On The Trail: The political losers of 2020

In an election in which more voters cast ballots than ever before in American history, just about everyone had reason to celebrate. Democrats won the White House. Republicans made surprising gains in the House and held Senate seats even they had expected to lose.

But for every winner, there is at least one loser. Here are the most significant losers in this historic presidential year:

The Kraken


President TrumpDonald TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend MORE’s claims of election fraud began even before the votes were counted. They continued long after the fairest, best-run election in years, without a scintilla of evidence.

Trump’s supposedly crack legal team — including a former prosecutor who had not seen the inside of a court room in decades, a former prosecutor fired from her old job for performance issues and a conspiracy-spouting attorney who was too much even for the other two — spent the weeks after Election Day filing lawsuits that went exactly nowhere.

The damage wrought by Trump’s false claims will linger long after he retreats to his Florida estate. Millions of Americans have had their faith in our election process undermined by both the candidate who lost a free and fair election and the media outlets who spread his deceit for their own gain.

Trump himself will end his political career having received more votes than any other Republican in American history. He won the presidency by breaking the political mold. The irony is that if he had followed a more traditional political playbook, adding to his coalition and avoiding the needless antagonism that defined his term, he might be making plans for his second inaugural right now.

New York

Among the winners of the 2020 elections were the dedicated public servants who administered those elections in the midst of a global pandemic and all the challenges it brought.


The big, glaring exception was in New York, where absentee ballots were rejected in huge numbers, where vote counts dragged and where results weren’t known for weeks after both the primary and general elections. State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D), who will lead election reform legislation in his state next year, told this reporter he was embarrassed by the performance.

New York’s long legacy of lousy election administration has its roots in the Dutch settlers who landed in New Amsterdam centuries ago — they made voting hard because they didn’t want people to vote.

More recently, strong Democratic and Republican machines who ran different parts of the state kept tight controls on who voted because it was in their interest to reduce competition and hold on to power. Today, New York City’s Board of Elections is rife with nepotism and political appointees who are incapable of doing their jobs.

But in the 21st century, when several states conduct elections entirely by mail and others are experimenting with online voting, there’s no excuse for lagging so far behind.

Split-ticket voters

When Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBudget delay is the enemy of defense Americans have decided to give professionals a chance Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats MORE won election in 1992, the 32 states he carried were represented by 44 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate. When Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Rural Americans are the future of the clean energy economy — policymakers must to catch up WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year MORE won the White House in 2020, the 25 states he carried were represented by 48 Democrats and just three Republicans — Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission MORE (R-Wis.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill On The Money: Senators push for changes as chamber nears vote on .9T relief bill | Warren offers bill to create wealth tax GOP says Ron Klain pulling Biden strings MORE (R-Maine) — pending results in Georgia.

Collins is the only senator in the last two election cycles to carry a state the other party’s presidential candidate won in the previous election.

In the U.S. House, only seven Democrats and nine Republicans won districts the other party’s presidential candidate carried.

There was once a time when a substantial slice of voters were willing to consider splitting their tickets between presidential candidates and down-ballot candidates. Those voters are vanishing as our politics begin to look more like a parliamentary system.


A consequence of that evolution toward a more parliamentary system of politics is the declining power of incumbency. Split-ticket voters were long willing to reward powerful incumbents who brought home the bacon.

But that power of the purse ebbed with the elimination of earmarks, and voters are now more willing to give the boot even to members who amass substantial political power — look no further than Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonSix ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel MORE (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, whose heavily agricultural district gave him the boot this year. Peterson lost to Rep.-elect Michelle Fischbach (R) by a 13-point margin.


Peterson joins a parade of longtime members who have lost their districts in recent cycles, including Reps. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success GOP's Steel wins California House race after Democrat Rouda concedes MORE (R-Calif.) and Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsEx-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results National lawyers group seeks to have Gohmert disciplined over election suit MORE (R-Texas) in 2018 (though Sessions won a comeback bid this year); John MicaJohn Luigi MicaRep. Stephanie Murphy says she's 'seriously considering' 2022 challenge to Rubio Media barred from bringing bulletproof vests, gas masks and helmets to inauguration On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (R-Fla.) and Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations MORE (R-N.J.) in 2016; and John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Republican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of MORE (D-Ga.), Tim BishopTimothy (Tim) Howard BishopOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Dem candidate 'struck by the parallels' between Trump's rise and Hitler's Dems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary MORE (D-N.Y.) and Nick RahallNick Joe RahallOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 We shouldn't allow politics to impede disaster relief Break the cycle of partisanship with infant, child health care programs MORE (D-W.Va.) in 2014.

It is rare now that an individual member of Congress can build a brand that transcends their party label. There are a dwindling number of Susan Collinses and Joe Manchins (D-W.Va.), and no sign that their ranks will be replenished any time soon.


It may be hard to recall, but Michael BloombergMichael Bloomberg'Lucky': How Warren took down Bloomberg Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison On The Trail: The political perils of Snowmageddon MORE spent $1 billion over the course of just a few months this year trying to win the Democratic presidential nomination. He captured just under 2.5 million votes, or about 7 percent of the total votes cast.

Tom SteyerTom SteyerGOP targets ballot initiatives after progressive wins On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE spent more than $340 million of his own money and dropped out before Super Tuesday, without having won a single delegate.

The biggest donors to political causes this year were Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the casino magnates who poured $170 million into President Trump’s losing campaign.


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) spent more than $56 million on a ballot measure to implement a graduated income tax, which failed. Perhaps the only billionaire who won something this year was the hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who spent almost as much as Pritzker opposing the tax proposal.

It must be nice to have all that money to burn, but billionaires who play politics didn’t do it very efficiently in 2020.

Charlotte and Milwaukee

The Queen City and the Cream City were supposed to host the ridiculously antiquated and yet wonderfully fun political conventions that capture our attention for four days every four years. Then the coronavirus hit, and both events retreated into digital shells of what past events had been.

In the process, Charlotte and Milwaukee lost out, through no fault of their own, on what could have been hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, and the attending limelight that comes with a four-day focus on the best a city has to offer.

We won’t know for another four years whether the traditional political convention will make a comeback, or if digitally pre-packaged videos are the future. If parties try to hold in-person conventions again, it would only be fair to give Charlotte and Milwaukee another shot.

On The Trail is a reported column by Reid Wilson, primarily focused on the 2020 elections.