We continue our preview of the new (Winter) issue of the Claremont Review of Books with the key essay on the outcome of the election by Andrew Busch: “Why Trump lost.” Subhead: “…but almost won.” Here is the opening of Professor Busch’s essay:
In the wake of the presidential election half of our divided nation asked, incredulously: how did Donald Trump lose? Equally incredulously, the other half asked: how could he have almost won?
Joe Biden’s victory will not change the Democratic and Republican parties’ basic dilemmas. For Democrats, the “fundamental transformation” of America promised by Barack Obama is still far from electorally secure. For their part, Republicans haven’t found a way to appeal to a majority of voters—even had Trump won the Electoral College, no fraud claims could have erased Biden’s 7 million national-vote lead.
Here is Professor Busch’s conclusion:
Trump failed to make himself acceptable to a majority, or even a plurality, of Americans. The cold fact remains that he was outpolled by 3 million votes by the most disliked Democratic nominee since polling began (Mrs. Clinton) and by 7 million votes by a mediocre career politician who barely campaigned and who will enter office older than Ronald Reagan was when he left. Even before he gave vent to his most narcissistic and demagogic impulses after November 3, there was simply no reason to believe Trump had the potential to expand his appeal enough to produce a different result. Now, his post-election meltdown threatens to become the dominant memory of his presidency, a descent that outweighs all else.
The foremost question for Republicans is whether they will be able to walk an electoral tightrope: apply what worked for Trump and keep his core constituency, while learning how to appeal to a broader electorate and avoiding the taint of January 6. The congressional elections of 2020 might be evidence that they have already started to construct such a political amalgam, and that voters are receptive to it. The next question is whether Donald Trump will let them.
Busch is Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and author of The Constitution on the Campaign Trail: The Surprising Political Career of America’s Founding Document. If you still have an open mind about the election and are trying to understand the outcome, I invite you to consider Professor Busch’s essay.