As President Trump polarized the Republican party with claims of voter fraud over the weekend, President-elect Joe Biden sent the opposite message to the country—calling for bipartisan unity in his victory speech.
These unfolding narratives are indicative of larger political trends to come in the next four years, says Costas Panagopoulos, head of the department of political science at Northeastern.
“Biden and Harris have a lot of work to do to unite the country,” he says. “And the GOP will have to do some soul searching. If it’s no longer going to be the Trump party, what will it be?”
By Monday, Trump had not conceded the election. Some Republican federal elected officials remained silent or encouraged the president to pursue legal challenges to the results—a signal of the hold Trump has on a large portion of the GOP electorate.“Trump might not be the president anymore, but he’s not going away. He has a sizable following and will be influential politically even when he’s not in office,” Panagopoulos says. “The question for the Republican party now is whether they’ll make concessions to him or reclaim their party without him.”
Shifts in the Republican party are already apparent in the demographic breakdown of voters this election. Suburban regions and male voters that supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election leaned left this year. Conversely, Trump secured 26 percent of the non-white vote, the highest outcome of any Republican candidate since 1960.
In general, voter turnout was incredibly high this year and on pace to set an all-time record as ballots are still being counted. Mail-in voting played a large role in Biden’s victory, with Democrats returning more mail-in ballots than Republicans, especially in important swing states.
Mail-in ballots have been the topic of much debate since election night, leading the Trump campaign to file numerous lawsuits alleging fraud in the system.
“Trump is fighting an uphill battle with these legal cases,” Panagopulos says. “The public and some Republicans are already accepting the Biden presidency. People are moving on.”
But is there still a chance Biden won’t be sworn in January? “Until everything is signed, sealed, and delivered, that’s always a possibility. But there’s no evidence to suggest that will be the case,” Panagopoulos says.
As for Biden’s future presidency, Panagopoulos predicts he and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will model a different approach to COVID-19 by “listening to the scientists and signaling to the public that the pandemic is serious.”
“We’re already seeing a difference from Trump in how Biden and Harris approach the pandemic,” Panagopoulos says. “Their actions have been more symbolic than anything, but still, distancing and wearing a mask sends a strong message to the public.”
In the meantime, Panagopoulos says the public can expect “more of the same” from the Trump administration before he leaves office. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he set in place last minute policies that would be difficult for the Democrats to overturn,” he says, predicting that the next few months could get “very ugly politically.”
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