Franklin Foer: Winning was the easy part
That night, a few miles away in Pittsburgh, as the crowd was waiting for Lady Gaga to perform at a drive-in rally in the Heinz Field parking lot, I noticed the locked-in, hopeful look on the face of Morgan Overton, a 26-year-old Black social worker from the city. She had volunteered for Obama’s campaigns, and supported Bernie Sanders in the past two primaries. “It is absolutely weird,” she told me, to put her hopes in an older white man, but she had. “I’m sure most of us would rather see Kamala Harris or someone closer to our lived experience” as president, she said. “But it takes an interesting person like Joe Biden to pull us to the other side.”
Can a future Republican presidential candidate inspire as many white, Republican-leaning voters to turn out as Trump did? Can a future Democratic candidate expect the kind of turnout Biden got without Trump on the other ticket? It’s hard to say.
Waiting for Biden to claim victory tonight, I was reminded of a cold afternoon in Manchester, New Hampshire, in early February, on the Saturday between his humiliating loss in Iowa and his even more humiliating loss in the Granite State. Biden showed up late as always. He jogged into a room to address reporters and aides, trying to seem like he was still in the race, and into the race. The wireless mic wasn’t working. “Our best days still lie ahead” was drawn in big letters on sheets of paper taped to the wall behind him.
Biden knew he was in trouble, and his staff had quickly gathered reporters for a press conference. At the time, it felt like a cluelessly flat singer’s “You haven’t heard the last of me!” testimonial after losing American Idol. But the core of the message that would power Biden to the presidency—my life, my struggles and sorrows, are a mirror of yours—was already there.
“I’ve been down before,” Biden said. “I’ve been down politically, personally. And I’ve gotten back up. I’ll be damned if I’m going to go down when the whole country’s at stake here. The country is at stake if Donald Trump gets reelected. It’s as simple and basic as that.”
Nine months later, he mapped his victory speech over the course of his life, the journey that took him to a blue-lit stage in a parking lot in his hometown. America can move forward together and work together, Biden said—that’s what his win, his presidency, will be about. “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now,” Biden said. “Refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another, it’s not some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision.”
He made that point more forcefully after he finished speaking by giving a huge hug to his son Hunter, whom Trump attacked viciously during the campaign. It seemed like a visual statement that Biden wouldn’t let Trump tear his family apart, just as he said he wouldn’t let Trump tear the country apart.
Even before he hugged Hunter, though, he gave a kiss on the head to Beau, Hunter’s baby son. He’s named after Biden’s eldest boy, in whose honor the president-elect ran his campaign. Biden held the baby close throughout the night’s fireworks finale, pointing up at them in the sky.