The day before we finished work on this book, President Donald Trump incited his followers to march to the Capitol, storm into the people’s house, and commit acts of terrorism against the United States of America. We were enraged and heartbroken over the meaningless violence, the desecration of the Capitol Building—where we have spent years reporting on Congress—and the attempt to defile our democracy.
As the meeting place of the first branch of American government—the branch closest to the citizenry—the Capitol is both the heart of our republic and the most recognizable symbol of democracy across the globe. Any attack on it is an assault on our liberty, our popular sovereignty, our culture, and our way of life. Sadly, the president found aid and comfort in the voices and votes of a shocking number of Republican lawmakers willing to support his delusional and dangerous attempt to overturn the will of the electorate.
He was not robbed. There was no fraud. He tried to deny the American people their sacred right to self-governance by every means available to him. We have no doubt that barrels of ink will be spilled on Trump’s failed effort to subvert democracy and cling to power in contravention of the rule of law. Likewise, journalists and historians will have their hands full examining the abnormalities and perversities of Trump’s presidency, right through a lame-duck period defined by desperation and denial.
This book is about the reality of the 2020 election. It is about Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. We believe that the health of our republic rests on an informed citizenry having as much accurate information as possible, and this book takes readers behind the scenes of the Biden campaign, the Trump campaign, and the campaigns of several of Biden’s Democratic primary rivals.
It is the story of a candidate whose life, politics, and message best met the moment, as judged by the collective wisdom of the 155 million-plus Americans who cast ballots. Biden’s victory was conclusive, but, at the same time, it was also very, very close—closer than Democrats or independent prognosticators expected.
While it is valuable to look at the popular vote totals to gauge national sentiment—Biden’s 81 million-plus votes were a record—presidential elections are decided by the electoral college. Candidates and their aides steer campaigns with that in mind, competing almost exclusively in a handful of swing states that effectively determine the winner. That system is unjust in the eyes of many Americans, but it is enshrined in the Constitution and cannot be changed without two-thirds votes in each chamber of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. Not only is the Electoral College here to stay for the foreseeable future, but Biden won, without any doubt, under its rules.
He did that by articulating a rationale for his candidacy that focused on what he was uniquely positioned to deliver for the American people. It was premised not on a complex set of policy initiatives, but on a simple promise to restore “the soul of this nation.” In his third bid for the presidency, he bet that voters would turn away from the trend of electing outsider candidates vowing to change the system and toward an insider who could improve their lives by applying his experience and values to that system. Biden presented himself as a man of character, compassion, and competence—traits he portrayed as absent in Trump—and he stuck to his story through both a brutal Democratic primary that almost knocked him out and a general election that unfolded against the backdrop of a plague and societal upheaval over systemic racial injustice.
But all along the way, Biden caught breaks—at the Iowa caucuses, in the pivotal South Carolina primary, and from an incumbent president who mishandled the major crisis he faced. Those breaks, which he capitalized on, contributed to his victory. But after all the votes were counted, Biden was hardly alone in finding himself fortunate. During the election, and in its aftermath, the nation’s institutions and its democratic values were put under extreme duress. The Founding Fathers fashioned a republic that could keep power dispersed, meet the exigencies of any moment, and withstand enormous pressures by bending without breaking. Their glorious architecture held firm to ensure the transfer of power to a duly elected president.
Luck, it has been said, is the residue of design. It was for Joe Biden, and for the republic.
—Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes, January 2021
Copyright © 2021 by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.