Analysis | It’s not just 2022. Trump has underperformed in every election. – The Washington Post

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In his presidential announcement speech Tuesday, Donald Trump made a pitch to GOP voters who might be understandably skeptical of his ability to lead the party to victory in 2024. It basically amounted to: People didn’t understand how bad things really are, but they will by 2024, and thus I’ll have a good shot.

But even by Trump’s own accounting, voters have now apparently misunderstood the state of affairs in two straight elections: That same speech pitched in a rather Pollyannaish way the tail end of Trump’s presidency as the early days of some kind of new golden age, yet voters dispatched him in the 2020 election, too.

And that gets at a point that should not be missed in all of this: While there’s plenty of focus on how Trump’s candidates cost the GOP in the 2022 election, it’s hardly the only election in which Trump has proved to be a liability. That’s been true of 2020, 2018 and arguably 2016 — the year in which he nonetheless won the presidency.

The data on 2022 is well-known by now. But the morning of Trump’s announcement, American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Philip Wallach, writing in The Washington Post, perhaps summarized it best. While Trump-endorsed candidates performed similarly to other Republicans in safe districts, that was decidedly not the case in competitive ones. In roughly a quarter of House districts in which the margin of victory was 15 points or less, Trump-backed candidates underperformed the baseline for their party by an average of five points, while GOP candidates who weren’t backed by Trump overperformed the baseline by 2.2 points.

Here’s how that looks. Everything below that dotted red line is an underperformance:


Considering only competitive

races, with margin of victory

or loss below 15 points,

most Trump-endorsed

candidates underperformed

Candidates endorsed by Trump

Not endorsed

Republican candidates near this line

performed as expected

Margin of GOP win

Above

expectation

Margin of

expected

GOP WIN

Margin of

expected

GOP loss

Below

expectation

Margin of GOP loss

Sources: Cook Partisan Voting Index; Ballotpedia

(Trump endorsements); author’s calculations.

Philip Wallach for THE WASHINGTON POST

Considering only competitive races,

with margin of victory or loss

below 15 points, most Trump-endorsed

candidates underperformed

Not endorsed

Candidates endorsed by Trump

Republican candidates near this line

performed as expected

Margin of GOP win

Above

expectation

Margin of

expected

GOP win

Margin of

expected

GOP loss

Below

expectation

Margin of GOP loss

Sources: Cook Partisan Voting Index; Ballotpedia (Trump

endorsements); author’s calculations.

Philip Wallach for THE WASHINGTON POST

Considering only competitive races, decided by 15 points or less,

most Trump-endorsed candidates underperformed

Not endorsed

Candidates endorsed by Trump

Republican candidates near

this line performed as expected

Margin of GOP win

Above

expectation

Margin of

expected

GOP loss

Margin of

expected

GOP win

Below

expectation

Margin of GOP loss

Sources: Cook Partisan Voting Index; Ballotpedia (Trump endorsements); author’s calculations.

Philip Wallach for THE WASHINGTON POST

Throw that on top of the slate of flawed candidates who Trump ushered through the primaries, thus costing Republicans very winnable governor races and the Senate majority — and the picture of the GOP’s Trump problem is clear.

But the 2022 election merely fills out a picture that already had been emerging. Let’s take each election in the Trump era, one by one:

In 2020, 10 Senate races were decided by single digits. And in 8 of those 10 races, Trump’s margins were worse than the GOP Senate candidate running on the same ballot. His average underperformance in those races: more than three points.

Trump also unperformed GOP House candidates. While Republicans lost the House popular vote by 3.1 points, Trump lost his own popular vote to Joe Biden by nearly 4.5 points.

Inside Elections’ Nathan Gonzales spotlighted a different measure that drives this home: Vote Above Replacement. It works similarly to baseball’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and it’s basically a measure of how Trump performed compared to the average statewide Republican in the last four elections. Trump had a negative Vote Above Replacement in 8 of 12 battleground states, while Biden had a positive one in 10 of 12 states.

The story was actually similar in 2016. Trump won the election, but he did so while losing the popular vote and in large part because he was running against another historically unpopular opponent. And if you drill down, you can see the underperformance.

In that election, Trump had a negative Vote Above Replacement in 7 of the 10 closest states. Perhaps more strikingly, he also underperformed the GOP Senate nominee in 7 of 10 states that were decided by single digits at the presidential level and also featured a Senate contest. (In an eighth, he almost exactly matched the Senate candidate’s margin.) His average underperformance in those states: More than four points.

And again, the House popular vote was more favorable to the GOP than Trump’s. Republicans actually won the House popular vote by more than a point, but Trump lost it by more than two points.

It’s a little more difficult to tell the story of the 2018 election. Trump wasn’t on the ballot, and, unlike in 2022, there wasn’t such a robust effort to impose his will on the party’s slate in the primaries. So we can’t really compare Trump candidates to non-Trump GOP candidates like we do today.

But it was a bad election for the GOP, even relative to how the president’s party usually struggles in midterms. The GOP lost the House popular vote by 8.6 points — the largest margin in a midterm since 1986. It was also the biggest margin of defeat ever for a party that had been in the House majority on Election Day, as the Brookings Institution’s William A. Galston noted.

Republicans actually gained a net of two Senate seats, but that was largely due to a historical fluke in which the map was hugely favorable to them. Democrats had to defend 10 Senate seats in states Trump had carried two years prior, including five Trump had won by double digits. Republicans picked up three seats in those clearly red states, plus one in Florida — which is also now a red state.

The total picture

Statistics can be deceiving. The House popular vote, for instance, can be skewed a bit by which party fields a candidate in more uncontested races. And Trump not only won in 2016, but in 2020 was closer than a lot of people understand to pulling off another upset courtesy of the electoral college.

But the totality of the data points in a very clear direction: That Trump costs the GOP voters that might otherwise go for his party. In a closely divided electorate, a candidate like him can still win elections when the environment and dynamics (such as having an unusually unpopular opponent) are favorable enough. To compensate for his electoral shortcomings, Trump has now set about arguing that 2024 will have that kind of environment and dynamics.

Yet it’s no coincidence that Trump was the first president since the Great Depression to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in a single term. And it’s no coincidence that candidates Trump pushed through primaries appear to have made the difference in the battle for the Senate majority in 2022. They ran well behind the top of the ticket in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire, with the GOP winning the governor’s race in three of those states. Winning just two of those four races would’ve been good enough to deliver the GOP a Senate majority. At best the GOP will win one, in the Georgia runoff, but even that appears an uphill climb.

Trump not only set his party up for failure, but also himself. And it’s hardly the first time.

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