Riddle me this, Donald: What does losing to a loser make you? It makes you the biggest loser.
I’m talking, of course, about Trump’s farcical notion that lame Joe Biden couldn't possibly have beaten him. While other arguments may require you to embrace conspiracy theories or bone up on detailed (if flawed) knowledge about mail-in ballots, signature matching, etc., this one has the benefit of requiring only what passes for “common sense.”
To Trump supporters, the very thought that Biden could have beaten Trump is, on its face, an absurd notion. All Trump has to do is float this fallacious idea out there. And so, he has—in many different varieties and flavors.
Consider, for example, Trump’s re-tweeting video of a crowd attending a Trump rally, coupled with Trump’s own words, “NO WAY WE LOST THIS ELECTION!” The context is even clearer when paired with Eric Trump’s tweet saying, “Biden couldn’t get 10 people to a rally & went days without leaving his house.”
Another Eric tweet says, “Does anyone believe that Biden got 15 million more votes than Obama in 2012? This from a candidate who would go days/weeks while hardly campaigning.” Just another shovel of manure on Trump’s Mt. Doubtmore.
Yet another line of thinking suggests that Trump couldn’t have lost since Democrats generally had a disappointing night. As Trump tweeted, “So I led this great charge, and I’m the only one that lost? No, it doesn’t work that way ....”
Or, lastly, strategic adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, Boris Epshteyn’s tweet, featuring a video of a stammering Biden, that says, “Does “ANYONE really believe THIS guy got more legal votes than @realDonaldTrump???”
To Trump fans, anecdotal assertions are better than evidence. You don’t really have to know many facts to know that there’s no way a boring old guy could beat the exciting Mr. Trump. Trump and his rabid fans have turned Biden into such a caricature that it’s nearly impossible for them to believe that Trump could lose to him. In this insular world we now live in, the echo chambers are such that some Trump voters may not know someone who voted for Joe Biden. We are all Pauline Kael.
Since it’s pretty clear to most of us that Biden won the election, Trump’s argument amounts to the largest self-own in political history. It’s sort of like that old 1988 Saturday Night Live skit where an exasperated Michael Dukakis (played by Jon Lovitz) turns to the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” It was funny because it’s something someone might think but never say. It’s impossible to criticize Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush without criticizing yourself for losing to him. (That’s right: Donald Trump is Dukakis in this scenario.) In the legal world, this is called an admission against interest.
Still, Trump is a decent brand marketer, so it’s worth taking time to unpack each of these assertions.
Biden has been mocked for hiding in his basement and not really campaigning. But if you lose to someone who went “days/weeks while hardly campaigning,” what does that say about you? A cousin to this charge is that Biden couldn’t attract large crowds. It’s not a good look when someone who lacks charisma and star power still easily defeats you.
Look at how down-ballot Republicans overperformed, even as Trump lost. Perhaps Trump should consider that he was less popular than a generic Republican, was actively hated, and was driving turnout for boring, old Joe Biden.
Another criticism of Biden was that he sometimes stammers and appears to be out of it. He lacks mental clarity and has lost a step. Yet, Americans preferred this old codger over Trump.
When you lose, it’s better to build your adversary up. You’ve probably seen a TV trope where some guy loses a fistfight and talks about how he was jumped by five guys, all of whom were at least seven feet tall. Trump the Contrarian prefers to tear down, rather than build up.
Still, I get what Trump is doing. His game has always been to sell his alternate reality to the faction of Americans who will unquestioningly believe whatever he says. This tactic probably lost him the election, but he honestly doesn’t care if you and I see through his line of bullshit.
Trump’s tactics are also counterproductive in another way. Instead of engaging in some deep reflection and questioning why most Americans were hungry for Biden’s “low energy” campaign and sick of Trump’s overbearing belligerence, Trump and his lackeys deflect attention to Biden. Instead, they should question why Trump did worse in the counties where he held rallies, like in Michigan and Pennsylvania, while Biden won states he barely set foot in like Arizona and Georgia. By deluding themselves into believing Trump won, they give themselves permission to feel aggrieved.
They will continue to live in fantasyland, instead of being forced to grapple with reality and embrace the hard work necessary to restore the GOP to being not just a party that can win elections, but (more importantly) to being a party that deserves to.
In the meantime, Donald Trump finds himself a one-term president who (by his own admission) lost to a man who has lost a step.
He’s a loser, baby. So why won’t he go away?