77 Years, and a Few More Hours

Joe Biden has been waiting his whole life to be president. He’s still waiting.

A portrait of Joe Biden
Jim Watson / AFP / Getty

Updated at 11:18 p.m. ET on November 6, 2020.

WILMINGTON, Del.—The difference between Biden headquarters tonight and Waiting for Godot is that Waiting for Godot had more action.

Everyone is waiting for the obvious to happen. We’re by the stage around the corner from the Wilmington Westin. Red, white, and blue Jeeps and trucks—props—are still parked here, remnants of the Tuesday-night victory celebration that never happened. A giant American flag is blowing in the wind. Exhausted reporters are drooping near power outlets, recharging their phones. All day, the press corps has been saying out loud what the math has now made certain but the networks refuse to confirm: Donald Trump has lost.

Superficially, at least, we’re waiting for the next president of the United States to give his victory speech. But Joe Biden is waiting to claim the presidency until the networks call the race. Biden and his aides would be particularly delighted if Fox News, the network most associated with Trump and his supporters, would validate Biden’s win—and begin the process of bringing the country together. The pressure on Fox is immense. So much so that rumors are swirling that only Fox can call the election—an idea that’s rankling the other networks. Fox, meanwhile, is trying to manage its relationship with its core audience, the one that has been complaining for days about being abandoned by its main news source. It also has to keep in mind its long-term business interests, and at least some people in the Fox universe are worried about holding on to at least a shred of the journalistic credibility it has ceded over the past four years.

How long could this take? It might be a couple more hours. Or another day. A week of Tuesdays has already passed. The sun comes up, the sun goes down, and it still seems like Tuesday. News reporting is supposed to be about the news, but it was clear 48 hours ago how this was going to end—through every vote dump, through every fever-dream conspiracy theory pinballing across Twitter, through every Trump-campaign press conference held by people no one would mistake for an effective legal team. And yet we wait.

Masked supporters have been milling around in the area set aside for them since the afternoon, carrying the Biden-Harris signs they will perhaps get to wave. One woman held a hand-drawn WE DROVE FROM SCRANTON placard; a man brandished a life-size Biden cutout. Occasionally a Biden aide walks through the lobby. Reporters have all but given up trying to get information out of them, not because they’re reticent or recalcitrant, but because they don’t know when this will end either. One staffer told me about spending today making a trip to the grocery store, and then taking “a number of walks.” Another said the day involved a long run, followed by two boxes of chicken tenders. Then they went back to sitting, scrolling on their phone.

It’s not as if the Biden camp is unhappy. I ran into one of its stalwarts, Chris Coons, the just-reelected senator from Delaware, in the hotel driveway. “What I am enjoying is that the most famously anti-science, anti-factual president of my lifetime is now being slowly taught mathematics, and the inescapable consequences of mathematics,” he said, not attempting to contain his glee.

Biden never got the opportunity to deliver a big victory speech when he won the nomination in the pandemic spring. He never got a big convention speech with the cheering delegates and the balloon drop and the confetti—something he has sought for much of his adult life. He had to settle for watching fireworks in a parking lot with a mask on, holding his wife’s hand. His aides are determined to give him at least one big, happy speech. They want to do it for a man who has spent 50 years dreaming of the presidency, and who kept that dream alive through tragedy after tragedy. They want a big speech because they know that the road ahead of them is hard. They’re trying to learn the lessons from the drawn-out counting in 2000, when Al Gore largely ceded the stage to the more aggressive George W. Bush. And they want to offer a contrast to Trump’s ranting from the White House, in the hopes of beginning to walk America back from the edge.

But Biden and his aides want the scene to be right. They want him to deliver his speech at night, because the stage they built was designed to be lit for nighttime television. (A still photographer complained to me that his shots are going to be awful, because the Biden team was concerned only with TV.) Biden delivered a brief speech on an indoor stage here late tonight—not a victory speech, but one urging patience, unity, and calm. He can wait a bit longer for the big one. As his motorcade left, the crowd cheered and honked air horns. They can wait a bit longer too.

“Having to wait two or three or four days for the moment when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris finally stride out and say, ‘It is now a certainty, I am the next president’ [and] ‘I am the next vice president of the United States,’ will absolutely be worth the wait,” Coons told me. “It’s been worth 16 months of campaigning and working all over the country. I am convinced that by succeeding in this election, he will literally have helped save the soul of our nation.” I asked Coons if he was ready for it to happen now. “Mmm-hmm,” he said.