Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogs on, but he has effectively blown his chances at getting into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. By failing to pivot through his convention, by failing to build a ground team in important states, and by failing to reassure voters uneasy with his primary rhetoric, Trump has killed his campaign. The result: His numbers with college-educated voters and blacks have dropped dramatically, effectively locking him out of states such as Florida, Ohio, and, yes, Pennsylvania.
This piece could be rather short. Indeed, I could simply say what most analysts think but are careful not to admit loudly for fear of being proven wrong: Trump, at this rate, isn’t going to be president. Instead, I will try to explain why — which, in short, is that he has no credible path. At one time, it looked as if Trump could make it to the White House through Pennsylvania (a few weeks ago, I made this case at length). Now, however, his numbers in that state are plummeting. That Clinton “bounce” we heard so much about after the Democratic election? It’s now a sustained gap, and it threatens to swallow most if not all of the endangered down-ballot seats.
On the face of it, Pennsylvania is not the be-all, end-all. After all, Trump could still win by collecting a combination of Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, and/or New Hampshire. In truth, though, that avenue seems less likely by the day. Hillary Clinton has been relatively weak in Iowa and Nevada, and the high percentage of no-college whites in each gives Trump at least a fighting chance (though he trails in both state averages). But his atrocious numbers in Wisconsin and New Hampshire almost certainly rule out his achieving the quartet. He has, in short, nowhere to go.
It didn’t have to be this way. Indeed, Trump had a narrow window to get on a competitive footing and to keep the race close through the Fall. But as you can see from the data, that window has all but closed on him, with Clinton’s advantages Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin widening alongside her national lead:
Ask yourself a question: What presidential candidate (not incumbent) was polling this badly within the 90-day election window and then went on to win the presidency? If you are having trouble coming up with an answer, that’s because there hasn’t been one.
Whatever he might say, fraud will not cost Donald Trump this race. That this even has to be said shows the level of paranoia and disconnect from reality some Republicans have sunk into over the last few years. There was a mini conspiracy going around about why 57 wards in Philadelphia cast no votes in 2012 for Romney. But consider that those wards were 99 percent African-American precincts with next to zero registered Republicans. Also consider that if you were to negate those 57 wards — discount every one of their ballots – Mitt Romney would have still lost the state by more than 290,000 votes.
Likewise, even had Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit been sunk into the earth’s mantle before November 2012, Romney would still have lost Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. His loss margins in all those cities were smaller than his statewide loss. It wasn’t fraud that cost Mitt Romney a victory; it was an incumbent president with a superior campaign that did it.
We might start seeing the “well anyone would have lost to Hillary” historical rewrites before the first Election Night numbers even roll in, and I’m going to stop you right there before you walk down that silly road. Kasich, Paul, Rubio, Bush, Walker, Carson, Christie, and, yes, Cruz, polled better against Hillary throughout the tail end of 2015 and the start of 2016 than did Donald Trump. Kasich had a 16-point margin in Pennsylvania in a survey that put Trump three points underwater. Even as we approached the end of the grueling primary, Kasich had better favorability ratings than either Trump or Clinton; the favorability of a battered Cruz was still marginally better than Trump’s; and, throughout, the eventual nominee would consistently sport the worst favorability ratings.
Kasich, Paul, Rubio, Bush, Walker, Carson, Christie, and, yes, Cruz, polled better against Hillary throughout the tail end of 2015 and the start of 2016 than did Donald Trump.
In very recent days, Donald Trump has started what some are calling a “pivot.” He has even admitted outright that he sometimes chooses the “wrong words.” Considering the consistent resistance to any significant change in his strategy, this is an improvement. But he is now losing college-educated white voters (which exist in high concentrations in the Philadelphia Collar); he’s polling at 2 percent or worse among African-American voters (he needs five times that to have a shot at blunting margins in Philadelphia); and his numbers with white men, in very recent polls, have begun to fade, too. That last part is important: White males without a college degree are his bedrock bloc. Losing ground with males overall implies that this bloc might have begun to have doubts, too.
His task in winning Pennsylvania was to remake himself for the final stretch, posing himself as a pragmatist who has a stronger ear for the economically stressed than Hillary Clinton has, and one whom suburban voters could trust with their vote. The prolonged Khan kerfuffle, paranoid statements about U.S. intelligence, and ranting about rigged elections aren’t confidence boosters, and his numbers have sunk since I wrote “Why Trump Can Win Pennsylvania” for NRO in late July. He has barely begun spending anything significant on ads, and, as Buzzfeed outlined, his on-the-ground presence is still virtually nonexistent. Republicans could take full advantage of online voter registration and expand on their 2016 gains, but not if there isn’t a volunteer structure set up to identify, contact, and sign up potential voters.
Primary voters gambled with an outsider who promised to shake things up and run a campaign that would be radically different from anything seen before. The blueprint for winning Pennsylvania and the general election was always there. We’ll know very shortly whether he’s actually bothering to give it a look.