Now that the smoke has settled a bit and many Republicans of sound mind have admitted to themselves, if not to others, that Joe Biden, fairly or unfairly, will be inaugurated on January 20th, the political autopsies of the Trump 2020 campaign have begun.
The president very well may win the 2024 race and will play kingmaker, especially in primaries, until then. But his 2020 presidential campaign is over and the reality is, by the operational results, he lost. But why?
Republican pros have come up with a lot of reasons. The president’s demeanor, his thin skin, lack of GOP fundraising acumen, Republican seeming inability to prepare for Democrat cheating, and, of course, Covid, are amongst the most convincing.
Plus the president, as a political client to his political staff, can not have been the easiest to work with. As a CEO with a decent ego he was used to instant obedience. That doesn’t happen in politics or government. It recalls the answer outgoing President Harry Truman gave to a reporter when asked how incoming president Dwight Eisenhower would do in office. “When Ike was a general, when he gave an order to jump a thousand colonels answered ‘how high?’ When I give an order to jump, my staff tells me, ‘Well Mr. President, we’d first better ask Senator Eastland, Senator Johnson, Senator Dirksen, Senator…’ ”
Thus given the reasons above, the main issue was probably a mix of two: Covid-19 and the president’s ego. If Covid-19 had not happened Donald Trump would have likely been solidly reelected. But it did. The president logically reasoned that if he did a good job fighting the virus he would get credit for it. Wrong, because most voters don’t think, they feel.
The smart move would have been to sit down with the president and say, “Sir, you’re not going to like this. But to pull off a win during COVID you’re going to have to be the Empathizer-in-Chief. Remember what Diana of Wales did with AIDS patients? Remember the Bill Clinton fake sincerity face? Yeah, that stuff. We shouldn’t miss an opportunity to do anything at all saccharine, treacly, overly sentimental, and downright repugnant to any thinking adult. Why? Because voters will like it and that’s the game here, sir. The only game.”
The president would have blown that counsel off in two seconds and returned to his CEO ways. In doing so he started out from the wrong premise, that voters will support good deeds. Nope. Many voters, perhaps a majority, support the candidate they like personally. The president’s base would not have had a big problem with the kinder and gentler Trump, given the opposition party, and the new warm and snuggly president would have gone over well with emotion driven suburban women and others needed for a winning coalition. That, combined with preemptive legal attacks to deter Democrat cheating, may have done the trick. But we’ll never know. We do know one thing, we lost. We should acknowledge it, but we don’t have to like it.