It was, as Biden has said more colorfully in other contexts, a big deal.
But because Democrats did not win all they hoped for in the House, Senate and state legislative races, the magnitude of what happened last Tuesday is being defined down. And so many who oppose Trump simply can’t believe that more than 70 million of their fellow citizens would vote to reelect such a profoundly flawed man.
This is understandable, but it also feeds a double standard that distorts our view of the decision the country made.
Consider that in 2016, Trump won only 46 percent of the popular vote, losing it to Hillary Clinton by nearly 2.9 million ballots. He carried the three key states by minuscule margins — Michigan by 10,704, Wisconsin by 22,748 and Pennsylvania by 44,292.
Yet conservative commentators used this flimsy victory to insist that the media, liberals, academics and “coastal people” bow before the altar of “the Trump voter.” (As it happens, most Democrats, and particularly Biden, needed no lessons in empathy for working-class voters — of all races.) A thuggish Republican whose share of the vote was barely larger than John McCain’s in 2008 and smaller than Mitt Romney’s in 2012 was suddenly the prophet of a new age.
Now, look at what Biden achieved. He won the vote with 75 million ballots — more than any presidential candidate in history — and enjoys a lead of more than 4 million that is likely to grow substantially.
Biden’s margins in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are comparable to Trump’s in 2016 while his margin in Michigan is more than 10 times larger. The former vice president could win as many as 306 electoral votes, exactly Trump’s 2016 haul.
Yet there is no clamor for Republicans to get to know “the Biden voter,” no call on conservatives to be more in touch with the country they live in.
Some of this may have to do with race and racism, given who voted for Biden, and with the well-honed skill of conservative elites in mobilizing anti-elitism against liberals. But there were also pandemic-induced differences between the two elections in how results were reported and absorbed.
In 2016, the outcome was clear before midnight on Election Day, and the race was effectively called at 1:35 a.m. on Wednesday.
This time, Republican legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan made it impossible for those states to process the record number of mail votes as efficiently as did Texas and Florida, which went to Trump. Democrats went to bed in the early hours of Wednesday morning in a somber mood.
It has taken days for the magnitude of Biden’s victory to sink in — the exceptional mobilization of Black voters and the young, a continuation of the Democrats’ advance in the suburbs, plus Biden’s success in winning back a sufficient share of White blue-collar voters.
Yes, Democrats fell short of their hopes for the Senate, although they have one more shot at the majority in Georgia’s two January runoffs. Their problem: Senate results matched the outcome of the presidential election in every state except Maine, where Republican Sen. Susan Collins rekindled local affection and distanced herself from Trump.
There can be no denying that Trump’s ability to energize his supporters hurt Democratic House candidates who made inroads into hostile territory in 2018, as well as the party’s state legislative candidates. It turned out that it was too much to expect a miraculous resolution of the deep divisions in our politics. They go back to the 1990s, have hardened since 2000 — and Trump exploited them relentlessly.
So there’s still a lot of work to do, and Biden started doing it in an evocative and moving victory speech Saturday night that stressed healing and asked of Trump’s supporters: “Let’s give each other a chance.” Graciousness is good politics and good for the country, but so is understanding the brute facts of our political life: Democrats have won a popular vote majority in three of the last four presidential elections; Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last 28 years. The country is changing in ways profoundly challenging to the GOP and the right. They’re the ones who should start worrying about being out of touch.