Choking — not cheating — was Trump’s undoing
The race for president was much, much closer than is generally reported. Switching just 44,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin would have meant re-election for President Trump. With a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, the House would have broken the tie — one vote for each state. The result would have been 26 Republican-majority states to 20 Democratic-majority states (three ties and Iowa still undecided). And you thought the Democrats were unhappy with the Constitution in 2016.
The tight margins in Arizona (under 11,000 votes), Georgia (under 13,000 votes), and Wisconsin (under 21,000 votes) — all under one-half of one percent — are an indictment not only of Trump’s legal strategy, but of his own lack of discipline and serial blunders over the past two years.
After complaining for months that he would be cheated, it appears the Trump campaign did little — if anything — to guard against vote theft. Not only that, they were woefully unprepared to seek legal redress once Election Day passed. His bumbling legal team has been shot down by both Republican and Democratic judges with hardly a victory. One wonders: Can Rudy Giuliani even fix a parking ticket?
Trump has focused an enormous amount of energy on Pennsylvania, where his margin of defeat is greater than Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin combined, and on Michigan, where his losing margin is greater than Pennsylvania and the three aforementioned stated combined. Bad legal strategy and lack of preparation are just the latest in Trump mistakes. If he was swindled, he certainly deserved it.
The bottom line is that Trump could have won had he exercised just a little more self-discipline and made fewer mistakes — not to mention the big blunders over the past two years.
It’s rather hopeless to expect Trump to be a disciplined public figure. But does he really have to be so spectacularly undisciplined and non-strategic? Just the slightest bit of self-control might have turned the tide. Consider the first debate — widely considered a debacle for Trump. Completely out of control, Trump careened from complaint to complaint, sounding like a four-year-old who forgot to take his Ritalin.
Not only did Trump turn off the public with his performance, he played right into the Biden campaign’s hands. The entire political world knows that Joe Biden’s weakness is unscripted talking. Trump’s unwillingness to let Biden get a word in edgewise perfectly suited the Biden strategy to say as little as possible and let Trump talk his way out of the race. In addition, Trump’s constant mocking of Biden’s intelligence lowered the bar significantly for Biden.
The second debate vindicated the Biden strategy as the mute button (which Trump complained about) forced Biden to talk and explain more — to his detriment. Trump performed much better in that structured environment. But by that time millions more Americans had already voted and the damage had been done.
Hand-in-hand with lack of discipline is Trump’s determination to indulge every impulse and grievance. Consider his indiscriminate attacks on John McCain, a still-popular former senator from a vital swing state.
John McCain never lost an election in Arizona, winning all his Senate races by well over 10 points. And, as with any U.S. senator who has held the office for over 30 years, McCain had an extensive network of donors, allies, and friends. More to the point, there are plenty of people in Arizona McCain has done favors for over the years. Yet Trump persisted in his criticisms — to no obvious benefit and at a clear electoral cost.
Arizona ended up Trump’s closest loss at less than 10,500 votes. Simply not indulging his anger toward McCain could have won him the state.
Too little, too late
A lot of talk and not enough action is the history of the Trump administration. Throughout Trump’s term, the economy was the number one issue for the public — an issue Trump focused on. But health care has been a consistent and clear #2. Although health insurance premiums have been declining during his administration, inexplicably Trump never made that a centerpiece of his campaign. Instead he focused on eliminating Obamacare — despite public opinion that is mixed-to-favorable.
The public is very concerned about prescription drug prices, and that concern is non-partisan. Yet, Trump dawdled on the issue. While he criticized high prices from the beginning of his administration, he did very little to actually address the issue. Only in the summer of 2020 did Trump actually act, signing a series of executive orders.
What took so long? Did Trump forget he was up for re-election?
In spite of public concerns, Trump’s last-minute stab did nothing for his standing on the issue. In a September 2019 poll 66 percent of the public believed Trump had done little or nothing to help control prescription drug prices — including 38 percent of Republicans.
And drug prices are just part of a series of too little, too late policy actions. Another example is the endless American involvement in Afghanistan. After talking and talking about getting out, it is only after he lost that Trump appears to be moving to exit this unpopular intervention. In spite of fervent opposition by the foreign policy establishment, a mere 10 percent of Americans oppose an Afghanistan pullout and just 11 percent oppose withdrawing from Iraq (essentially the same figures).
The bottom line is that Trump — and Trump alone — owns this loss.
In spite of the coronavirus, universal opposition by the legacy media and being outspent, Trump had every opportunity to defeat Biden and the fractious Democrats. With everything going their way, the Democrats still just eked out a win.
There is no doubt about it: Trump failed in the clutch.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.