The reason seems largely to have been driven by economic factors. Until the pandemic, activity was booming. Record low unemployment levels, including amongst minorities, resonated as did the attractiveness of tax cuts, even if the bulk went to corporates and the wealthy. After an endless period of stagnation, workers in the lowest quarter of incomes saw wages rise 5% in the first three years of Trump’s presidency. Accusations of Democrat ‘socialism’ in the South also played well and demographic trends are not the ‘get out of jail’ card Democrats thought. They have more work to do with Latino voters, for example, on misconceptions around their policies.
Trump is seen as a non-establishment, highly successful businessman by his supporters, often more diverse than many commentators have assumed. He plays on being the antithesis of a professional politician. In this election, the mishandling of the pandemic might well have been viewed as a surprisingly transitory issue versus Trump’s more permanent, so-called business based economic success.
Trump’s ultimate defeat will rightly be attributed to his polarising personality, which was simply too much in the end. His refusal to accept defeat is a suitable epitaph. Policy-wise, however, the message of this election is more nuanced; Democrats will need to be careful about their longer-term priorities and govern from the centre ground. And what is wrong with that?
America is clearly widely split politically but this blog doesn’t share the gloom of many liberal commentators who believe disruptive Republicans, even Trump himself, could be back with a vengeance, to ruin Biden’s term of office. A Biden victory is a Biden victory. Despite Trump adding three million more votes to his 2016 tally, Biden is at least 3-4% ahead in a record popular vote.
The removal of Trump as the nation’s voice will make a huge difference to the tone of politics and respect for its democratic institutions. Trump and his supporters may well be noisy from the side-lines but many Republicans, even right-wing ones, will be glad to see the back of him. And, whilst much of American politics will be gridlocked as usual, there is surely scope for bipartisanship on economic measures to alleviate the impact of coronavirus, infrastructure investment and even some elements of initiatives on climate change. The US may well catch up with Europe on the further integration of ESG factors into broader investment decisions.
Overseas, Biden could re-build relationships with traditional allies, re-join WHO and the Paris Agreement on climate change, participate again in the Iran nuclear deal and at least lower the tone on trade disputes. In Europe, probably to the UK’s detriment on influence generally and a UK/US trade deal in particular, Biden will likely embrace Germany and France first. He likes the EU and will be much less sympathetic to Johnson’s aggressive Brexit stance. No bad thing for the UK in the longer-term.
The Democrats performed relatively poorly in the face of Trump, and America overall is currently deeply and dangerously divided. Biden may well be seen as a transitory figure, but he is not Trump and that may be enough. His collegiate style is right for the times and that alone makes his election victory a much-needed source of optimism.