When Bill Clinton beat Bush, Democratic voters were celebratory and Republicans (and independents) concerned, and the Republicans won the Senate runoff in Georgia a few weeks later. This normal partisan dynamic should have been enough to carry even two mediocre candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, to victory. Trump did everything in his power to keep it from setting in. He encouraged Republican voters to believe that his presidency would continue and that their votes would not count if they showed up. He gave a megaphone to Lin Wood — who seems either to be mentally ill or imitating the condition — who told voters to punish Republicans for not doing enough to indulge the fantasy of keeping Trump in office. And at the same time he alarmed Democratic voters that he would use extraconstitutional methods to retain power.

Republicans who seek to absolve Trump of any responsibility for the defeats say the fault is Mitch McConnell’s, for refusing to allow the federal government to send $2,000 checks to most households. Even more federal spending may have made a difference — although it should be noted that Loeffler and Perdue both came out for the bigger checks. But this is not a defense of Trump. It amounts to saying that Trump elevated an issue that helped the Democrats, first by having his White House sign off on a COVID-relief deal without the checks and then by demanding them after the fact. It would have been less harmful for him to insist on the checks consistently or to have touted all the help that the relief deal included. Instead, again, he chose the course most destructive to Republican political interests.