A Headline (or Five) for History

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A funny thing about print journalism is that the most momentous events often call for the simplest headlines. MEN WALK ON MOON did not require any great turn of phrase or judicious selection of information, yet it had a crisp power that endures decades later.

But which two or three words would declare the winner of the 2020 presidential election atop The New York Times? The debate went on for days in a chain of emails among more than a dozen editors from various departments.

For this “hammer head,” we had to prepare for a wide range of outcomes: A close win by Joseph R. Biden Jr. A narrow victory by President Trump. A Biden landslide. A decisive Trump re-election. And there was the very real possibility of no winner on election night. (More on that later.)

In the event of a Trump win, we preferred TRUMP PREVAILS — nothing fancy, but it would say a lot in two words.

The Biden options included IT’S BIDEN and BIDEN’S MOMENT. But the consensus was that if Mr. Biden won, Mr. Trump’s defeat would be a significant part of the story as well, given the president’s domination of the news cycle for four years.

So the best course, we felt, was to go straight: BIDEN (verb) TRUMP. The next question: Which verb?

Defeats? Ousts? Topples?

“Defeats feels a tad bland,” said Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, later adding, “Ousts feels like a coup.” Some felt that topples

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