We have been here before, as anyone old enough to vote in the 2000 presidential election will remember.
Joe Biden was widely recognized on Saturday as defeating President Donald Trump after prevailing in Pennsylvania and Nevada, vaulting him from 253 to 279 electoral votes, nine more than the 270 minimum he needed to unseat the incumbent president.
Saturday night, before a crowd of supporters in Delaware, Biden addressed the nation.
“The people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for ‘we the people,'” he said.
“I sought this office to restore the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation, the middle class, to make America respected around the world again, and to unite us here at home.”
In contrast, Trump’s tweets on Saturday reflected an unreal denial of the vote totals, and promised continued legal challenges rather than concession:
“I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, before Pennsylvania was called for Biden. Once the state was called, first by CNN and then by all other major news organizations, including Fox News, Biden had reached 273 electoral votes. Trump subsequently tweeted he will file legal challenges.
Later Saturday, Nevada was called for Biden.
Unless family members and political allies convince Trump otherwise, the country is likely to experience another prolonged political crisis recalling the 2000 election. All indications Saturday suggest Trump’s inner circle is not giving up. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani held a press conference Saturday in Philadelphia alleging that some Republican Party poll watchers were denied adequate access to the vote count.
The race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush proved to be the closest race in recent U.S. history. It wasn’t until Dec. 13, 2000, 36 days after the Nov. 7 vote, that Gore gracefully conceded after coming out on the losing end of a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that delivered Florida’s 25 electoral votes to Bush.
The high court ruled that a Florida Supreme Court decision that would have required a statewide recount was unconstitutional, effectively ending the sitting vice president’s challenge.
That gave Bush 271 electoral votes, one more than the minimum needed to win, to Gore’s 267. Gore, incidentally, won the popular vote by a little more than 500,000 votes. A disappointed Gore telephoned Bush, who won Florida by a scant 537 votes, to congratulate him.
“I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday [Dec. 18] in the Electoral College,” Gore said in addressing the nation on Dec. 13, one day after the high court’s 7-2 ruling. “And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
Florida election officials were rightfully embarrassed by the “hanging chads” in many of the 175,000 punch cards that ultimately went uncounted. Black voters saw their ballots rejected at twice the rate of rejection of white voter ballots. Florida subsequently acquired new voting machines, and Trump’s victory in the state this election unfolded without significant incident.
Biden’s win over Trump will prove to be more decisive than the narrow Bush victory, and inevitably without the same cloud of controversy. He won the popular vote by more than 4 million votes. Legal challenges and possible recounts are unlikely to alter the outcome in Pennsylvania or Nevada. Biden, meanwhile, clings to narrow leads in Georgia and in Arizona, while Trump leads in North Carolina and Alaska.
Allegations of widespread irregularities and fraud by Trump and various Republican allies have not been bolstered by any evidence.
Should Biden hang on in Georgia and Arizona he will finish with 306 electoral votes. The New York Times and Washington Post consider the vote count in both states too close to call.
Trump becomes the third elected incumbent to suffer defeat since World War II, and the first in more than a quarter of a century. In both the 2016 and 2020 elections he lost the popular vote. President Gerald Ford, who rose to the presidency after the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, lost his bid to win the office in 1976 when Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter defeated him in the wake of Ford’s controversial pardon of Nixon.
President George H.W. Bush was the last incumbent to lose reelection in 1992 when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168. In 1980, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter in a landslide, winning 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49.
In all three elections the incumbents quickly and gracefully conceded.
Aside from Trump’s unwillingness to concede, this election will make history for one other important reason: California Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first woman elected on a presidential ticket, and the first Black women to serve as vice president. As the daughter of parents who came to the United States from India and Jamaica, she also will serve as a vivid symbol of how immigration has enriched the nation since its founding to the present.
The country and electorate were deeply divided before the Nov. 3 election and Biden’s victory and Trump’s resistance will not change that. Efforts to drown out the data with unsubstantiated claims of fraud will continue to echo on social media and on websites that traffic in disinformation. The country’s most extremist pundits will peddle conspiracy theories. None of that will change the outcome for Trump, now a defeated president with tradition to uphold in acting with honor and dignity in handing over power to Biden, now the nation’s president-elect.
It could be a long wait.