FEBRUARY 1, 2021
Former President Donald Trump has blamed the election results on unfounded claims of fraud and malfeasance. But at the top levels of his campaign, a detailed autopsy report that circulated among his political aides paints a far different — and more critical — portrait of what led to his defeat.
The post-mortem, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, says the former president suffered from voter perception that he wasn’t honest or trustworthy and that he was crushed by disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. And while Trump spread baseless accusations of ballot-stuffing in heavily Black cities, the report notes that he was done in by hemorrhaging support from white voters.
The 27-page report, which was written by Trump chief pollster Tony Fabrizio, shows how Trump advisers were privately reckoning with his loss even as the former president and many of his supporters engaged in a conspiracy theory-fueled effort to overturn the election. The autopsy was completed in December 2020 and distributed to Trump’s top political advisers just before President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
It is unclear if Trump has seen the report.
The findings are based on an analysis of exit polling in 10 states. Five of them — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — are states that Trump lost after winning them in 2016. The other five — Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas — are states that Trump won in both elections.
The report zeroes in on an array of demographics where Trump suffered decisive reversals in 2020, including among white seniors, the same group that helped to propel him to the White House. The autopsy says that Trump saw the “greatest erosion with white voters, particularly white men,” and that he “lost ground with almost every age group.” In the five states that flipped to Biden, Trump’s biggest drop-off was among voters aged 18-29 and 65 and older.
Suburbanites — who bolted from Trump after 2016 — also played a major role. The report says that the former president suffered a “double-digit erosion” with “White College educated voters across the board.”
The picture of the election presented in the report is widely shared by political professionals in both parties, if not by Trump and his legions of his supporters. Trump never offered a concession to Biden, and up until his final days in office, he clung to the debunked idea that the election had been stolen.
Fabrizio declined to comment on the post-mortem. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s personal behavior, the autopsy makes clear, contributed to his defeat. “Biden had a clear edge over POTUS on being seen as honest & trustworthy,” Fabrizio writes.
Trump’s response to the pandemic was also critical. The autopsy says that coronavirus registered as the top issue among voters, and that Biden won those voters by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. A majority registered disapproval of Trump’s handling of the virus.
Most voters said they prioritized battling the coronavirus over reopening the economy, even as the president put a firm emphasis on the latter. And roughly 75 percent of voters — most of whom favored Biden — said they favored public mask-wearing mandates.
The report also indirectly raises questions about the reelection campaign’s decision to pause advertising on TV over the summer and save resources until the fall. According to the findings, nearly 9-in-10 voters had made up their minds about whom to support by the final month of the race.
Fabrizio isn’t the only Trump adviser who has presented a post-mortem since Nov. 3. John McLaughlin, another Trump pollster, published a report on the conservative Newsmax website the week after the election.
Meanwhile, advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence brought in multiple pollsters to brief him on their conclusions after the election, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Among the takeaways was that Trump was gaining during the final weeks of the race and that his rallies had helped propel Republicans running in House and Senate races. But the pollsters also made clear that while there was substantial support for Trump’s policies, there was widespread exhaustion with the president.
Within Trump’s inner circle, Fabrizio had long espoused the belief that Trump needed to prioritize the pandemic in order to win reelection. Last summer, he penned a 79-page memo arguing that Trump needed to focus first on dealing with the pandemic rather than reopening the economy and recommending, among other things, that he should have been encouraging people to wear masks rather than mocking the practice.