The Outrageous Lie of a Stolen Trump Landslide | Opinion

The gut-wrenching spectacle of flag-waving mobs storming the Capitol building on January 6th represented more than the dangerous delusions of a few thousand radicals. Tens of millions of decent, patriotic Americans share the rioters' core conviction—an outrageous lie that serves to polarize the public and to poison our national discourse.

Shortly after the violence that threatened members of Congress and interrupted the process of officially receiving the previously certified Electoral College votes, the president himself gave renewed expression to the same toxic falsehood that provoked the unrest in the first place.

After releasing a video in which he assured the protestors "I know your pain, I know your hurt" and reminded them that "we love you, you're very special," he posted a now-deleted tweet that justified the rampage.

"These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away," wrote the leader of the free world.

Aside from arcane arguments about voting machines, unmatched signatures and changed rules for mail-in ballots, the seemingly unshakable belief in a stolen Trump landslide rests on three arguments:

  1. Trump won more votes and generated greater enthusiasm than in his successful campaign of 2016, but Biden's defenders want you to believe that this time, he fell short.
  2. Even while rallying his base as never before, Trump gained significantly among Black and Hispanic voters, hailed for years as the key to Republican success. Yet official numbers suggest that despite massive participation by people of color, those votes failed to sway the outcome in Trump's direction.
  3. At age 77 (now 78), an enfeebled Joe Biden was the oldest major-party nominee in American history and by any measure one of the least energetic. His defenders claim, nevertheless, that he somehow managed to beat Trump by minimal margins in precisely the three swing states he needed to guarantee his victory.
Stop the steal riot
Thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the United States Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Spencer Platt/Getty

These arguments, endlessly cited by the president himself and by his innumerable advocates in right-wing media, deserve respectful but decisive answers.

  1. TRUMP'S IMPROVED PERFORMANCE WAS OUTMATCHED BY BIDEN'S GAINS. It's true, Trump drew 11 million more votes in 2020 than he did in his triumphant showing in 2016. In part, this reflected a much higher overall turnout for November's election (despite the discouragement of the pandemic), but Trump also won a larger percentage of the popular vote, improving from 46.1 percent to 46.9 percent. But Biden's improvement over Hillary Clinton's showing in 2016 proved to be far more dramatic—adding 16 million popular votes to her total and winning a clear majority (51.3 as opposed to her 48.2). The key to Biden's victory was new voters, impelled to the polls (or their mailboxes) by the heat of their feelings, positive and negative, toward Donald Trump. In exit polls, an impressive 14 percent of all voters said they had never voted before, and those 22.4 million people broke for Biden by a two-to-one margin (64 percent to 32 percent). In fact, without those new voters, the two candidates would have finished in a dead heat, with 49 percent each.
  2. TRUMP'S NOTABLE INROADS WITH VOTERS OF COLOR COULDN'T COVER SUBURBAN LOSSES. It's true that the president made progress in winning Black voters (rising from 8 percent to 12 percent of their ballots) and Latinos (drawing 32 percent instead of the 28 percent he won four years ago). But Biden erased those gains by significantly improving on Hillary's appeal to white voters, who represented 67 percent of all ballots cast. The former secretary of state drew only 37 percent of white support, but the former vice president scored 41 percent, meaningfully topping her appeal to suburban families in particular. Because voters of color comprised 33 percent of the total this year, Trump's enhanced appeal meant nearly three million added votes, whereas Biden's stronger draw among white (mostly suburban) voters added at least 4.3 million to his total. Moreover, both Blacks and Hispanics represented bigger shares in the electorate in 2020, a factor that also helped Democrats. Even though Trump proved more competitive in communities of color, he still lost that substantial segment of the electorate by almost three to one.
  3. BIDEN'S "SLEEPY," LOW-ENERGY CAMPAIGN MAY HAVE BEEN AN ADVANTAGE, NOT A DRAWBACK. The president proudly cherishes his own tireless, kinetic style (remember his relentless teasing of "low-energy" Jeb Bush?) but voters in the turbulent, torturous year of 2020 predictably preferred a more soothing, less frenetic approach. Yes, a third of respondents to exit polls said they wanted a candidate who qualified as a "strong leader" and those voters went for Trump by a margin of 44 points. But two other qualities mattered even more: a combined 43 percent looked for "good judgment" and an ability to "unite the country," and more than 70 percent of those voters went for Biden. The fact that Trump maintained a punishing pace of 5 rallies a day at the end of his campaign may not have helped him: many Americans had grown weary of his edgy, aggressive attitude. A majority—54 percent—of all voters concluded that the incumbent "did not have the temperament to serve as president"; only 44 percent felt that way about "sleepy Joe."

Finally, as to the narrow margins in decisive swing states: those races in most other recent elections proved far tighter, particularly during Trump's victory in 2016, when 11 states had margins of less than 5 percent. In 2020, only eight states ended up that close. Many have pointed to the fact that a difference of only 44,000 votes, across just the right three states (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin), would have changed the Electoral College outcome. But imagine if Trump had flipped just the minimum number of votes in precisely those places, eking out an electoral college win while still finishing 7 million behind Biden in the popular vote—more than double the margin by which Hillary won it. Would such an outcome have constituted a healthy, sustainable development for maintaining faith in our representative democracy?

The "stolen Trump landslide" dissidents should confront the real magnitude and meaning of Biden's win. Of the last 19 Democratic nominees for president, going all the way back to Harry Truman in 1948, only two have won bigger majorities of the popular vote than Joe Biden did this year: Lyndon Johnson (with his landslide over Goldwater in 1964) and Barack Obama with his first victory in 2008, a success in which Biden played a helpful role as an energetic—yes, energetic—running mate.

The danger of underestimating Biden, or ignoring the nature of his mandate, adds to the risks of embracing the foundational lie of the "Stop the Steal" movement. The idea that Trump actually won a landslide victory not only lacks all basis in evidence, but contradicts the underlying logic of the 2020 contest.

Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show and is author, most recently, of God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.