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Democrats had 4 years to prepare. Why is it this close?

The question on many minds is simple: How could almost 70 million people still vote for Trump?

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., stands at left.
Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

It wasn’t supposed to be this close.

That’s the sentiment making its way around the airwaves and the social media sphere this week, as former Vice President Joe Biden slowly crawls his way to an electoral victory while President Donald Trump puts up a fierce resistance.

After four years of backlash, even among Republicans and conservatives, against the president’s behavior and rhetoric — against his recent threats to the foundations of American democracy — how could this election be resulting in anything other than a landslide for Biden?

The question on their minds is simple: How could almost 70 million people still vote for Trump?

The social media sphere seems to think the reason is because deep down, at its heart, the United States is still a racist country. Add to that any of the -ists and -bics — sexist, transphobic, classist, Islamophobic. Many are witnessing this lack of repudiation of Trump’s rhetoric, and they have concluded that a deep-seated prejudice (or at least an attitude that doesn’t render prejudice disqualifying) must be the correct interpretation.

Many Republicans have, of course, defected. Arizona, usually a GOP stronghold, is turning blue this year — perhaps because of conservative Never Trumpers, buoyed by Biden endorsements from prominent Arizonan Republicans like Cindy McCain and Jeff Flake. The Republican Biden ballot is a recognizable force across the nation, even if it may not secure majorities in other surprising states besides Arizona. Put another way: Many people voted not necessarily for Biden, but against Trump.

But what if the reverse is true, too?

Another interpretation of the 70 million votes for Trump is not that the United States is a country of racists and bigots, but is rather a centrist, middle-of-the-road nation deeply opposed to the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party. Perhaps these voters dislike the man Donald Trump but are willing to put that aside because of Biden’s flirtations with socialist policies and packing the Supreme Court, because of his recruitment of the most liberal senator in Congress as his running mate. What if many people voted not necessarily for Trump, but against Biden?

Consider Latino voters, who came out in surprising numbers for the president. Ruben Navarrette notes for The Washington Post that Latinos helped Trump win Florida and Texas, and they also surged in support of him in Arizona, New Mexico and California. On the surface, it seems Latinos would want nothing to do with a man who told brown-skinned American lawmakers to “go back” to where they came from and characterized many Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. So why vote for him?

Here’s what one young, Latina Trump voter had to say: “I don’t like handouts; I don’t appreciate them. I worked hard to get here — so did my parents, so did a lot of these people here. And that’s what I want — that’s what I want for the rest of America.”

And another Latino Trump supporter: “The sharp turn to the left and extreme ideology that the Democratic Party is taking is losing the Latino vote.”

Hear any ringing Trump endorsements in there? I certainly don’t. These votes sound more like ballots cast against Biden, not for Trump.

Look, too, at who Latino Floridians helped elect to the U.S. House in Miami: Cuban American Republicans Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar, both of whom ran campaigns based on the economy that rebuked the liberal incumbents. Said Gimenez of his upset victory: “I also think my opponent and her views were too far to the left and too extreme for that particular district, and that came back to haunt her.”

None of this is to say that the United States doesn’t grapple with bigotry, or at the very least accusations thereof. That an alleged enabler like Trump has sat so comfortably behind the Resolute desk is testament to it, and even many of the more tepid Trump supporters this year would agree. But the fact that Democrats had four years and more than two dozen candidates to form a coalition against the president and still faced 70 million votes against them says more about their own party than it does the nation as a whole.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat who’s barely hanging on to her lead and whose race hasn’t been called yet, said it best as she reportedly yelled at her progressive colleagues during a postelection conference call with her caucus. Among the outbursts: “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. If we run this race again we will get ... torn apart in 2022. Don’t say socialism ever again.”