Neither candidate will have a strong mandate
Once again Donald Trump has defied expectations. In proving the pollsters and pundits spectacularly wrong, he’d be a position to present a narrow advantage in the Electoral College not as a win, but as a famous victory. In fact, with the results still far from in, that’s what he’s already doing.
But if he is re-elected, his mandate is likely to be even weaker than in 2016. Let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton got almost three million more votes than he did. This time round Joe Biden’s margin could be much bigger (though we’re a long way from the final tallies). What would be really awkward is if Biden gets more than 50% of popular vote and still doesn’t become President. Remember, Clinton only got 48% — somewhat blunting the sense of injustice.
Obviously, it’s not the popular vote that decides who gets the White House; but if Trump’s majority in the Electoral College is only obtained after legal battles in multiple states then that would further add to the bitterness of his re-election.
That said, a Biden victory would be a pretty weak one too. The Senate is likely to remain in Republican hands, which would mean he wouldn’t be able to do much about the 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court. Furthermore, at the age of 78 he’d be the ultimate lame duck President. His only hope of achieving meaningful change would be to govern from the centre and reach across the aisle — but would Kamala Harris, eyeing up the 2024 Democratic nomination, allow that? And would the Republicans be in any mood? With Trumpist diehards whipping up resentment amid claims of a stolen election, the chances are slim.
Just as well the next administration doesn’t have anything big on it plate — like overcoming a deadly pandemic or reviving a devastated economy.