Message to Trump: This is why you lost the election

There is a compelling scene in the 2014 blockbuster movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” in which the Peter Quill character, played by Chris Pratt, is threatened by the Yondu character, played by Michael Rooker. Yondu looks menacingly into Quill’s eyes and declares, “When I picked you up as a kid, these boys wanted to eat you. ... I saved your life.” Quill screams back in his defense, “Oh, will you shut up about that? ... Normal people don’t even think about eating someone else, much less that person having to be grateful for it.”

Cut to the 2020 presidential election and, according to a forthcoming book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender titled “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” then-President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE angrily interrupted a policy meeting in the Oval Office to vent about Joe Biden by allegedly asking, “How am I losing in the polls to a mental retard?”   

That’s how, to begin with. To paraphrase Peter Quill, “Normal people don’t even think about calling someone else a ‘mental retard.’”     

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Normal people don’t, but egotistical bullies who favor 1970s insults might have no problem spewing out a demeaning label that has made most people cringe for decades now. That’s one of the most important answers to Trump’s reported question: Live by the insult sword, die by the insult sword.

While this may come as a shock to Donald Trump, there are millions of Americans — including a large number of his supporters — who believe that a president should conduct himself with class, dignity and grace, if not for himself, then most certainly out of respect for the highest office in the land.

If he indeed asked such a revolting question in the White House, he insulted the presidency and those Americans who believe the office should represent the best in all of us.

If Trump truly wants to know why he lost, he must become self-aware enough to point a finger at himself. He has to be willing to accept some of the blame. And if he can get that far — against all evidence to the contrary at the moment — then he must ask himself what percentage of the 2020 vote he might have cost himself.

You can have the best policies in the world, but if you continually insult and demean other people, sooner or later that is going to become like the scratching of fingernails on a blackboard to many voters. They’re going to cover their ears and turn away from the source of the screeching noise.

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Most Americans on the left will never admit that Trump is an intelligent person, someone whose instincts often proved correct in business and in politics. Knowing that, it defies reason and common sense not to believe that, seven months after the election, Trump at some point has looked inward and realized that — in an election in which more than 155 million Americans voted — it can be argued he lost to President Biden because of just more than 42,000 votes. Those votes were from Georgia with 16 Electoral College votes, Wisconsin with 10 electoral votes and Arizona with 11 electoral votes. These were all states that Trump won in 2016. Biden flipped them in 2020.

Leaving aside his histrionics regarding Pennsylvania and “stolen votes,” Trump knows that if he had simply won Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona, the Electoral College result might have been 269 to 269. If that had been the case, Trump or Biden would have needed the backing of 26 state delegations to be declared president. At that time, Republicans controlled most of the state delegations — can we assume they would have confirmed Trump’s reelection?

But it never got that far.

A number of Republicans with whom I’ve spoken believe that Trump’s bombastic, bullying, unpresidential antics probably cost him as much as 10 percent of the vote. Let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say it was only 1 percent. That still equals about 1.5 million votes. And, again, he lost Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona by a total of just more than 42,000 votes.

Nobody likes a bully, and few people like an insult comic as a president. It’s quite logical to imagine that Trump’s churlish, unpresidential demeanor caused at least 1 percent of the electorate to flip its votes. 

Because of my own experience growing up in poverty and often being homeless as a child, I have been fortunate enough to speak to a number of poor or disenfranchised students over the years. My main message to them always has been “Life is incredibly hard. Don’t make it harder by making the person in the mirror your No. 1 enemy.”   

In 2020, Trump made the person in the mirror his No. 1 enemy. Because of self-sabotage, he surely knows who and what cost him reelection. He needs to accept that answer and move on with his life.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.