Weeks after what can arguably be described as the most divisive and polarizing U.S. presidential election in living memory, the dust has not yet settled. Despite Joe Biden being the apparent president-elect, and many within the Republican Party regarding him as such, Donald Trump has still not officially conceded.
At this point, although it remains unclear whether Trump will eventually concede, it now seems impossible that we would see him inaugurated for a second term in January, particularly with the transition period now started.
Furthermore, it is interesting to consider how the 2020 elections will be assessed by each party, as well as what direction they might take looking forward to the midterm elections, and to 2024. Finally, it is also worth commenting on the current state of third parties in the American political system.
Trump maintains claims of electoral fraud
The outgoing president still insists that he would easily have won reelection if not for electoral fraud on a massive scale. However, this view is far from unanimously shared within his party, and his lawsuits demanding recounts in several states have been dismissed.
Despite the president failing to present conclusive evidence of widespread electoral fraud, a large proportion of his supporters join him in refusing to accept the legitimacy of the results. Many will point to perceived discrepancies, such as registered voters with implausible birth dates, as evidence of ‘dead people voting’.
However, in most cases, there is a simple explanation. Some of these birth years have been erroneously recorded, or entered into databases as placeholders. In other instances, the person voting may be a younger relative of the same name, living at the same address.
Donald Trump and his legal team are increasingly running out of options in their attempts to overturn the election results. The recently concluded recount in Georgia, a state narrowly won by Joe Biden, confirmed that the former vice president had won by over 12,000 votes.
As is always the case with elections, there remains a possibility that a certain small amount of fraudulent ballots may be counted. However, in this instance, there does not appear to be any evidence to support the idea that the election was swayed by a vast quantity of such ballots.
Nonetheless, the sincerely held belief by many Trump supporters that the election was “stolen” will certainly add to the challenge of Joe Biden’s declared mission of bridging the divide.
Joe Biden’s challenging task
Due to Donald Trump’s reluctance to cooperate, the president-elect faces a much more challenging transition period than is customary. However, senior Republicans appear divided on how to approach the transfer of power. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a commitment to cooperating with president-elect Biden.
Several weeks after the outcome of the election being clear, the Trump Administration finally permitted the General Services Administration to sign the appropriate paperwork to begin the official transition. This is a legal requirement, as it enables Biden’s team to begin working with various government agencies. Many critics have argued that President Trump’s decision to delay the beginning of the transition process constituted a national security threat.
While the president-elect will face the challenging task of convincing enough of his predecessor’s supporters to accept his presidency as legitimate so as to avoid chaos and potential unrest, he also faces the prospect of leading an increasingly divided party.
Joe Biden’s nomination for president was met with significant displeasure from many Democrats. In recent times, the Democratic Party has seemed more divided than ever before between various moderate, progressive, socialist, environmentalist, and far-left factions. Therefore, Biden could face significant difficulties in securing the support of his own party for his agenda.
In a more general sense, it is also difficult to ignore that Biden will be taking the oath of office during a time of unprecedented challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting economic crisis.
What does the future hold for the Republican Party?
Donald Trump secured over 73 million votes nationwide. That tally of the popular vote is more than any presidential candidate in history, except for Joe Biden with over 79 million. This defeat has made Donald Trump the first incumbent president not to be reelected since George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Now, the Republican Party faces some difficult decisions in terms of what direction to take going forward. Trump was not defeated in a landslide in the style of the ‘blue wave’ many Democrats had hoped for. Even in defeat, there is ample evidence of Trump’s brand of politics still resonating strongly with a large proportion of the electorate.
Nevertheless, the GOP may seek to distance itself from Trump in the near future, given his personal unpopularity with many within the party. The divisive nature of Trump’s leadership is evidenced by the numerous senior Republicans who refused to endorse his reelection campaign, and by groups such as the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump.
Many critics from within the GOP have expressed their discontent with Trump on a number of issues, particularly around trade and immigration policy, as well as his handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year.
One of the primary concerns for the Republican Party in relation to future elections is ensuring that Texas remains a red state. Another key issue will be gaining back lost ground in states like Arizona and Georgia, with the latter holding an extremely consequential senate runoff election on January 5.
Finally, it is important to note that, although he has not formally conceded, President Trump has hinted at the possibility of running again in 2024.
Third parties: no better or worse than was expected
Given the intensely polarized political landscape, it was always going to be difficult for third parties to make gains in the 2020 elections. Nevertheless, Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen still received more votes than any other Libertarian candidate with the exception of Gary Johnson in 2016.
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate, has stated that he was unsurprised by the results, with his campaign receiving only 0.2% of the national popular vote. He accepted that the current levels of political polarization made the task even harder for smaller parties.
The Libertarian Party candidate, Jo Jorgensen, received over 1,800,000 votes nationally, securing between 2.5 and 3% of the vote states such as Alaska and North Dakota. Even in battleground states, where third parties did not do as well, Democratic and Republican supporters have claimed that the Libertarian Party’s presence on the ballot harmed their party’s chances of winning.
This is particularly true of Republicans in states like Arizona, who pointed out that had almost all votes for Jorgensen gone to Trump instead, the president would have carried the state. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Libertarian Party voters would overwhelmingly choose Trump over Biden. Certainly not in such numbers as to make the statement of Jorgensen costing Trump the election in any way valid.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider what difference third party candidates can make, even with a relatively modest number of votes.
To read more about the aftermath of the 2020 elections, check out our previous blog on the topic by clicking on the button below.
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