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The Memo: Trump lost but is not vanquished

The 2020 election was a referendum on President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE that drove record turnout.

Trump lost that referendum, but the question of what happens to the president and his brand of populist identity politics is a harder question to answer.

Biden is on course to beat Trump by well more than 5 million votes nationwide.

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In the Electoral College, Biden seems likely to win 306 votes to Trump’s 232.

That would be a reversal of 2016, when states won by Trump gave him 306 electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonVirginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' MORE’s 232. Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote by a little less than 3 million votes.

While 128 million votes were cast for the two major party candidates in 2016, nearly 146 million had been counted in 2020 as of Sunday morning. Biden and Trump each won more than 70 million votes.

The race was tight in key states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona. Biden’s win in 2020 in that way was similar to Trump’s in 2016, when he earned narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Trump won the largest battleground of all, Florida, by a greater margin than he did four years ago. He coasted to victory in Ohio and Iowa, two states that he has made solidly red since former President Obama carried them in 2008 and 2012.

Just as startling for Trump’s most fervent critics, the president nudged up his share of support from African American and Latino voters. White women favored him by a slightly wider margin than they did in 2016. 

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Biden’s victory did not come with coattails. Republicans will hold their Senate majority unless Democrats can win two runoff elections in Georgia in January. The GOP has gained seats in the House.

“I have to say I was surprised by how well he did,” Republican strategist Dan Judy said of Trump. “He got more votes — not just in raw votes but in percentage terms — than he did four years ago. Given that he has been a historically unpopular president, that is pretty surprising.”

At the same time, Judy cautioned against giving too much credit to Trump’s performance. 

He noted the scale of his popular vote defeat and emphasized, as did other sources, how public perception of the election’s message might have been very different had the exact same results been delivered more quickly.

In Democratic circles, the overwhelming sentiment is relief. Biden has pulled through and hastened the end of the Trump presidency. But some within the party are alarmed at how close the margins were in key states.

“Short of maybe 50,000 or 100,000 votes, this could have been a catastrophe on all fronts,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity.

Democrats are set to embark on their own internal debate. Tensions between progressives, who argue the party did not invigorate voters as much as it should have, and centrists, who see the left as electoral poison, exploded in a conference call of Democratic House members Thursday. The schism won’t disappear anytime soon.

But rifts within the Republican Party over Trump and Trumpism are also moving to the surface — especially after the president’s repeated and false insistences that the election is being stolen from him.

Prominent elected officials such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz says he hopes McConaughey 'decides not to run' Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Court fines baker 0 for refusing to make gender transition cake MORE (R-Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Graham, Whitehouse: Global transition to renewables would help national security Hillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals MORE (R-S.C.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Environmental groups urge congressional leaders to leave climate provisions in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (R-Calif.) had leant support to Trump’s protests before the race was called for Biden.

Others including Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? China's genocide must be stopped How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress MORE (R-Utah) and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerKinzinger: Conspiracy theory FBI planned Jan. 6 example of 'legacy of Trump and Trumpism' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE (R-Ill.) had been far more critical. After Trump made inflammatory remarks from the White House on Thursday evening, Kinzinger tweeted “this is getting insane” and asserted that Trump should “STOP spreading debunked misinformation.”

In terms of grassroots support, the millions of members of Trump’s MAGA base will not simply vanish. They will likely stick with him through election-related legal battles in the days to come.

Conservatives critical of Trump such as strategist and author Rick Tyler hearkened back to the famous “autopsy” that the GOP conducted after its 2012 defeat. The document, prepared at the behest of the Republican National Committee, urged the party to embrace diversity and be more appealing to young Americans.

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“We recognized the problem, and then we took three steps back, rejecting the diagnosis,” Tyler said. “Now the U.S. has rejected Trump. So the party needs to revisit the autopsy and say, ‘How do you go from recommending these specific changes to nominating Trump? How did that happen?’”

But, Tyler added, “I don’t know this party is capable of doing it.”

At a minimum, a MAGA constituency that subscribes to the view of Biden and Obama as “criminals” and the media as “enemies of the people” is always going to push the GOP to the right and act as a powerful disincentive to compromise or centrism. That dynamic will hinder any effort to find common ground between Capitol Hill Republicans and President-elect Biden.

More broadly, there are worries for the future of a nation driven toward its extremes not just by Trump but by the amplifying forces of social media and cable news. 

A deeply entrenched system of incentives for loud and shrill voices is very much in place and growing stronger all the time.

Come January, Biden will be the 46th president. But Trump country hasn’t gone away.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.