Imagine if Al Gore had run for President again in 2004. It’s tough to say what would have happened. But let’s further say that Gore based the entirety of his 2004 messaging on “I won last time and it was stolen from me.” In that case Gore would likely have lost quite badly, and it’s easy to figure out why. To persuadable voters in the middle, he’d have come off as a bitter sore loser stuck in the past. And when you tell your own base that the last election was rigged against you, what you’re really telling them is that they might as well not vote in the next one because it’ll be rigged against them too.
Now go back and read the previous paragraph again, but this time replace “Gore” with “Trump” and replace “2004” with “2024.” There are some obvious differences (Gore actually did win in 2000). But it’s easy to see why Trump’s 2024 messaging of “I won last time and it was stolen from me” is such a dud. Trump is telling people in the middle that he’s not in the right headspace to move the nation forward; he’s stuck on past grievances. And he’s unwittingly telling his own base voting doesn’t matter.
At this point I’m convinced that the more Trump talks about how he won in 2020 and it was stolen from him, the worse he’s making it for himself. This is an argument that gains him zero additional votes, and costs him existing votes. That’s the worst kind of messaging. That’s worse messaging than if you sat home and said nothing at all.
So at this point I’m pretty much rooting for Trump to keep talking about how the last election was supposedly “rigged and stolen.” Sure, that fires up his base, but who cares? It’s not firing them up in the direction of the voting booth. It’s just firing them up to go bitterly rant on social media, which is not how you win anything. And after Trump lost the last election by seven million votes, this is not the kind of messaging that gains him a single one of the additional votes he would need this time.
It’s still up to the Republicans to decide whether they want to nominate a senile bitter has-been on his way to prison, or whether they want to nominate one of the losers who can’t seem to compete with a senile bitter has-been on his way to prison. But if they do choose Trump, and he decides to make “I won last time and it was rigged and stolen from me” the centerpiece of his messaging, he’d basically just be forfeiting.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report