Democrat Joe Biden was pronounced winner of the US presidency Saturday, defeating Donald Trump and ending an era that convulsed American politics, shocked the world and left the United States more divided than at any time in decades.
In his first statement as president-elect, Biden vowed to “be a president for all Americans – whether you voted for me or not”.
He was scheduled to deliver an address to the nation from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
Trump – becoming the first one-term president since George HW Bush at the start of the 1990s – refused to concede after the major US television networks announced Biden’s win.
Biden was “rushing to falsely pose” as the winner, Trump said in a statement as he arrived at a golf course he owns in Virginia, in his first trip outside the White House since Election Day.
There is no evidence to support Trump’s unprecedented claims of mass fraud.
Tuesday’s polling went off without any reported serious incidents or even technical glitches, despite being held in the shadow of a still out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic and volcanic political tensions.
With vote counting nearly complete around the huge country, Biden built up an insurmountable lead. New tallies from the state of Pennsylvania early Saturday put him over the top, ending four days of tense waiting and allowing the TV networks’ specialised data analysts to call the overall result, as they do every election.
A former senator and vice-president under Barack Obama, Biden vows to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. He also promises to restore traditional US diplomacy after Trump’s dramatic pivot to unilateral nationalism.
The leaders of Britain, Canada, Germany and Ireland were among the first to send congratulations.
Biden, 77, and turning 78 later this month, will become the oldest US president to take office when he is sworn in on Jan 20.
His running mate Kamala Harris makes history as the first black woman to be vice president. At 56, she will be well placed to try and succeed Biden as the first ever woman in the Oval Office.
“Let’s get started,” she tweeted, saying that the election was “about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it”.
In Washington, people poured spontaneously into the streets to celebrate, car horns honked, and an excited crowd of several thousand gathered on Black Lives Matter Plaza next to the White House.
“It’s been so many years waiting for this day to happen,” said Jack Nugent, a 24-year-old software engineer.
There were similar scenes in New York, Trump’s birthplace and, like the capital, a Democratic stronghold.
The Republican, whose marathon press conferences, tweeting and raucous campaign rallies have made him a perpetual, noisy presence at home and abroad over the last four years, was true to form.
After upending US political norms at every level, he became the first president openly to refuse to accept the results of an election.
Earlier Saturday, he left the White House for the first time since Election Day to play golf, tweeting: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”
In his subsequent statement from the golf course, he claimed that Biden and the media – which Trump has spent his presidency casting as an “enemy of the people” – were inventing the results.
“We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don’t want the truth to be exposed,” Trump said in a statement.
“The simple fact is this election is far from over.”
But despite a slew of Trump legal challenges, the reality is that while it will still take days for states to issue formal certification of results, the outcome is already clear through official partial results.
“Donald Trump does not get to decide the winner of elections,” Symone Sanders, a senior Biden advisor, told journalists in Wilmington.
“The people decide, voters in the country decide, as we have long said, and voters have made their choice very clear.”
Centrist in divided era
For Biden, who got more than 74 million votes, a record, the triumph was the crowning achievement of his half century in US politics – including eight years as deputy to Obama, the first Black US president who hailed the “historic and decisive” win.
The biggest ever turnout of voters – some 160 million people, according to preliminary estimates 00 came out across the United States, ultimately favouring Biden’s promise of calm to Trump’s rollercoaster.
An old school centrist, Biden has fended off the energetic leftist wing of his party, while choosing Harris after promising to make his vice-president a woman.
Although a career politician – a widely derided group today – he is seen by many as a sympathetic character, humanised by having endured the loss of his wife and baby daughter in a car accident in 1972, then another son to cancer four decades later.
Yet despite his fervent promises to restore America’s “soul,” Biden will inherit a shaken, angry country.
Americans are bitterly split after an election campaign in which Trump deliberately stoked divisions over many of the country’s most sensitive issues, including race, immigration and gun ownership.
And despite critics painting Trump as an aberration, he still won the votes of around 70 million people – many of whom may not have liked Trump himself, yet consider Democrats as being out of touch with their traditional values.
That gulf in understanding between two Americas will likely continue to rage in Congress, threatening Biden’s ability to govern at a time of economic upheaval and an accelerating coronavirus crisis.
For Trump, the defeat and his exit from the White House at the transition on Jan 20 will above all be a story of personal humiliation.
He shocked the country and the world when he stormed to victory in 2016 as a political newcomer taking down the seasoned Democrat Hillary Clinton in his first shot at public office.
Then for much of his administration he appeared invulnerable to the normal laws of politics.
His showbiz style of running the government made him perhaps the most watched – and controversial – individual on the planet.
He survived impeachment, tore up diplomatic norms, and was so omnipresent in the media that he lodging himself in the consciousness of ordinary Americans in a way never previously experienced.
A former reality TV star and celebrity real estate developer, he gave the impression of someone who always got his own way.
To crowds at rallies he loved to boast “we’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning.” And to people he didn’t like, his go-to insult was “loser.”
Yet now he’s a loser himself – as perhaps he already feared on the morning of the election.
“Winning is easy,” he mused as polls opened. “Losing is never easy. Not for me.”