My point here is not “I don’t understand how half my fellow Americans can fall for such a stupid, incompetent, malicious president!” because we already know that. The right wing echo chamber spent years putting people in a state of outrage and distrust of all other sources of information and essentially creating a cult where blind faith and loyalty to your side and blind hatred and animosity towards the other side are the core tenets.
What I don’t understand is the mentality of a voter who did not vote for Trump in 2016, but did in 2020. This is a high voter turnout election, and for Trump to even be in the running, it seems to follow that he gained votes since 2016.
I understand the reverse. I understand that there are lots of people who voted for Trump in 2016 and did not in 2020. Those people had various motivations:
A sense that voting for Trump was a big middle finger to the establishment.
A sense that Trump was actually the savvy, smart businessman that he portrayed himself as, who could cut through the bullshit and make things work better
A sense that Trump was uncorruptable because he was rich already and didn’t need to take money from anyone else, and would actually fight corruption
A built in hatred for Clinton from decades of conservatives trying to paint her as the worst person in the world
“did it for the lols” because it was something they weren’t supposed to do and they figured Trump would never win anyway so what the hell
But all of those people had their ideas shattered by the utter failure of the first Trump administration. We saw that he was none of the good things that people might’ve thought he was, and only increased the level of corruption and evil in politics, so those people would have no reason to vote for Trump again in 2020. Those reasons would not continue to apply.
And to have more total votes, Trump must’ve replaced all of these voters who would’ve voted for him once but not twice, and then added more voters on top of that.
So, of course, there’s the built in Republican base. People who will vote Republican literally no matter what, who do whatever Fox News tell them. This is the bulk of Trump’s base. But here’s the thing: they’re not new voters. They already voted for him in 2016. It’s extremely unlikely that there are many people who were not republican partisans in 2016 that were in 2020.
Then there are the deplorables, the racists, whatever - the people who exist only to “rile the libs” - they would be very happy with Trump’s performance so far because all they wanted to do is shit on the floor of their own apartment just so their roommate had to smell it too. But again, Trump already had this base in 2016, I don’t see why he would recruit anyone new in 2020.
2016 was attacking the establishment, pointing out the flaws of the other candidate, getting to snipe at any failures of our country our political system. That got a certain amount of votes from people who also feel resentful of any of those things. But in 2020, he is the establishment. What’s going wrong is under his watch. And he’s actually made things so much worse. He can’t run as an outsider capturing the minds of other outsiders.
So where did the extra votes come from?
A weak guess is that never-Trumpers saw which way the wind was blowing and talked themselves into liking Trump. Let’s look at Lindsey Graham for example. He correctly called Trump a racist, incompetent kook before the election that risks destroying the Republican party if they were so wildly irresponsible as to nominate him. But the Republicans did anyway, and while the never Trumpers thought - well, we’re fucked, people won’t stand for this - it turns out that even they underestimated just how shitty the average Republican was, and Trump basically took over the party. At that point, most Never-Trumpers saw which way the wind was blowing and jumped onboard and became Trump bootlickers, just like Graham.
Maybe something similar hapened with the voters. In 2016, some traditional Republicans may have accurately understand what a shitty person and a shitty president Trump would be and refused to vote for him, but once he won, and once the party rallied around him, and this became the future of the Republican party, they had a choice: leave the party that no longer lives up to the decency that this hypothetical republican wants to uphold, or just lower themselves into the mud with everyone else and get on board. That person would’ve refused to vote for Trump in 2016 but voted for him in 2020. I personally don’t think this is a big category, as I think Republicans even in 2016 were so partisan that they would’ve voted for Trump even against their own morality. But it’s a guess as to the type of voter who didn’t vote Trump in 2016 but did in 2020.
Of course, there are new voters who became 18 since then, and sure, some of them are 4chan radicalized kids who got on the Trump train for the lolz, maybe some incels who’ve been heavily recruited by the alt right, but the majority of young people are very much against Trump and his values, so I don’t think he picked up any voters there. On the contrary, the passage of time was likely to hurt him, as old Republican voters die off and are replaced by younger, more anti-Republican voters.
Mail in ballots being more common meant it was easier to cast a vote, so maybe there were people who would’ve voted for Trump in 2016, but were too lazy, but decided to vote for Trump in 2020 with the mail in ballot? Given that Trump is extremely polarizing, and if you support him you tend to wildly support him and would go to the polls for him, this seems unlikely to me too.
So what does that leave us? Clever Fox News/right wing echo chamber tactics to increase the size of their base in the last 4 years? Maybe. Facebook deliberately putting their finger on the scales to suppress non-extreme-right views and favor Republicans? Maybe. These are the only things that I can guess.
Quite frankly, I find the idea that Trump somehow gained voters implausible.