Joe Biden on election night (Image: CNP/ABACA)

It will be hard to pinpoint exactly when it all seemed to go wrong — again — for the Democrats.

It was not meant to be this tight. What happened?

Was it in the final days, when a frantic Trump energised the base with those extraordinary rallies?

Or this week, when voters saw pictures of shops being boarded up in anticipation of violence and unrest, thus stoking Trump’s message on law and order?

Was it two weeks ago, when Trump was given a do-over for the final debate and was able to look less unhinged, even as his lies often went unchallenged?

Was it three weeks ago, when he bounced back from coronavirus like a self-described Superman?

Was it the Democrats’ wimpy advertising campaign, despite the huge fundraising advantage to Biden? The toughest anti-Trump ads actually came from the former Republicans at the Lincoln Project.

Was it through the whole campaign, with the aggressive Trump attacks against Biden claiming the former VP was everything from senile to corrupt to on drugs?

Meanwhile, Biden’s team seemed to take their lead from Michelle Obama, following the high road even as Trump went low.

Was it back in June, when the Black Lives Matter protests exploded into civil unrest and the Democrats didn’t push the law and order issue as much as they needed?

Were they courting the Black vote at the expense of the equally important Latino vote?

Could it have been in April when COVID hit and Biden acted responsibly, keeping a low profile but playing into the Trump narrative that he was hiding in his basement?

Could it have been back in March, when Biden said he would pick a woman as his running mate rather than leaving room to pick the best candidate at the time? Imagine if he’d been able to choose Andrew Cuomo, the aggressive and experienced New York governor who won praise for his handling of the pandemic.

Perhaps the problem really went back to February, when the Democrats chose Biden, a 77-year-old-career politician, as they best they could do to take on Trump.

They had plenty of warning during the endless debates between the less-than-impressive range of candidates. Biden was seen as the best of a bad lot. A safe pair of hands was the main justification, even though that meant he was unlikely to inspire the base.

Did they learn nothing from 2016 that a well qualified candidate was not necessarily the best answer to the Trump phenomenon? Simply relying on the Anyone But Trump vote is not enough.

In February I wrote a satirical column for The Sydney Morning Herald saying there were only two people who could win the White House for the Democrats. One was Michelle Obama. The other was Oprah Winfrey.

Actually, I was only half joking.