IT'S OVER: Biden defeats Trump as US voters, in a rare step, remove an incumbent president

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Biden and Harris
Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, on August 12, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • The Democratic nominee Joe Biden is projected to win the 2020 US presidential election over Donald Trump.
  • By Saturday night (SA time), major outlets in the US – including Fox News – concurred. 
  • Biden enjoyed a steady, but ultimately overstated, lead over Trump in polls in critical states in the weeks before the election.
  • His victory represents a rebuke of Trump's tumultuous and divisive presidency by the US electorate.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

The Democratic nominee Joe Biden is projected to win the 2020 US presidential election, after voters rejected incumbent American President Donald Trump's chaotic and deeply polarising first term.

Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, made history by becoming the nation's first female, black, and Indian American vice president.

Biden surpassed the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House by flipping the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to projections by Decision Desk HQ by Friday. On Saturday evening, South African time, Fox News, The New York Times, CNN, and others concurred that he is the president elect of the United States of America.

Biden had led Trump in national and state polling for months, and though he ultimately won the race, polls in critical states significantly overstated his lead. Biden's win — only the fourth defeat of an incumbent president in recent US history — came after two days of ballot counting, which was delayed in many states because of a surge in mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

See also | Trump seen golfing as major US networks declare victory for Biden

The 77-year-old former US vice president addressed the nation while the counts were underway, expressing confidence in the outcome of the race and insisting that all votes should and would be counted. Meanwhile, the president and his allies falsely claimed that Trump had won the election.

Biden's election is a rebuke of Trump's presidency, which for the past nine months has been marred by the administration's response to a Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans and resulted in an economic crisis. Biden's win also happened against the backdrop of Trump's attacks on the integrity of the election process, none of which have been supported by evidence or empirical data.

Biden ran as an elder statesman with moderate politics who could restore Obama's legacy, stabilise a country reeling from several crises, and rebuild the US's relationships with foreign allies.

He and Harris are poised to mend much of former US president Barack Obama's legacy, which was fractured by Trump's term. They are expected to push through a set of major progressive policy priorities, including green infrastructure and expanded healthcare.

Despite facing a crowded and diverse field of competitors, Biden dominated the Democratic primary, buoyed by crucial support from Black voters. Most of Biden's primary opponents, including senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, poured significant energy into supporting Biden's bid, and some are expected to become part of his Cabinet and administration.

Historic turnout

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, more Americans voted by mail or early in person than at any other time in US history. According to the US Elections Project, over 101 million Americans voted early, surpassing two-thirds of the total vote count in 2016.

There were 10 key battleground states in this year's election: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, and Arizona. Of those, seven allowed election officials to start counting or processing mail ballots before Election Day: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas.

As Business Insider has reported, there was a significant partisan gap in how Americans chose to vote. Trump had for months cast doubt on the integrity of voting by mail and baselessly claimed that it would lead to widespread voter fraud and a "rigged" election outcome. Partly for that reason, early votes were expected to skew heavily in favor of Biden, while ballots cast in person on Election Day were expected to favour Trump.

Experts were also bracing for a "red shift" or a "blue shift" depending on when states began counting which ballots. States that started processing early votes and mail-in votes before reporting results from ballots cast on Election Day were expected to show Biden leading and, later, a shift toward Trump. Conversely, states that started counting Election Day votes could have seen Trump ahead and then a shift toward Biden as they processed mail-in ballots and early votes.

Trump's campaign was hobbled by his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 9 million Americans, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. For months, polling suggested that fewer than 40% of Americans approved of Trump's response to the pandemic. And recent polling found Trump's approval rating on economic issues dropping in key swing states.

Trump's legacy

President Trump arrives at the White House after being treated for the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 5, 2020.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Trump administration presided over a period of rancour and division within American politics not seen in the past several decades. This year alone the US endured a blistering recession, a pandemic, rolling national lockdowns, civil unrest stemming from high-profile police brutality, and riots in major American cities involving confrontations between heavily armed police and protesters. These incidents defined Trump's last year in office in a personal way, extending from his use of tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House to his own diagnosis with Covid-19.

Trump's style of governance can be traced to the beginning of his campaign, which he kicked off by smearing Mexicans as criminals and rapists. His brash style appealed to many in the Republican base, and his 2016 campaign was headlined by large-scale popular rallies where thousands of his fans would gather, often televised to millions more. Trump's atypical style — coupled with strategic deficiencies in the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's rival campaign and Russia's interference in the election in Trump's favour — propelled him to a surprise victory.

From the moment he took the office, Trump applied the powers of the US presidency to the goals of his constituency and his new coalition, though at times it led to significant legal troubles and difficulties contending with his own government.

A controversial executive order banning US travel to citizens from a number of majority-Muslim nations was immediately mired in litigation, and led to Trump sacking the acting attorney general when she refused to enforce it. Trump would, over the course of his first two years in office, put the existing instruments of the immigration administrative state to new uses, with targeted campaigns against those in the country without authorisation and those pursuing entry.

Trump's hardline immigration stance culminated in a widely reviled "zero-tolerance" policy that separated migrant children who entered the country from their legal guardian ahead of incarceration. Mass public pressure and litigation eventually led the administration to relent, though hundreds of children remain separated from their parents to this day.

Protests and civil unrest defined Trump's time in office, with staunch opposition to his policies not just from elected Democrats but also large social movements that formed as a resistance to his presidency. The Women's Marches that took place across the country the day after his inauguration catalysed years of mass protest to his time in office.

The Trump presidency also accelerated the rise of the far right and white supremacy in the US, most notably at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that featured scores of Trump supporters waving Confederate flags and chanting KKK slogans, and led to the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer.

The civil unrest seen in the US under the Trump administration had been a repeated source of consternation and, at times, use for the president. His inability to fully disavow passionate but violent supporters has been a consistent theme over his time in office.

Trump's presidency was also marred by a bitter impeachment process and a years-long FBI investigation into whether his campaign knowingly conspired with the Russian government to tilt the 2016 race in his favour. The Republican-controlled Senate ultimately acquitted Trump following an impeachment trial, and the president was not charged in the Russia investigation, partly because of a longstanding Justice Department policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

But several of his highest-ranking associates — including former national-security advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, and the informal GOP advisor Roger Stone — pleaded guilty to or were convicted of felonies.

Though his impeachment acquittal may have been an hour of triumph for the Trump administration, it would soon face its biggest crisis. In late 2019, researchers first observed a respiratory virus in the vicinity of Wuhan, China. The virus began spreading in China over the next few months, and US officials repeatedly warned the president that it would soon gain a foothold in the US and that the administration needed to take early action to prepare for a possible pandemic.

Trump's administration failed to develop a robust response, and by March the virus arrived in the US. Soon after, the US became the global epicentre of the outbreak, even as other countries took steps to significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Trump did achieve a number of substantial, enduring wins for his party and his constituents, particularly in terms of a tax cut as well as filling a large number of judicial vacancies across the federal judiciary, a long-held priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The most enduring achievement of the Trump presidency for his base may be the three Supreme Court justices he had confirmed to the bench, a legacy-defining tectonic shift in power in the interpretation of American law.

Yet the president's inability to soothe the country amid widespread unrest as well as his administration's failure to respond to the most pressing public-health crisis of our time — and the ensuing economic distress — set the defining tone of Trump's reelection bid.

With Biden's victory, Trump becomes the 12th president to lose reelection, and just the fourth since the end of World War II.

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