TRUMP’S loss feels like an acute failure to rise to the moment — a feature not just of his presidency but also of his personality. He could not seize on the opportunity the pandemic presented because he was too incompetent, too corrupt and too narcissistic. Instead, he saw it as a personal attack, complaining to advisers that China had sent the virus to thwart his re-election. Rather than care about the lives at risk, when the pandemic hit blue states first, he shrugged off the casualties. Rather than send help to states like Michigan, he attacked Democratic Govt nor Gretchen Whitmer for lockdown measures to get the outbreak under control. Rather than let the experts in the federal bureaucracy handle the pandemic response, he let his son-in-law Jared Kushner bring in a group of ethically conflicted businessmen of dubious expertise to coordinate a national response. Some may have enriched themselves by failing to quickly implement a once-promised national testing and tracing strategy — one still lacking seven months later on election day. A corrupt government is not an effective govt. The President’s campaign, run by sycophants, acted in a similar fashion. Like his businesses and his administration, his campaign was also run under the influence of his family which prides itself on self-enrichment. As campaign manager, Trump chose Brad Parscale, a political neophyte whose primary qualification, beyond serving as Trump’s 2016 digital director, was that he had ingratiated himself with Kushner and Trump’s children. Trump’s instinct to pump up his base with extremist rhetoric and enjoy adulation of his diehard fans went unchallenged by Parscale, who, hired for his loyalty, was in no position to question Trump’s strategy. In fact, Parscale had reportedly earned President’s trust by indulging his racist instincts as a campaigner.
Parscale also took another page out of the Trump family playbook and began directing large sums of campaign funds toward his own companies (as well as payments to Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara and Don Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle). Trump’s final campaign manager, Bill Stephen, announced an investigation of Parscale’s finances when he replaced him in July. The campaign slugged through the final months with neither a strategy to win back the voters Trump had lost, nor enough cash for a strong finish. Trump entered October with a third of the money that Biden had. Yet even as his campaign ran low on cash, it continued to benefit the Trump family. In Sept, New York Times reported, the campaign and joint party committee made a $640,476 payment to the Trump Hotel Collection. Though the effectiveness of television and social media spending are often over-hyped, it never helps to be outgunned in advertising while down in the polls. However much Trump campaign’s cash crunch contributed to Trump’s loss, it was also a symptom of its dysfunction; a campaign that put extremist ideology over pragmatic politics and self-dealing over winning. In an election that came down to narrow margins in several states, his campaign’s financial shortfall and base-only strategy just wasn’t enough to replicate Trump’s narrow victory four years ago. Another group estranged by Trump are independent voters, who broke for him in 2016, but in 2020, early indications suggest, broke for Biden.
A third critical subset is seniors, usually a stalwart Republican cohort, who drifted towards Biden. For many in the group most at risk from the virus, the fact that Trump seemingly gave up on controlling it proved to be a deal breaker. Trump’s team wagered that there were more Trump supporters waiting to be turned out than had voted in 2016, and invested significant resources and its entire digital strategy to locating them. This base-focused strategy was supposed to overcome his shrinking support among these other groups. And it worked, to an extent: Turnout did expand among his base. Trump’s campaign also smartly saw an opportunity among Latino men in particular. It eased up on his anti-immigrant rhetoric as the election neared and instead targeted Latino voters. The strategy brought them important gains in the Latino community. But this base expansion wasn’t enough to make up for his losses elsewhere. Biden’s gains, both in new voters and defectors from Trump’s 2016 coalition, won the day. Trump’s ability to win back groups he was losing was doomed because he remained so loyal to his base—even when stoking their fervor came at the cost of winning other voters. It’s why Trump shocked the country when he refused to denounce white supremacists during his first debate with Biden. It’s why he continued to hold rallies which, studies show, helped spread the surging corona virus, even though only his most dedicated followers thought holding large mask-less gatherings was a good idea. The emerging results suggest that strategy was enough to win something under half the votes cast, but not quite enough to win him a second term.
The pandemic provided Trump a chance to do something the country liked, in contrast to two of his greatest policy weaknesses. Trump’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, first through Congress and currently through the courts, are unpopular. So was his tax cut, which disproportionately benefited the rich. But in response to the corona virus, Trump could have focused on healthcare and stimulus, demonstrating an agenda responsive to working Americans. Instead, the virus cast a spotlight on the shortcomings of his conservative policies. He showed little interest in passing a recovery package during the summer and fall. Weeks before the election, he acknowledged that he didn’t have any sort of replacement plan as the courts to strike down Obamacare. In short, his actions in the pandemic did not win back the voters he had lost over the preceding three years, and likely lost him even more. “Trump’s best opportunity to get re-elected was in his handling of the pandemic, particularly in the spring when it hit,” says Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist. “We saw early data where people wanted him to succeed, because they didn’t want the virus to be this bad. But he failed so miserably that he squandered the opportunity. Trump’s defeat has also highlighted and proved that negativity never leads to success. His mercurial temperament, disrespectful attitude, biased rhetoric, scant respect for people, hateful behaviour, lack of morality, selfishness, insatiable appetite for power and money and, above all, an ego which transcends all limits, contributed to his defeat. Hate never leads to success and good behaviour is the key to unlock all gridlocks.
—The writer is an author of ‘2020 & Beyond’ and teaches International Political Affairs.