Why Was It Biden, Not Trump, in the End? Sheer Luck Played Important Role

Luck smiled on Joe Biden throughout 2020. It made up for an ailing campaign, weak debates and intrigue, according to a new book.*

Joe Biden won 7 million more votes than Donald Trump. But what might look like a solid victory was anything but that.

American presidential elections deal with states and Electoral College delegates. Had Trump secured 42,918 more votes in Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona, he would now be in his second presidential term (see Facts).

Actually, Trump was considerably closer to being reelected in 2020 than Bill Clinton was to becoming president in 2016.


Trump’s Shortest Path to Victory

Had Trump won Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona, he and Biden would each have had 269 Electoral College delegates.

In such a situation, a tie means it is up to each state’s delegation in the House of Representatives to decide who becomes president. Each state has one vote.

Since the Republicans control the majority of Electoral College delegations, Trump would, in all likelihood, have won the election and become president.

In such a close election, coincidences, simple occurrences and, not least, luck, can play a decisive role.

Jonathan Allen, a political commentator for NBC, and Amie Parnes, correspondent for the internet website, The Hill, point out that Biden had a good dose of that last item.

“In 2016, Trump had needed everything to go wrong for Hillary Clinton to win. This time, Biden caught every imaginable break,” the two write in their new book “Lucky – How Joe Biden Barely Won The Presidency.”

Here are some of the many things that went Biden’s way in the battle for the White House.

1. Luck in Iowa

The Democratic primaries started in Iowa in February 2020. Biden got off to a miserable start.

His town hall meetings were dreary affairs. The speeches were difficult to follow. The sound was poor. People left before the speeches were over.

“‘This is not how to become president,’ I thought to myself as I stood in a gymnasium in Des Moines,” Biden is quoted as saying.**

Biden ended up in a disappointing fourth place in Iowa, but few even noticed. First, a trendsetting opinion poll, which would have signaled an omen about Biden’s weak performance, was pulled because of a mistake. And on the very election night, the vote counting system crashed. It took weeks before a final result was clear.

Consequently, Biden was spared, in great measure, from the media attention that his poor showing would normally have received.

2. Luck on the Debate Stage

Biden’s debate performance was universally seen as weak, but he got off relatively scot-free because many of the other Democratic candidates opted to attack each other.

When Pete Buttigieg did well in the ratings, Sen. Amy Klobuchar was among those who took the opportunity to go for his throat.

A second challenger, multibillionaire Mike Bloomberg, was pinned against the wall by Elizabeth Warren for his treatment of female colleagues, among other things. He never managed to catch any wind in his sails after that.

Many leading Democrats also underestimated Biden’s chances. The book reveals that Barack Obama was among the skeptics. The former president feared that Biden would make a fool of himself.

3. Luck after 1st Victory

Biden did not win any of the first three primaries. His campaign funds were exhausted. At the time, his advisers suggested that Biden mortgage his house. The other candidates smelled blood and stalked Biden’s campaign team. The mood was quite low among Biden’s campaign staff at times.

But the South Carolina primary changed everything. Biden won a clear victory in the state with a large number of African American voters. Within a short period of time, all the other moderate candidates withdrew, and their supporters in large part backed Biden.

Instead of having to battle Bernie Sanders for months as Hillary Clinton had to in 2016, it quickly became obvious that Biden would become his party’s candidate.

4. Good Timing with COVID-19

Before COVID-19, Trump was in a relatively strong position. The economy was good, and he had just been acquitted in a first impeachment trial. According to “Lucky”’s authors, Trump’s advisers had strong faith in Trump’s victory, although the numbers showed that Biden was in the lead.

And then came COVID-19. The number of the infected and the dead dominated the media landscape, as did Trump’s handling of the pandemic. His strongest card, the economy, went down the tubes.

At the same time, Biden was able to relax in his role, as he sat at home and let the president stew in his own juices.

In “Lucky,” one of Biden’s advisers is quoted as saying something that she would never have said publicly: “COVID was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

5. Adventure with Trump

Trump’s performance in the last stage of the campaign also helped Biden.

When the president himself became ill, his advisers naturally considered it a golden opportunity to change course and empathize with Americans affected by the coronavirus.

Instead, Trump did the opposite. “Don’t let it dominate your life,” he tweeted after his own hospital stay.

“If Trump had just acknowledged there was a virus … acknowledged this is a fucked-up situation, and pivoted, we would have gotten crushed,” said a veteran Biden adviser in the book.

Trump also declined the second presidential debate when it became clear that it would take place digitally. The Biden camp cheered. They saw a president voluntarily walk away from one of few chances to close the gap with Biden before the election.

The relief package that was being negotiated was a second lost opportunity. Had Trump gotten a new round of checks to voters out before the election, it could potentially have improved his chances considerably.

Instead Trump made many odd choices. On one day, he killed the negotiations. A few days later, he sought to resurrect them. The relief package was not in place until just after he lost the election.

Continuing Success?

Biden took over a country in deep crisis, both economically and in terms of public health. The number of migrants at the border has increased tremendously since he took office. The debate over racism could fully catch fire again at any time.

But it’s not all bleak. The vaccine rollout in the U.S. is going much more quickly than in Europe. Some 110 million doses have been administered to date. Concurrently, the numbers of those infected, those hospitalized and those who have died are the lowest in many months.

On top of this, Biden has pushed through a relief package of $1.9 billion. In addition to individual checks of $1,400, the bill included many of the Democrats’ cherished causes.

Recent polls show that the relief bill is popular among voters, and political forecasters at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development think the American economy will grow at rocket speed throughout 2021.

Biden has experienced many setbacks in his life. That will assuredly happen again. But for now, it appears that the wind that was at his back in 2020 is still there in 2021.

*Editor’s note: The original language version of this article is available with a paid subscription.

**Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark is not readily verifiable.

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