Joe Manchin just asked the question lots and lots of people have been wondering

After all, Trump's approval rating throughout his four years was dismal. Large majorities of people believed he mishandled the Covid-19 pandemic, with deadly results. He alienated many loyal Republicans with his brash style and his constant tweeting.

And yet, Trump -- as of Tuesday morning -- had won 73,989,692 votes, roughly 8 million more votes than any past presidential candidate had ever won. (Worth noting: President-elect Joe Biden won more than 80 million votes in his victory.)
Which brings me to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and an interview he did recently with The New York Times. Asked for his takeaway from the election results overall, Manchin said this:

"I just can't believe that 72 million people were either that mad or that scared of the Democrat Party to vote for what I consider a very flawed individual. Here's a person who lost 230,000 lives under his watch, basically denounced the science completely because it might hurt him politically, has a lack of compassion or empathy for humans, and denigrates anybody and everybody that does not agree with him. How 72 million people could still walk in and say, 'Yeah, it's better than that,' I just can't figure it out.

"That was a sobering thing for me. My state got wiped out this election. So I would say, I'm just looking at myself, I have not been good at my message. I know why I'm a Democrat. And I know that I've never seen the Democrat Party forsake anybody."

The simple fact is that Trump did absolutely everything to lose the 2020 election in a landslide. He botched the coronavirus pandemic. He lied -- all the time. He personally attacked anyone in his party who didn't agree with him 100% of the time. He refused to ever tailor his message to suburbanites -- especially women -- who were abandoning the GOP in droves.

And yet, for nearly 74 million Americans, that was good enough for them to cast a vote for Trump to win a second term. The question Manchin raises -- and anyone interested in politics and the future of the two major national parties needs to ponder -- is, well, why?

The truth is there is no one simple answer.

Yes, partisanship and increased polarization played a role. Trump's third year in office featured the largest partisan gap ever measured by Gallup when it came to his approval ratings -- with 89% of Republicans and just 7% of Democrats approving of how he was handling the job.
And yes, Trump absolutely fanned those partisan flames -- even if he didn't start the fire. His entire presidency has been based on the idea of dividing rather than uniting America. His off-the-cuff dismissals of political rivals as "evil" and "dogs" has an impact on the way in which we see each other.

But there are other factors at work here, too.

The increased tendency of Americans to live, work and socialize with people who think like them about politics in the country had led to a silo-ing of experience in which you never come into contact with someone you like and respect but happens to disagree with you on political matters.

The two parties have become increasingly sectionalized by what sort of area you live in as well. Rural voters have become even more loyal to Republicans. Cities have become even bluer. And the suburbs have become the battleground, with Democrats making significant gains in each of the last two national elections.

And yes, Trump's appeal to our worst instincts -- on race, immigration and any other thing that can be used to divide us -- clearly played a role as well.

The simple fact is that, for lots of Republicans, any Republican running for president -- even one whose allegiance to the GOP and its long-standing policies is tenuous at best -- is better than voting for any Democrat. Because while Hillary Clinton was, without question, a deeply polarizing figure that many Republicans had long loathed, Biden was none of those things.

If ever there was a Democratic nominee in this moment who could make a reasonable bid for GOP votes as a pragmatic centrist who simply wanted to return things to normal, Biden was it. And while he did win some traditional Republicans -- again, mostly in the suburbs -- Trump still managed to get 10 million more votes than he did four years ago.

While there are Republicans in 2016 who could have voted for Trump hoping he might behave more, uh, in a more presidential way once he got into office, no one could vote for Trump in 2020 without knowing exactly what they were voting for.

Which brings me back to Manchin's point. Is the real issue here -- as the West Virginia Democrat argues -- that he has "not been good at my message," not, in other words, done as good a job as he could in explaining to his constituents what the Democratic Party stands for and believes? That suggests that there are people who are open to the Democratic message if only it is presented in the right way or by the right messenger.

But Biden's struggle to win over any large swaths of Republicans -- despite Trump being Trump -- suggests that maybe there simply isn't any measurable number of people who are even open to hearing ANY message from a Democrat. Meaning that this polarization is DEEPLY entrenched.

Which is a far more depressing reality that, if true, suggests that the divisions of the Trump era aren't going away anytime soon -- if they are going away at all.

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