When the New York Times reported Saturday that Donald Trump and his team will “fall back from an expansive national campaign and concentrate the bulk of his time and money on just three or four states,” the news was not that the presidential election has come down to these familiar, small, decisive political battlefields. The news is that the Trump team has acknowledged reality.
For much of the past year, and until recently, the Trump campaign and its surrogates argued that the celebrity mogul would blow up the traditional map of red states and blue states. Whether or not Trump is the kind of candidate who could do this, no one can blame the GOP for dreaming of a candidate who can compete on the West Coast, Northeast, or upper Midwest. Since 1992, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in every presidential election, adding up to 242 electoral votes — meaning that even the worst Democratic nominee needs just 28 more to win.
Just two weeks ago, Paul Manafort told a way-too-credulous Sean Hannity on Twitter that the Trump campaign had already put Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut, and New Jersey “in play.”
But the evidence of that is pretty scant. In Wisconsin, the most recent poll puts Trump behind by four percentage points; two polls conducted in June gave Clinton leads of five and eight points. No poll conducted this cycle has shown Trump leading Clinton there. In Michigan, the most recent poll put Trump within three points; three other polls conducted in July show Clinton with leads from five to seven points. No poll conducted in 2016 has shown Trump leading in the Great Lake State, either. In Connecticut, no one has polled since early June; Clinton was up by seven points then. In New Jersey, the only poll conducted in June put Clinton ahead by 21.
Perhaps when Manafort says a state is “in play,” he means that Trump is trailing Hillary by the mid-single digits.
In mid July, Donald Trump Jr. predicted that his father would win New York, because so many people had come up to him saying they were lifelong Democrats but they would vote for his father. The one poll conducted in July put Hillary Clinton up by 12 points there. For the past year, we’ve heard Trump fans and daring political analysts declare that Trump will compete strongly in California, win it outright, or at least force Democrats to spend money there. The lone poll of the state conducted in July, by the Public Policy Institute of California, puts Hillary Clinton up by 16 points.
Early in the cycle, one could come up with somewhat plausible, or at least untested, theories about how Trump could put traditionally Democratic states in play: He’s not a lifelong Republican, his agenda is far from the traditional one for the GOP, he’s more of a pop-culture celebrity than a political figure, he’s been a New York icon for decades. Trump romped in most of these blue-state Republican primaries.
But as the political season has progressed, it’s become increasingly clear that these possibilities are not going to pan out; Trump’s lack of ties to the traditional GOP and his celebrity status count for a lot less than his fans hoped.
Trump’s lack of ties to the traditional GOP and his celebrity status count for a lot less than his fans hoped.
At this point, the Trump campaign is still campaigning in some deep-blue states. Thursday, Trump will campaign in Portland, Maine; he campaigned in Bangor a month ago. On paper, campaigning in Maine might be a clever way for Trump to steal an electoral vote; like Nebraska, Maine allocates two electoral votes to the popular-vote winner, and then one each to the popular-vote winner in each congressional district. In 2012, in Maine’s second congressional district, Romney won 44 percent, and Obama won 53 percent; Romney lost the state overall by 15 percentage points.
#related#Less easy to defend or understand is Trump’s decision to campaign Thursday in Plattsburgh, N.Y. A source told the New York Daily News that competing in New York state is “a matter of personal pride” to Trump. If this is indeed the case, the Trump campaign’s mythology has changed from self-serving to self-destructive. None of the consensus four key swing states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, or North Carolina — look anywhere near safe for Trump right now. Every minute and dollar spent in long-shot deep-blue states such as New York is one that isn’t spent on those make-or-break contests.
Candidates tell a lot of damaging lies during a presidential campaign, but perhaps the most consequential ones are the ones they tell themselves.