Trump focused too much on fraud—and it might have cost him the election

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Texas shows us how Donald Trump could have averted his loss of the 2020 election. But nobody’s paying attention, lost in a tsunami of outlier claims of election rigging.

Trump’s most passionate loyalists, along with Trump, cling to the claim of a rigged election. Ineffectual as a challenge, that claim inoculates Trump from being branded a loser, his worst nightmare. And, as recently noted by the New York Times, it brings Trump hundreds of millions of dollars in ready political cash, enhancing his ongoing power.

Trump partisans cite some evidence of fraud, but none of it, according to Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist, was of sufficient scale to have invalidated the election results. Trump must face the truth: He lost fair and square.

Instead of complaining about fraud, Trump should have done more to energize the voters who could propel him to victory. Consider, for instance, what Texas Republicans did—courtesy of political strategist Steve Munisteri—to repel a concerted national effort by Democrats and their donors to turn the state blue. 

As reported by R.G. Ratcliffe in Texas Monthly: “To achieve sweeping wins in 2020, Munisteri told me last year that Republicans needed to increase their party’s turnout. He hypothesized that 10.5 million to 11 million Texans would cast ballots in 2020—up from 9 million in 2016—and Democrats could count on a guaranteed 4 million votes and Republicans 4.5 million. To reach the projected winning total of 5.5 million, Munisteri oversaw a $10 million voter registration effort to target unregistered Texans who live in reliably Republican areas. Democrats and allied groups run voter registration drives every election cycle, but Munisteri’s effort was the first for the GOP in years.”

That $10 million voter registration effort—a modest expenditure in this $14 billion election cycle—might have helped provide the more than 630,000 votes Trump won by in Texas.

It might have worked elsewhere too. But instead of making a robust reelection effort, Trump instead distracted his supporters with unsupported theories about widespread election fraud. Once that failed to surface, there wasn’t enough of a campaign underneath it to help him win.

Rather than adequately buttressing his base, Trump emulated, and continues to emulate, the boy who cried wolf. When no wolf was found, the crier lost all credibility. 

Trump has been loudly crying “voter fraud” since the 2016 Iowa caucuses. Per the New York Times, “In the now-distant Republican presidential primaries of 2016, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas handily won the Iowa caucuses…One of the losers in Iowa, the developer and television personality Donald J. Trump, soon accused Mr. Cruz of electoral theft. He fired off several inflammatory tweets, including this foreshadowing of our current democracy-testing moment: ‘Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.’”

Shortly before the 2016 election, Politico published “A guide to Donald Trump’s ‘rigged’ election: Zombie Democrats, colluding reporters, and backstabbing Republicans.” It cites Trump’s tweet from 2016, before he won the presidency, claiming that voting was rigged: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve.”

If Trump truly thought systematic fraud was going to sink his election, something for which there was and is no persuasive evidence, then or now, he should have done more to neutralize it. That said, it’s impossible to stop an imaginary hobgoblin.

Consider Trump’s reliance, instead, upon legerdemain. Trump’s privy councillor and son-in-law Jared Kushner revealed to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward the four texts required to make sense of Trump. Preeminent is Scott Adams’s Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter.

As Bryan Gardiner recently noted at Wired,Humans, it turns out, are not rational actors. People believe things simply because they hear them a lot; they easily succumb to confirmation bias and cherry-pick evidence that supports their ideas; they even interweave certain beliefs into their own worldview and sense of cultural identity.”

Trump shrewdly propelled his variegated careers based on this insight. That said, Trump’s careers—in real estate, branding, TV, politics, and government—while glorious, have experienced repeated setbacks. As both the President and the boy who cried wolf experienced, cries unsupported by facts, while sensational, are insufficient to sustain success. 

Relying exclusively on the power of cries can propel a rascally antihero to glory. But then—right into the jaws of the wolf. It really is better to incorporate facts. They keep the wolf from the door.

Yet, lest those who disdain Trump take too much comfort from the conclusion of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” consider the denouement of another classic children’s story wherein a hunter arrives, takes his knife to the wolf, “and after one or two more cuts out skip[s] [Little] Red [Riding] Hood.”

If the GOP wishes to win back the White House, it would do well to call in a different kind of hunter: a vote hunter like Steve Munisteri. The party needs someone who can build such a strong electoral margin that there will never again be a desire from its nominee to cry wolf.

Ralph Benko is a former Reagan White House deputy general counsel, author of The Capitalist Manifesto, and chairman of the Capitalist League.

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