Biden vs. Trump: Reflecting on an Alternate 2020 Election Outcome

As Americans prepare to vote this November, the prospect of a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden looms large. This scenario prompts reflection on an alternate history: what if Trump had secured a second term in the 2020 election?

David Runciman, an author and Cambridge politics professor, addressed this question at the Hay Festival. Speaking at The News Review, an event in partnership with The Independent, Runciman explored a “counterfactual” scenario, which he described as thought-provoking.

“Without COVID-19, Trump almost certainly would have won in 2020. There’s overwhelming evidence for that,” Runciman stated. “Envisioning a world where Trump won then, I think it would be a better and safer world. It might sound odd, but consider the implications.”

Runciman speculated that Trump’s second term might have played out differently in global affairs, such as the invasion of Ukraine. He suggested that a second-term Trump would have been a lame-duck president, feeling vindicated by his re-election.

In the 2020 election, Biden won 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232. However, the aftermath was tumultuous, with Trump refusing to concede defeat, leading to the January 6 Capitol insurrection by his supporters.

“Trump being defeated, but not accepting it, has led to a period where he and his allies are planning a potential comeback, which changes the dynamics completely,” Runciman noted. “Had Trump won in 2020, we might now see a new generation of politicians. America would be moving beyond Trump, leading to a generational shift in politics.”

Runciman posited that while Biden’s 2020 victory “spared us Trump,” it also “froze everything,” resulting in a repeat of the same political narrative. He expressed concern that American politics has stagnated.

Runciman’s discussion was part of a panel with American writer Sarah Churchwell and novelist Lionel Shriver, moderated by Martin Chilton, chief books critic for The Independent. Responding to Runciman’s hypothesis, Churchwell argued that assuming Trump would have peacefully left office after eight years was optimistic.

Churchwell contended, “Your counterfactual assumes Trump would step down peacefully after his second term, but I don’t believe he would. However, I also doubt American institutions would allow him to overstay.”

Runciman acknowledged the complexities of the situation but emphasized that American politics should have moved on by now, lamenting, “The horror is that we’re not moving on.”

As the United States approaches its election on November 5, four months after the UK’s general election on July 4, Trump is dealing with legal challenges, including 34 counts of fraud related to hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. This makes him the first former US president to face a criminal trial.

During the discussion, Churchwell also criticized Trump, claiming his mental state is deteriorating and arguing that comparisons between Trump and Biden are “dangerous and wrong.”

As the nation heads to the polls, these reflections on a possible alternate history underscore the high stakes and unpredictable nature of American politics.