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Image: Image: Donald Trump, Joe Biden
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020 in Cleveland.Julio Cortez / AP file

The 2020 popular vote puts Biden's win over Trump in a new light

If Trump believes Romney was "slaughtered" and "destroyed" in 2012, which words would he use to describe his even-larger defeat in 2020?


It wasn't long after Election Day 2020 that we knew more Americans had voted for Joe Biden than Donald Trump, but the size of the president-elect's popular-vote victory was far from clear.

As Ed Kilgore noted yesterday, the picture is now coming into sharper focus.

On Thursday, Biden's popular vote margin over Trump passed the 7 million vote mark, well over twice the 2.9 million margin won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. From a percentage point of view, Biden leads by 4.4 percent — again, well over twice the 2.1 percent margin won by Clinton over Trump four years ago, and also more than the 3.9 percent by which Obama and Biden defeated Mitt Romney in 2012. It's also higher than the popular vote percentage margins of the winners in 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968, and 1960. 2020 was by no means a landslide, of course, but from a popular-vote perspective it was the next best thing.

Note, Biden's 51.3% of the popular vote -- a figure that may yet inch just a little higher -- is the second best of any Democratic presidential candidate in the last half-century, and the best of any challenger, from either party, since FDR.

But for the outgoing incumbent, the news is far more discouraging. Trump's 2020 showing is now down to 46.9%. The Atlantic's David Frum noted yesterday that there have been 12 major-party presidential nominees in the 21st century, and when it comes to the popular vote, Trump's 2016 showing ranks 11th out of 12, while his 2020 performance ranks 10th out of 12.

For a politician who considers himself to be wildly popular, and celebrated far and wide, this should be a rather brutal embarrassment. Indeed, Trump's popular-vote total from this year shows him earning a smaller percentage of the vote than John Kerry received in 2004 (48.3%), Hillary Clinton received in 2016 (48.2%), and Mitt Romney received in 2012 (47.2%).

In fact, it's that last one that stands out as especially noteworthy. Trump has repeatedly taken a degree of pleasure in mocking Romney's 2012 defeat, publishing tweets that said Romney was "slaughtered" and "destroyed" by Barack Obama in their faceoff.

But eight years later, let's compare: Romney received 47.2% of the vote, compared to Trump's 46.9% this year; and Romney lost by 3.9%, while Trump lost by 4.4%.

If Trump believes Romney was "slaughtered" and "destroyed" in 2012, which words would he use to describe his even-larger defeat in 2020?