Analysis: Trump and Biden signal victory, but US faces anxious wait
In the end, there was no landslide, no certainty, and certainly no redemption. No, in the end, there was only a beginning to what promises to be the tightest and most fractious US election in a generation.
As Scotland awakes this morning, hoping for clarity, or even clues, about events unfolding across the Atlantic, the reality is that the race for the White House is now a relay, not a sprint. A race which began at polls could well end up decided in the courts, or worse, contested on the streets.
At the time of writing, it is too soon to tell who will emerge victorious. By 6.40am, Joe Biden had taken 63,872,000 votes and 224 electoral college seats compared to 62,329,000 and 213 for Donald Trump. Both men, pushing their own narratives, were bullishly optimistic. The reality is that with the result still up in the air, they could do little else.
What is clear is that an election campaign unlike any other, conducted amidst the gravest public health crisis in living memory, looks to have sparked the highest turnout in more than a century, with an estimated 160 million Americans casting their vote.
But with the arduous process of counting tens of millions of postal ballots still ongoing, it will be some time yet before their decision becomes clear. And even then, it remains to be seen whether Mr Trump will rein back from his threats to make a premature declaration of victory.
He stopped short of that, tweeting at 5.45am that his campaign was “up BIG,” while warning that the Democrats were “trying to STEAL the election” and apparently attempting to sow doubt over the legitimacy of postal votes. “We will never let them do it,” he added. “Votes cannot be cast after the polls are closed.”
Minutes earlier, Mr Biden addressed a crowd in his home state of Delaware, where he appealed for patience, but said his campaign was “feeling good about where we are” and that he was “on track to win this election.” He did not go as far as his deputy campaign manager, Rudy Giggord, who took to Twitter 45 minutes earlier to write: “We’re going to win.”
Within a half hour, Mr Biden cushioned his optimistic remarks, tweeting: “It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare the winner of this election. It’s the voter’s place”
While speaking in Delaware, he also acknowledged what was already obvious. The election was “going to go on,” he said, first into Wednesday morning, and then “maybe longer.”
The truth is, it may be take even longer.
Confusion reigned in Arizona, a state comfortably won by Mr Trump four years ago. This time around, Fox News called it for Mr Biden, who appeared to be ahead. By 5am, however, the state’s governor, Doug Ducey, said it was “far too early” to make such declarations, pointing that work had yet to begin on counting early ballots.
In Ohio, a bellwether state which has backed the eventual White House winner in the last 14 elections, Mr Trump was projected to win, and the same was true in Florida, where early results saw the lead flit rapidly between the two candidates. Eventually, however, Mr Trump gained a foothold, in large part thanks to his opponent underperforming in the populous Hispanic county of Miami-Dade.
As with every election, there are seminal battles, yet it looks increasingly likely that the war of 2020 will be decided in the Midwest, with the focus on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As things stand, Mr Biden has more routes to victory, though none of them are guaranteed.
As proceedings grew increasingly frantic in the early hours, significant individual results barely made for a footnote in the election’s emerging narrative. In Delaware, Sarah McBride became the nation’s first openly transgender state senator.
Further south, one of the most depressing chapters in modern US history was written with the victory of Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia. The 46-year-old is a supporter of QAnon, the group responsible for a slew of wild conspiracy theories, including claims that a global cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles are plotting to enslave the world was elected to the US Congress.
Harmful disinformation which, only a few years ago, was firmly consigned to the fringes of American life, is now represented in its historic legislature. Even if Mr Trump, the fulcrum of that shift, loses his office, it will not constitute victory, but respite. The discord and division he has sown is firmly under America’s skin, and the groundswell of support for his reelection in the early polling is a sign that his corrosive political legacy will not be easily undone.
Of course, it may not come to that. Mr Trump may yet prevail, and unburdened by the need never face the electorate again, he could pursue an even more fractious form of governance. The fears of what that would mean for the long-term makeup of US politics and the nation’s standing in the world have long been a source of distress for Trump critics. Perhaps, however, one term has been enough to secure that regression.
Throughout the course of an ugly campaign, Mr Biden repeatedly stressed that his opponent, and all he stood for, was “not who we are,” and “not what America is.” Many people agreed with him, but it is now clear that almost as many did not.
The question now is not just who will win, but what will be the price of victory? Predictions of violence and disruption went largely unrealised on election day itself, but with tensions rising by the hour, a country crippled by a pandemic, beset by economic woes, and boiling over with racial tensions, will find its brittle patience sorely tested.
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