An exhausting and divisive presidential campaign, election and vote counting process is all but over, with a President-elect Joe Biden and a President Trump in office until January 20.
The fate of the Senate majority is almost certain to be up to voters in Georgia, who will cast ballots in two run-off elections in January. For now, Republicans appear to have won 50 seats with votes still being counted in races in Alaska and North Carolina, where GOP candidates are ahead.
Republicans also have gained five seats in the House with a number of races yet to be called. Democrats had expected going into Election Day to pad their majority.
Biden has won 75.3 million votes and counting, but a number of Americans split their tickets and a divided government in a divided country seems the likely outcome.
It sets up a tricky 73 days until the inauguration, and a challenging environment for Biden and congressional leaders to govern.
Here are three things to watch going forward.
The nation’s divide is real and will be difficult to heal
Biden in his speech to the country Saturday night after networks projected him as the winner said he would be a president for all Americans.
His entire campaign centered on the theme of unity, and he has vowed to try to work with people in both parties to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and other national challenges.
But the nature of this election and its immediate aftermath suggests he will be challenged.
The former vice president is likely to win a greater popular vote victory than Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has already won more votes in a presidential election than any candidate in history. Yet Trump, with 71 million votes, left little on the table either. He will have the second-most total votes of all-time.
Both candidates turned out voters who desperately wanted to either end or continue the Trump presidency.
In the Electoral College, the final vote looks likely to be a mirror image of 2016, with Biden winning 306 electoral votes — the same number Trump won in 2016 when he claimed he had won in a “landslide.” Clinton won 232 in 2016, the same number Trump is likely to claim this time.
Neither Biden’s nor Trump’s wins are landslides. Compare either result to 2008, when President Obama defeated Republican John McCain by almost 10 million votes and won 365 electoral votes. That was a landslide, at least in the post-Reagan era.
Biden’s decisive but closer margin, coupled with the GOP gains in the House and the fact that Republicans are feeling good about keeping the Senate, means Biden will have less leverage with Republican congressional leaders to demand a mandate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who are both masters at vote counting, will have smaller margins to play with.
Get ready for high-level legislative drama in the lame-duck, when an unpredictable lame-duck president’s signature will be needed to sign laws, and in 2021.
Democrats are divided
If Biden had won in a landslide, as many Democrats were hoping, he would have faced real challenges in governing.
There are big differences in the Democratic Party over healthcare, taxes and the judiciary, over adding Washington, D.C., as a state, ending the filibuster or “packing” the Supreme Court to make up for Trump’s appointees.
Those latter issues are completely off the table unless Democrats sweep Georgia’s special elections, and even then they feel less likely than a Super Bowl victory by Washington’s professional football team.
Without the landslide, the divides between centrist and progressive Democrats have been on display, with centrists questioning their leadership’s electoral strategy and blaming progressive policies for the losses of their colleagues.
Progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of her party’s brightest stars, have responded in kind, arguing it is unfair and inaccurate to blame policies like defunding the police, the Green New Deal and Medicare for All for Democratic losses. She made the case in an interview with The New York Times that arcane advertising spending by Democratic committees and candidates was to blame.
The divisions represent a challenge for Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). While Democrats on the street are elated over Biden’s victory, there are real disappointments with the congressional outcome that are dividing the party.
The more divided Democrats are in the lame-duck and in 2021, the more difficult it will be for them to win policy victories.
Trump isn’t disappearing
Trump is promising a legal onslaught in the face of his defeat, and his campaign has already announced lawsuits in several states.
In reality, to say these legal challenges are highly unlikely to succeed is an understatement. But they are sure to fire up Trump partisans with the idea that an election fairly decided has somehow been taken from him.
Trump seems unlikely to concede the election, a new development for a country that has historically seen vanquished presidents and presidential candidates acknowledge their defeats regardless of the bitterness of the campaign.
Twitter’s aggressive steps in recent days to correct and flag tweets by Trump and others for factual errors may to some degree mitigate misinformation about the election, but it also threatens to set up new conspiracy theories for those who want to believe them.
Trump, in the meantime, retains a ton of power as a candidate who just grew his vote total by 8 million votes and counting. If he decided to run for president again, he’d be the favorite in the GOP primary. And if he doesn’t, other figures who do may want his backing.
None of this will make governing any easier in the near future.