As predicted, the election turned out to be considerably closer than most pundits and polls predicted. In spite of polling that suggested Biden leading Trump by a margin of 5%-15%, in actuality the popular vote margin of victory turned out to be more in the vicinity of modest 3%, a remarkably lackluster showing on the part of a veteran political operative like Biden running against an incumbent whose tenure in office was characterized by a mishandled pandemic and a crashing economy. Granted, much of the blame for that ought to be shouldered by the Congress, state governors, and their legislatures. No institution of US governance is coming out of this crisis with an enhanced but, to quote Harry Truman, “the buck stops” in the Oval Office.
The weak margin of victory is nevertheless solid enough to survive legal challenges from Team Trump, which moreover lacks serious heavyweight operatives at the helm. The 2000 election hinged on the outcome in a single state—Florida—which in turn hinged on a recount in a single county. That was not an insurmountable challenge to the likes of James Baker, a long-time Bush family retainer, and it was likewise not overly unpalatable to the courts. This time, however, the situation is far more complex. It is no longer a matter of mis-counted ballots. In order to give victory to Trump, the courts would have to in effect invalidate tens of thousands of ballots in several states, on the grounds that they were counted as valid votes in violation of existing laws and regulations. Barring an extreme case of malfeasance by election officials in several states, something that is yet to be demonstrated, it is unlikely in the extreme the US court system will be willing to set a precedent that in the long term could fatally undermine the entire US system of elections.
Having said that, even senior GOP officials are happy to go along with the argument that Trump was robbed of victory through electoral fraud, in the form of abuse of mail-in ballots. There is literally no political penalty to pay for that, and moreover casting lasting doubt on the legitimacy of Biden’s victory represents payback for the last four years of Democrats casting doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s victory through the RussiaGate scandal. One has to wonder whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s echoing of Trump’s allegations of voter fraud were at least in part motivated by him having to put up with being commonly referred to as “Moscow Mitch” on social media. Spending the next four years investigating Biden family finances, and particularly Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, China, and other regions whose politicians have an interest in being in Joe Biden’s good graces, is vastly preferable to four more years of RussiaGate.
Nevertheless, the GOP machine will hardly much expend political capital on behalf of Donald Trump, in support of his quest to emerge as the winner of the 2020 election. While Trump proved to be a remarkably effective party base motivator, far better at the task than literally any GOP politician of note, he nevertheless poses a long-term threat to the stability of the two-party system. Worse, Trump’s victory in 2020 would have doomed the GOP to major losses in US Congress, governorships, and state legislature in 2022 and 2024, with Trump himself being almost inevitably followed into the White House by a Democrat in 2024, and possibly a very leftist Democrat at that. That is a scenario that neither party wants to see, but to the GOP it would represent a close brush with death.
With Biden and Harris in the White House, both of them relatively unpopular politicians in their own right lacking even the fake charisma of Barack Obama, GOP is likely to rebound very quickly from losing the White House. Even now it looks like a Pyrrhic victory for Biden, whose party will not retake the US Senate barring the unlikely victory in both of Georgia’s runoff races that will take place in January—by which time Biden’s gradual walking away from campaign promises and shifting ever further to the right will have demoralized the base of the Democratic Party—and will have actually suffered losses in the House of Representatives. Biden’s victory also has not translated into any gains at all in state races. So instead of having the Democrats control all three branches of the Federal government by 2024 and at the same time enjoy expanded influence in State governments, it appears rather likely the GOP will return to that level of political dominance in only four short years. Sacrificing Trump is a price well worth paying for it. While it is too early to say who will be the GOP’s champion in the 2024 presidential elections, Donald Trump created an original blueprint for running an effective presidential campaign championing a conservative version of national greatness with a strong element of insular nationalism, as opposed to the aggressive nationalism of globalization that the Democrats embrace. Almost regardless of who the Republican nominee is, they will run a modified version of Trump’s campaign, and they will do so with a high likelihood of success.
Biden’s own likely legacy as a one-term president will be the product of the combination of pandemic and associated economic crisis, and the Obama Alumni Association that will be running his administration. One should not forget Joe Biden won his first election to the US Senate by running a “law and order” campaign in 1972, the year of Richard Nixon’s spectacular re-election landslide that resulted from his application of the so-called “Southern Strategy” of exploiting the backlash to civil rights among the White population of not only the Southern states. Over the decades, Biden himself rode that backlash to successive re-elections to US Senate by running campaigns with only thinly disguised racist themes. That record all but vanished from public memory as soon as Biden was chosen as Obama’s running mate. The fact that Biden, an architect of many crime bills whose effect has been to disproportionately incarcerate Blacks, chose someone like Kamala Harris who enthusiastically applied the provisions of Biden’s crime bills, indicates Biden has not moved past his 1972 persona. While paying lip service to “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans of the day, Biden’s campaign worked really hard to attract suburban White GOP voters and made hardly an effort to woo the growing Hispanic constituency. Biden also has no use for such hot-button issues as Defund the Police, Green New Deal, Medicare for All, that are sacrosanct to the most enthusiastic left wing of the Democratic Party. It is already evident that the individuals Biden is appointing to his transition team and vetting for administration positions, including the just-announced Chief of Staff Ronald Klain, represent a return to the discredited policies of the Democratic Leadership Council.
Likewise when it comes to foreign policy, we are likely to see all manner of retreads from the Obama Administration and a continuation of the aggressive foreign policy from those years. Biden has already made it clear there will be no reduction in defense spending, no withdrawal from “US leadership”, and a return to an emphasis on “human rights” which collectively suggest redoubled regime change efforts around the globe. There is even talk of Hillary Clinton becoming the US Ambassador to the United Nations, where she would presumably continue to ply her brand of American Exceptionalism. All in all, Biden’s ascent to the presidency feels like the post-Napoleonic Bourbon Restoration. Alas, just as the Bourbons “learned nothing and forgot nothing”, everything points to the Democrats making a very similar mistake for which they, and the country, will pay for dearly.