Yesterday, America pondered what it has learned in the year since pro-Trump rioters tried to overthrow the federal government. The reality, which Republican politicians know but won’t admit, is that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. His supporters, who said in advance they were gonna act up if he lost, acted up. They did a little teeny bit of terrorism that led to the deaths of police officers sworn to protect the United States Capitol. It was all very un-American.
The problem really began as the Trump campaign and its Republican political allies pushed the idea that Trump supporters were the majority of Americans. This isn’t that unusual; most campaigns try to claim that they in some way represent the ‘true majority.’ But Trump’s whole thing became his invincibility and inevitability, crudely reinforced by his shock 2016 win. Scientific American chalked up his victory to the “silent Trump vote that the polls failed to pick up on,” even though a UPI/CVoter poll – the last major poll conducted during the 2016 campaign – put Hillary Clinton at 49% (she won 48.2% of the vote) and Donald Trump at 46% (he won 46.1%). It was, of course, the mathematics of the electoral college that gave Trump the win, not any mysterious bloc of hitherto-unknown Trump voters.
But once that narrative set in, the silent Trump majority became the dominant explanation for his 2016 victory and the presumption that would carry into 2020. Those same voters would turn up again. They would hand him another victory. It was certain.
Here, we meet the dark fallacy that still haunts the country. If Trump’s win was certain because a true majority of Americans supported him, then his loss could only be explained by electoral fraud. As political analyst Arieh Kovler wrote, ““Election fraud” lies mean never having to accept that the other side is more popular and gained more backing, never having to grapple with democracy itself. It also means never having to reflect on how to modify your message. The message is fine: it’s the system’s fault that Biden won.”
Which brings us to this, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Since leaving office in January, Trump has held a commanding place among Republican voters. Although he’s fallen short of the presidency-in-exile we once cautioned here at Pyramid, he’s managed to maintain his death grip on the GOP. Even in polls without Trump, he’s winning: Ron Desantis, a Trump acolyte, routinely tops the charts, with only rare appearances by other presumptive candidates.
Trump’s defeat in 2020 was pretty thorough. Although both he and Joe Biden carried the same number of states – plus each with one congressional district, and Biden with D.C. – Trump carried less populous states, giving Biden a massive boost. Beyond the key states of Texas and Florida, Trump pulled just five other states with double-digit elector counts. Biden had a grand total of fourteen.
In a sane world, the mere possibility that a former president would run again after such a defeat would be laughable. But remember: millions of Republican voters believe Trump secretly won, so if they can just “fix” the “problems,” he’ll win in 2024 and there will be no way the Democrats can pull a fast one on the voters.
Trump remains the preeminent Republican because he has so masterfully pulled off the illusion that he is invincible. If he really had lost in 2020 – and he really did – then Republicans would ditch him for a candidate who could actually take on Joe Biden or whomever the Democratic nominee may be. Such candidates exist: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has survived in a state that skews ever-so-lightly Democratic despite taking pretty pro-Trump stances; Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the runner-up in 2016 and said in December 2021 that history suggests he’s likely the nominee in 2024, and although Cruz is universally disliked he is currently more popular than Biden is; and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could restore Republican control over the south, especially nearby Georgia, and unlike Cruz and Sununu, DeSantis is all too happy to play up the culture war stuff that boosted Trump with the party’s ultra-conservative core.
The most compelling thing you can say about Donald Trump is that he has never won the popular vote in the presidential election. But Trump has been able to wave that off as proof of a conspiracy against him. He’s right, in a way; it’s just that the conspiracy against him is called ‘voting.’
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about how this is a dark cloud hanging over the 2024 election and, yeah, it definitely is. GOP party elites know that the only chance they have at staying in power is to promote the idea that Trump and his ilk are super-electable and then to decry any election they fail to win as foul. This already hasn’t worked, but there’s no doubt they’re gearing up to do it again in 2024.
Because if they weren’t, they’d find a new frontrunner.