Nothing is settled. I am going to front-load my conclusion because although Trump will leave office, the country remains almost equally divided at a level far deeper than party affiliations, but rather by the lens though which Americans interpret events and express their vision for their collective future. It is not only Red versus Blue state, but within each state there is a significant rural/urban divide. One need only look at the county maps of Georgia and Pennsylvania to appreciate that the Democratic vote in the cities overwhelmed the more numerous Republican rural counties. Even New York State, our neighbor to the south is dominated by Republican voters north of the Kingston line, before you get into commuting distance of New York City. These deep divisions present different challenges for the incoming Biden Administration and the Republican Party, facing a struggle between Trumpism and renewal.
Biden’s victory is ironic since it is a mirror image of Trump’s win in 2016 – both achieved 306 Electoral College votes, but the lawsuits will either confirm or alter the final figure. Trump won 4 states by 80,000 votes in 2016, and Biden is winning four states by about the same total margin. Biden cannot claim to have a national mandate, not with the Republicans gaining seats in the House of Representatives, no state legislature flipped Democratic, and the US Senate is likely to remain Republican pending two run-off elections in Georgia in January 2021. Biden will have to abandon the more radical elements of his agenda imposed on him by the leftist elements of his party and govern from the center. Biden is one of the most experienced politicians to enter the Oval Office in the last 60 years and has a close personal relationship with Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate. They will have to make deals to get anything passed. Even if the Senate goes to a tie and Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a vote to break it, there are conservative elements within the Democratic Senate caucus who will not vote for radical change. Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine, is not going to vote for massive tax hikes and punitive regulation coming out of the House. The Republicans may even get him to come caucus with them if the Democrats move too far to the left.
Biden is a decent person who wants to do the best he can for the country, and he will end up governing from the center with a House that is only slightly Democratic and a Senate this is not his, no matter which party controls it. There was another highly-experienced president who governed the same way – George Herbert Walker Bush – and he did a good job. He managed the decline of the Soviet Bloc with not a shot being fired and free of upheaval. He surrounded himself with people who were professional, not ideological in key administration positions. Bush Sr. was the best one-term president of the last 100 years. Biden could do a lot worse than to emulate his approach to governing, given the thin mandate the people handed him.
For Biden’s win to be legitimate, Trump must be allowed to exhaust his legal challenges and be rebuked by the courts. He should not be forced to abandon his challenges if the cases can be heard or dismissed by December 8th, the date by which the vote must be certified. Trump received more votes than he did in 2016 due to higher voter turnout by a motivated base and those voters will not accept his defeat unless due process is perceived to have been afforded to him. Trump may be spreading lies about vote tampering and late ballots, but those assertions must be disproven otherwise it weakens Biden’s hold on the office.
There is a serious fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Trump was not sufficiently defeated at the polls and there are senators and representatives who owe their elections or re-elections to the fervent support for the president that carried to the down-ballot races. Trump is not going to retreat to Mar-a-Lago and quietly play golf for the rest of his days. He is going to be tweeting, speaking, taking over Fox News in the morning, holding Republican rallies and fundraisers, all in anticipation of either his or one of his offspring (Ivanka, Don Jr.) seeking the Oval Office in 2024. This is not far-fetched; Trump wanted Ivanka to be his running mate in 2016 and, if he wanted to run again, he would be the same age as Biden is today. So far, the muted words from the Republican establishment demonstrate that there is no challenger to Trump, and many embrace him.