A neighbor of mine here in Israel, diehard Trump supporter (but not an American citizen), said to me the other day that he has come around and would now be willing to vote for Biden. To which I responded, “Good. I think the polls are still open in Pennsylvania.”
All the shenanigans aside, why did Trump lose?* For sure, the pandemic hurt his standing but I am unconvinced that he would have sailed to victory even without the physical and economic devastation of the Corona virus. His core group of zealous supporters, some of whom are deranged, was always offset by an equal number of zealous enemies, some of whom are deranged. It was always to be a battle over relatively few independent votes.
It is remarkable that he came close to winning a second time even with the pandemic. Even that is not as remarkable as this lingering irony. Given his policy achievements, it is a mystery how he lost* in 2020, but given his personality, it is a mystery how he won in 2016. His administration truly was a space flight away from the norms of the presidency, the bromides of political science and the predictabilities of democratic governance. And for the most part, he was right in almost every policy initiative, and even ones that the chattering classes frowned on (tariffs, for example) were worth a try given the absence of any alternative (save for politicians enriching themselves, their families and cronies through deals with dictators).
It would be worthwhile on another occasion to reminisce about all the successes – but why did he lose?* There were three points during the campaign when a defeat, to me, became a real possibility.
The first was in late March, early April, when Trump insisted on appearing on television every day with nothing particularly important or edifying to say. It was as if the entertainer had to fill sixty minutes or so of airtime, and so just filled them. It precipitated endless squabbles with a hostile, tendentious press corps. Trump loved it, the press loved it, but the people grew tired of it.
It lent itself to repeated, willful distortions. No, he never told people to ingest bleach. He merely asked a layman’s question – why can’t the active ingredient be converted to a non-poisonous use? Hey, why not?! But the media pounced. Whatever he said became fodder for vehement opposition. This will yet emerge (just wait a year or two) although it is already being discussed: Hydroxychloroquine and the accompanying medications in its cocktail were ridiculed, condemned and prohibited for use simply because Trump touted it. Yet, I personally know a half dozen people who would be dead – i.e., dead, not alive and kicking – if they had not been administered Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Azithromycin. I personally know doctors who administered it to their patients and took it themselves. You can put all those “studies” in the circular file. An irrational hatred of all things Trump cost lives.
Nevertheless, and despite his efforts at being a cheerleader and putting a good spin on things, day after day it became clear that he had no plan, his aides had no plan, Fauci and the all the agencies had no plan, the mask is no plan, no country or world leader has a plan even today (even President Biden just conceded he has no plan and it is all going to get worse) and so the daily briefings became exercises in futility and vacuity. It was a bad, un-presidential look. You can’t tell people that things are great when their eyes tell them that things are not great. (It is as ridiculous as citing “science” that boys can be girls and girls can be boys. Such “science” will be followed off a societal cliff to moral oblivion.)
Those daily briefings were a terrible political miscalculation, and when they abruptly stopped, it only proved how harmful they were. It was the first chink in the presidential armor.
That would be followed by another blunder that was as foolish as it probably was intentional. The logical assumption in politics is that a candidate secures his base and then reaches beyond his base to obtain a winning majority. Not only did Trump not reach out beyond his base but he also seemed to relish antagonizing anyone who was not already committed to him. He threw away the potential votes of people who did not like him personally but supported his programs and policies. He forced those people to vote for the opposition, as he made the toxicity of his personality more potent than the appeal of his programs.
It would have been easy for him to give speech after speech saying something along the lines of, “you know, I can be brash, I can be impulsive, sometimes I punch below my weight class at silly targets. I talk too much, I tweet too much, I don’t always say the right or proper thing. I am a New Yorker! But you know I have your back. I only care about you. I have no other interest but the welfare of America and the prosperity and good fortune of all Americans. If you re-elect me, I’ll try to be a little better mannered, but I can’t promise that. What I can promise, just like I did in 2016, is that I will work hard to fulfill every campaign promise I make to you and every position I hold today I will work to implement. And together we will keep America great.” That’s a speech to appeal to outsiders, not the rambling campaign rallies that drew his already adoring admirers. Big mistake.
And that mistake was compounded by the astonishing failure of the first debate, which became a cringe-worthy verbal slugfest. Yes, I know Biden was rude (he started the interrupting, just like he constantly interrupted Paul Ryan in the 2012 VP debate; look it up). Biden was rude but his goal was simply to look coherent. Trump’s goal should have been to look, if not presidential, at least a little decorous, and in order to woo those people who liked what he did but not the way he did it or said it. Obviously, Trump’s case was not helped by a biased moderator; nonetheless, it was his responsibility to make his case to those wavering voters. Instead, he made the case for his opponent as an amiable, dotty alternative who would not be in the people’s faces all day, every day. (He would rather be in their pocketbooks, anyway.)
Those three reasons doomed him – the daily corona virus briefings, the failure to reach out to his natural policy supporters, and the awful impression he made during the first debate. And with all that, he still almost won.*
Trump should count at least one blessing that arose from his post-presidential conduct. He should be grateful that he was banned from Twitter. What an execrable institution, a tool for fools to vent foolish thoughts. It is the means by which mean people express their meanness. I assume Twitter makes its money through advertising, so a good place to start a boycott would be against Twitter’s advertisers. It has been a primary contributor to the decline of intelligent and polite social discourse. It is a proximate cause of the boiling anger ruffling American society, exacerbating differences, celebrating polarization, and keeping everyone on edge. And its CEO never seems to shave or wear a necktie. Enough!
It is a shame, mostly for America, but also for Israel and the free world, that a winnable election was tossed away. Perhaps Joe Biden will come around, once he figures out when and how to salute the Marines or stops (bizarrely) commenting on their appearance.
Those are three reasons for the election outcome over which Trump had control but did not exercise it. There is a fourth that he could not control that deserves its own space.