In several of these states, the erosion was considerable. In Pennsylvania, President-elect Joe Biden won young voters by a 20-point margin, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 9-point advantage in 2016. In Wisconsin, Biden won the state’s youngest voters by a 16-point margin, a dramatic rise from Clinton’s razor-thin edge in 2016 — and a significant swing in a state Trump only lost by 20,000 votes. Michigan saw a four-point shift from 2016 to 2020.

“It’s not that Joe Biden electrified young people, it’s that there was a failure to connect with as many young people as we had the potential to,” said one Trump ally who is heavily involved in outreach to conservative youth.

To Trump’s critics, Biden gained ground with young voters because of who his opponent was: a divisive politician with a culture wars playbook that failed to energize audiences outside of his base. But among the president’s campaign aides and allies, the consensus is far less clear. Interviews with more than a dozen people involved in Trump’s 2020 operation revealed rifts, acrimony and a system in which no one would take the blame but everyone had a scapegoat — from the president himself, to the campaign to outside groups like Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk’s conservative campus organizing group.

The fallout has left the GOP with a dearth of insight into what went wrong with millennial and Gen Z voters — particularly in a cycle where Trump saw gains with other demographics — and no clear strategy to prevent another surge of youth support for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.