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OPINION

Donald Trump's downfall came down to five critical errors during campaign

By Bob Beatty
Special to Gannett Kansas
Bob Beatty

After a recent Kansas football loss, head coach Les Miles said, “I like us. We just need to play better.”

Miles’ comment demonstrates his understanding that no matter how much you love and believe in your team and think they should win, whether they do or not usually comes down to the decisions that are made on the field and the performances by players and coaches.

The same applies to presidential campaigns. In a heated election, you shouldn’t expect to win when the campaign or candidate makes multiple mistakes and when gambles don’t pay off, which is what happened to Donald Trump in 2020. All the talk by Trump and some of his followers about “winning” fly in the face of that fact.

The list of key fumbles:

The never-ending grudges: Although part of his brand, Trump’s continuation of long-standing animosity towards former Arizona GOP Senator and Vietnam War hero John McCain, along with his calling of political rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” probably cost him the swing state of Arizona. McCain’s widow appeared in Biden commercials, and as Julian Brave Noisecat wrote, “Precincts on the Navajo Nation averaged about 84 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump. With Arizona decided by so few votes, the Navajo may legitimately claim that their ballots made the difference.”

Not embracing real populism: Trump won the electoral college in 2016 by emphasizing populism, nativism and economic nationalism. In 2020, he ran on those same things but with little added to garner new voters. A simple idea would have been to advocate increasing the federal minimum wage by a couple of dollars. As Mathew Yglesias wrote after Trump effectively nixed the idea in October, “The 2016 version of Donald Trump was an ideological innovator. He was a populist, not beholden to the special interests and the donor classes. He was going to shake things up. Today, that’s over. He’s an ideologically orthodox Republican.”

Being an anti-masker: If Trump had embraced mask-wearing when the pandemic hit, not only would many lives have been saved, but he himself would likely not have gotten COVID-19. Trump campaign insiders have noted that his getting the virus dealt a heavy blow to his chances of winning.

Debate lunacy: Trump gambled that in the first presidential debate he could harangue and harass Joe Biden to such an extent that finally Biden would lose his concentration and get confused. It didn’t happen and Trump’s debate performance could kindly be described as unhinged. Then, Trump decided to skip the second debate, which was to be virtual, and instead do a town hall. Yes, he traded an audience of 80 million for 13 million. Error compounding error.

Throwing away votes: Finally, and by far the most damaging, Trump ran a nonstop campaign against voting by mail and even early voting, encouraging his voters to vote in-person on Election Day and casting doubt on all other types of voting. This had two, practical effects: First, it emboldened Democrats into voting early, especially by mail, leading to record early voting. Second, it unquestionably lost him votes as lots of voters are unable to vote on Election Day, especially during a pandemic.

In short, rather than cling to wispy and eely ideas about systematic election fraud, the real story of Trump’s election loss is plain to see. 

Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at bobbeatty1999@yahoo.com.