not only no significant primary challenge, but no opposition whatsoever among the elected ranks of his party in Washington. Nor did he face any significant third party threat, and the share of votes third party candidates received this year was historically low.

And Trump still lost to Joe Biden at a time when 56% of Americans said their personal economic conditions had improved in the past four years.

We may have forgotten about it because of how badly the polling industry underestimated Donald Trump again in 2020, but the truth is that the core fundamental factors of this election was always strongly against the challenger.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won because Americans reached beyond our personal 401Ks and cared about the character of the country. Joe Biden won because Donald Trump insisted on dividing a country when his job was to bring it together. Joe Biden won because Americans rose up to protect not just our own interests but those of our neighbors. Joe Biden won because, as it turns out, character still matters.

At a time when our nation craves empathy, healing, and a president who will selflessly serve Americans who did not support him just as faithfully as those who did, Joe Biden may have been the singular figure in American politics today who could have achieved this victory.

Congratulations, Mr. President-elect.