Commentary: Close Call | KBIA

Commentary: Close Call

Jan 28, 2021

Since January 6, a sizeable and rapidly growing portion of the 74 million citizens who voted for Donald Trump have come to realize that it’s probably a good thing that Trump was not re-elected.  But we need to remember, it was a very close call.

In fact, until the Saturday after the election, when PA was called for Biden, Trump’s reelection was at least an Electoral College possibility. 


Had just 67,000 citizens in AZ, GA, NV and WI voted for Trump instead of Biden, Trump would have won the Electoral College majority, even though Biden had seven million more popular votes. 

For perspective, 67,000 is about the number of people who live in the city of Columbia north of Broadway.  67,000 could squeeze into Faurot Field for a Mizzou football game. 

Here are four events of many that, had they happened differently or not at all, could have changed the campaign’s trajectory:

·      Rep. Jim Clyburn’s strong endorsement of Biden on the eve of the SC primary.  Biden might have won the nomination anyway, but the contest would have been protracted, he would have been weakened and it turned out he had no margin for error.

·      The Lincoln Project.  Some prominent Never-Trumpers funded a very effective campaign with great ads.  What if they had not come together?

·      “Alternative facts,” Kelly Anne Conway’s notorious formulation on Meet the Press during the first month of the Trump presidency.  Enough voters decided just in time that Trump’s lies were unacceptable.

·      Most importantly: The economy, which was booming until Covid.  Historically, good economies result in incumbent reelections.

Trump might have survived all this, but he sabotaged himself again and again.  A short list:

·      He could have led the War on Covid.  Instead he said: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

·      He used the White House for campaign events.  He openly pillaged the public treasury.  Both were turn-offs for traditional conservatives.

·      He told more than 30,000 lies and gross exaggerations.  Each was tiresome and collectively they were exhausting.  He could have told none.

·      He could have behaved presidentially in the first debate.  Instead he made Biden look presidential by comparison.

The cumulative effect was just – just -- enough to doom his candidacy.  And it was because he couldn’t help himself. 

Right after Trump’s inauguration in one of these commentaries I said he won’t change and he doesn’t care what you think.  To his last day in office and beyond, he didn’t change and didn’t care what you thought.  He did it his way, and therefore he’s a one-termer, a humiliating category in American history.  And when he rejected the results of the election, the national guardrails held and he slunk off, unrepentant, to Florida to ponder a future of financial and legal misery.

As Wellington said after his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo: “It was the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia Collete and a regular commentator for KBIA's Talking Politics.