Biden’s Empty Victory

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Joe Biden appears to have won the presidential election, following a ferocious fight by President Donald Trump that defied the polls and media expectations.

The president’s supporters are understandably agonized, as the current vote counts show that Trump missed by less than 1 percent of the vote in each of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia. If he has won all four, Biden will have won 306 electoral votes, just as Trump did in 2016. In order to overturn that result, Trump would need to have actually won Pennsylvania plus two of the other three. This now seems exceedingly unlikely, requiring the miscounting or invalidation of at least 60,000 votes.

Reports of voting irregularities and fraud on any significant scale have so far not stood up even to minimal scrutiny. The most legally vulnerable maneuver, the Pennsylvania supreme court’s disregarding the statutory deadline for mail-in ballots, does not even figure in the current count. While the president has every right to present evidence to contest his defeat, he has not done so yet. There is no visible basis for his claim that he won. It seems, instead, to be another example of the reckless self-indulgence that helps explain the actual outcome.

When Trump won in 2016, his opponents drew energy from the ludicrous claim that he had done it illegitimately. For years afterwards, polls showed that a majority of Democratic voters even believed the bogus conspiracy theory that Russians had changed the vote totals. But he took the oath of office, appointed Supreme Court justices, and signed laws all the same. So it will be — again, absent an extremely unlikely showing of contrary evidence about the vote — with Biden. Whether he is a wise president remains to be seen, though we have our doubts. He will be a legitimate president.

Biden is gamely trying to pretend that he has won a mandate for the policy agenda he occasionally mentioned during his campaign. That mandate does not exist, and Republicans have every reason to seek to stop that agenda from being enacted. That work should begin with an effort to reelect Republican senators in Georgia. A Republican Senate is a prerequisite both for blocking left-wing policy mistakes and for protecting some of the important policy achievements of the Trump presidency, such as a pro-growth and pro-family tax reform.

Trump also made political achievements on which Republicans should build, and left the party in far better shape than many Trump skeptics predicted. Republicans became less exclusively identified with managerial professionals during the Trump years. Republican politicians now need to internalize the more blue-collar orientation of their coalition while hanging on to many of their old supporters. That this is possible but not inevitable should be one obvious lesson of an election that has turned out to be neither a victory nor a catastrophe.