Republicans have their differences, but they generally agree on Ronald Reagan, the conservative icon who for the better part of five decades has been their party’s emotional and ideological touchstone figure. So here’s a reference point for the Republican Party leaders who are now joining Donald Trump in a go-down-with-the-ship refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election: Joe Biden is currently winning that election by a higher percentage of the national popular vote than Reagan did in his historic victory over President Jimmy Carter.
Reagan took 50.7 percent of the vote in 1980.
Biden so far has 50.8 percent of the vote, and that percentage will continue to rise as millions of additional ballots are counted in the heavily Democratic states of California, Illinois, and New York. Even before the last of the votes are counted, the Democrat entered into historic territory. Biden has won the presidency with a higher percentage of the vote than Trump in 2016, George W. Bush in 2004 or 2000, Bill Clinton in 1996 or 1992, Reagan in 1980, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Richard Nixon in 1968, John Kennedy in 1960, or Harry Truman in 1948.
What that means is that, even as Trump keeps claiming that “WE WILL WIN!,” he has already lost. Bigly.
Biden has not merely received more votes than any candidate for the presidency in American history—77,400,000 and counting—he has finished the 2020 competition with a higher level of popular support than most of the winners of most of the presidential elections since the end of World War II.
What’s especially striking is the scope of Biden’s win as a challenger to a sitting president. Now that he has surpassed Reagan’s 1980 percentage in the race with Carter, Biden’s getting a higher percentage of the vote than any rival to a incumbent since Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt upended Republican Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Every election has different dynamics, ranging from the relative strength of third-party candidates to the overall level of voter participation. But The Wall Street Journal headline from the day after this election—“Trump, Biden Locked in Close Election Contest”—no longer applies. This is not a “too-close-to-call,” or a “tight” or an “uncertain” election. Despite what House minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana suggests, his fellow Republican did not have “a strong finish.” Trump’s been defeated resoundingly.
The fact that he is a major loser does not sit well with this egomaniacal president. But his feelings can’t change the facts.
Trump’s tantrums will not alter the vote patterns. There is no unfounded charge of fraud that is going to improve his fate. What’s gone badly for the president already is likely to get worse. He can announce on Twitter that “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!” His buffoonish yes-men can make their humiliating pronouncements, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did with his claim, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
The numbers are the numbers. There is no legal or legitimate way to rearrange the result they report.
Consider this: Barack Obama won the 2012 election with what was broadly accepted as a comfortable margin of 51.1 percent of the vote to 47.2 percent for Republican Mitt Romney. One week after the 2020 election, Biden is leading Trump by a 50.8 to 47.4 margin and the gap could well grow to match or exceed the one Obama enjoyed in 2012.
For those who dismiss popular democracy and focus on the archaic and antidemocratic Electoral College, the numbers are even more daunting. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. Biden now has an advantage of at least 279-217 (some networks call it at 290-217) and he leads in the ongoing counts in Arizona and Georgia. Trump’s ahead in the continuing North Carolina count. If those three states stick to pattern through the final tabulations, canvasses and recounts, Biden’s advantage will go to 306-232, the same initial split that Trump secured in 2016. Since Biden’s electors are likely to stick with him when the college’s votes are announced on December 14, the Democrat will win with a slightly higher number of electoral votes than were counted for Trump in 2016—when a pair of Republican “faithless” electors in Texas backed former Texas US Representative Ron Paul and former Ohio governor John Kasich. Trump bragged that he prevailed in 2016 by “winning the Electoral College in a landslide.” Trump political counselor, pollster, and eventual White House aide Kellyanne Conway amplified that remark with a tweet that announced, “306. Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”
The landslide claim was debatable. But Biden looks to be on track to beat Trump with a higher level of Electoral College support—57 percent—than George W. Bush got in 2004 or 2000, than Jimmy Carter got in 1976, than Richard Nixon got in 1968, or than John Kennedy got in 1960. Indeed, Biden’s likely to finish with a better Electoral College percentage than a dozen presidents who were elected over the past 231 years, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Reagan did not hesitate to claim a mandate to govern when he received 50.7 percent of the popular vote in 1980. Nixon did not hesitate to claim a mandate when he won a far lower percentage of the popular vote and a somewhat lower percentage of the Electoral College vote in 1968. And when Bush won with lower percentages of both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote in 2004—a year that, like 2020, finished with several close and contested counts—he declared, “The voters turned out in record numbers and delivered an historic victory.”
Biden has every right to claim his mandate at this point. Whatever Pompeo says to the contrary, whatever unreality Republican lawmakers are living in, Biden will take office on January 20, 2021. As for Donald Trump, he has finished the 2020 election as a loser. Like all the defeated candidates in all the presidential contests before this one (many of whom attracted substantially greater support than he has attracted in his failed reelection bid), he now has a responsibility to deliver his too-long-delayed concession speech. If Trump refuses to accept that duty, he will make a little more history: as the most pathetic loser of all.