Biden not only received a majority of the popular vote, but also cleared 51 percent — the largest vote percentage obtained against an incumbent president since 1932 and a bigger percentage of the popular vote than any Republican president since George H.W. Bush in 1988, when Bush was essentially running for a third Ronald Reagan term. In the process, Biden amassed the largest total number of ballots in U.S. history. He pummeled Trump by more than 7 million votes (and exceeded Barack Obama’s 2008 vote total by more than 11 million). That margin is bigger than Massachusetts’ entire population; in fact, only 14 states have a population of more than 7 million. Biden’s popular vote margin by percentage (4.4 percent) far surpasses Obama’s 2012 victory over Mitt Romney.
Why is it important to emphasize the magnitude of Biden’s victory? Because, far from narrow, it represents the overwhelming verdict of the voters. If there is such a thing as a mandate, Biden has one. He has been explicit about the things he intends to do: preserve and expand Obamacare, pass child-care and sick-leave legislation, pursue police reform, push through a massive infrastructure bill and tackle climate change.
Of course, if his margin of victory was a single vote or single elector, he would still be entitled to exercise all the powers of the presidency. That it is of such an enormous magnitude should earn at the very least a measure of consideration and deference from senators who were given their seats by a comparatively tiny portion of the electorate. Treating Biden as anything but the president-elect and denying him ample latitude to compile the Cabinet and senior staff of his choosing represents an outlandish attempt to preempt the will of more than 80 million Americans.
This does not mean Republican lawmakers are prohibited from opposing Biden vigorously on all sorts of matters, but it should make clear how outrageous it would be for them to attempt to hobble his presidency by, for example, refusing to confirm qualified executive and judicial nominees. This will surely not prevent Republicans from trying, but it should impress upon Biden the extent to which he might employ an old-fashioned tactic: going over the heads of lawmakers to the public.
In a way, he has begun to do this during the transition. In lieu of meeting with Republicans who continue to snub him, Biden has met with governors, mayors, business executives, labor leaders and ordinary Americans. He should do more of this, and, indeed, move the center of political activity out of Washington whenever possible.
Since it will have to be remote anyway, why not deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress (called the State of the Union in all but his first year) from somewhere in the heartland? Likewise, he should assemble (if remotely) governors of both parties who are desperate for the sort of relief Senate Republicans have held up since May. Send them back home with a list of what Biden would give their states — if only Republicans would let him. When the threat of covid-19 subsides — and it will if he successfully completes his vaccination plan — he should spend ample time outside the White House.
Biden famously promised to reach across the aisle. If he does so effectively, more power to him. However, if the transition is any indication, he is going to be met with stonewalling, obstruction and bad faith. That is his cue to go out to the voters — both who voted for him and who did not. Perhaps the voters in turn can remind their representatives that they chose to end the Trump era and to give Biden a shot at righting the ship of state.