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What if Donald Trump Had Won the 2020 Election?

Had Donald Trump won in 2020, he would have been term-limited, and accordingly, he wouldn’t have felt political pressure to behave a certain way.

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. By Gage Skidmore.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona.

What if Donald Trump had won the 2020 election? It’s not the most functional consideration, given that Trump lost, and we’ve all moved on (wink), but it’s a scenario that still haunts liberals so let’s walk through the alternative history.

No Election Denialism, No January 6th

The most immediate effect of a Trump victory in 2020 would have been that the election itself would have been reframed.

Trump, who had spent months raising fears that the election would be illegitimate on account of Democrat-inspired voter fraud and the flaws of mail-in ballots, would have accepted the results as legitimate had he won. He would have said the American people have spoken! The election denialism that has become so prominent on the right since 2020 would have faded away overnight. And of course, January 6th wouldn’t have happened. No QAnon Shamon. No Liz Cheney. No House Oversight investigation.

But that’s not to say the election would have gone down smoothly. You may remember that after the Democrats lost in 2016, they quickly blamed Russian interference for Hillary’s loss. In the lead up to 2020, Democrats were sounding alarms, again, over the prospect of Russian interference in the election (under the theory that Russia preferred Trump in office because he was “soft” on Russia). Had Biden lost, Democrats surely would have played up the Russian interference angle (which would have relied on a few janky, Russian-made, pro-Trump memes and YouTube videos).

Russian Response

Speaking of Russia, perhaps the biggest question relating to what a Trump 2020 win may have looked like, is how it would have affected Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Democrats love to rag on Trump for having been soft on Russia, proposing that Russia didn’t need to invade Ukraine because under Trump, Russia already got everything that they wanted. That’s ridiculous. Trump regularly made decisions that cut against Russian interests and against US-Russia harmony. In fact, Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine was likely made in part because of unfavorable outcomes during the Trump administration. So, it seems unlikely that Russia would have withheld their invasion because Trump had earned a second term.  

The better question is how would Trump have responded to a Russian invasion of Ukraine? Trump has talked tough about Europeans taking care of themselves, of funding their own defenses. Perhaps Trump would have supported his rhetoric with a more limited offering of defense funding. Whereas the US under Biden has basically handed Ukraine a blank check, Trump may have been more sparing in his donations. Although, Trump had surrounded himself with a hawkish and somewhat mainstream foreign policy staff – a staff that would have likely supported the US inserting itself in the conflict for the purpose of draining Russian strength and resources. So, maybe the response under Trump wouldn’t look all that different than it has been under Biden.

Less Political Constraints for Donald Trump

Had Donald Trump won in 2020, he would have been term-limited, and accordingly, he wouldn’t have felt political pressure to behave a certain way. As 19FortyFive contributor John Bolton concluded in his book, a second-term Trump would have been “far less constrained by politics than he was in the first.”

Trump would have been “free to be himself – to pursue policies that benefit him personally,” according to Thomas Wright, formerly of the Brookings Institute.

But, in the end, we’ll never really know what a Trump 2020 win would have looked like. And I’m okay with that.

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Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.