Well, well, well. Looks like the red-blue electoral map won’t look all that different from previous cycles after all:
Donald J. Trump confronting a daunting electoral map and a significant financial disadvantage, is preparing to fall back from an expansive national campaign and concentrate the bulk of his time and money on just three or four states that his campaign believes he must sweep in order to win the presidency.
You can probably guess those three or four states already: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
While Mr. Trump is not ready to give up entirely on any of the major battlegrounds, advisers have become increasingly convinced that his most plausible route to the presidency, and perhaps his only realistic victory scenario, involves capturing all three of the biggest contested electoral prizes on the map, and keeping North Carolina in the Republican column.
Mr. Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, are expected to campaign intensively across those four must-win states, with Mr. Trump trumpeting a set of blunt slogans through mass media and Mr. Pence focused on shoring up support from conservatives and right-of-center whites.
Two weeks ago, Paul Manafort was telling a way-too-credulous Sean Hannity that the Trump campaign had put Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey in play. In mid-July, Donald Trump Jr. predicted his father would win New York, because so many people came up to him saying they were lifelong Democrats but would vote for his father. For the past year, we’ve heard Trump fans and daring political analysts declare Trump could compete strongly in California, win it outright, or at least force Democrats to spend money there.
Last week in Philadelphia, I heard a Trump surrogate boasting that his man could win forty to forty-five states.
Look, you have a choice in the news you read, particularly about politics. The dangers of people who only tell you what you want to hear is that they only tell you what you want to hear. “Huge victory is always just around the corner!” “The polls that look bad are skewed!” “You can accurately predict Election Day turnout by rally attendance size and how many yard signs you see in your community!” We hear this every election cycle! And no matter how many times these runic stones of divination fail us, people go back the following cycle and choose to believe again.
In Wisconsin, one poll so far this year put Trump within four; the others show Clinton with larger leads. In Michigan, one poll put Trump within three; the others gave Clinton larger leads. In Connecticut, no one has polled since early June; Clinton was up seven. In New Jersey, the only poll conducted in June put Clinton ahead by 21. In New York, no poll has shown Clinton’s lead smaller than 12 points. It’s a similar situation in California, no poll had her with a lead in less than single digits.
We’re right back to fighting over the same familiar swing states. Gee, if only the Republicans had a senator from Florida or a governor from Ohio in their mix of candidates this year.
GOP Hopes for the Senate Are Still Hanging On
The good news for Republicans is that Donald Trump isn’t hurting their hopes of keeping a Senate majority in November — at least, not yet:
In the critical states of Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, GOP candidates are running as strongly as they were before Trump became the party’s presidential nominee.
“If the election were held today, it’d be exactly like a midterm election. Good campaigns are going to win. There’s no landslide,” said David Carney, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist. “The bases are baked in. I don’t see dramatic shifts anywhere.”
The Hill interviewed more than a dozen strategists involved in the battles for the House and Senate in reporting this story. Those strategists laid out two starkly different paths each party is pursuing: Democrats hope to nationalize elections by tying Trump to every Republican running for office. Republicans hope to localize races by focusing on issues specific to their constituents.
Neither party’s internal surveys show evidence of a developing wave, but the tumult and turbulence of an unpredictable year could tilt the field at any time.
The more troubled the Trump campaign looks, the more important the Senate campaigns appear.
Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch declared Sunday that his expansive political network would not support Donald Trump, questioning whether the Republican presidential nominee believes in free markets.
During an exclusive gathering with some of the nation’s most powerful Republican donors, the 80-year-old conservative icon also dismissed any suggestion he might support Democrat Hillary Clinton as “a blood libel.”
“At this point I can’t support either candidate, but I’m certainly not going to support Hillary,” Koch told hundreds of donors gathered for a weekend retreat in a luxury hotel at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
With Election Day just three months away, Koch and his chief lieutenants openly refused to support the Republican presidential nominee, focusing their tremendous resources instead on helping the GOP win competitive Senate contests in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Thursday afternoon, Chuck Schumer suggested the only way Democrats wouldn’t win the Senate was if the Koch brothers, with their sinister special interest agenda, vastly outspent their efforts. I guess Democratic money grows on trees.
Our On-Again, Off-Again Respect for Grieving Parents in Politics
Hey, remember when the first night of the Republican convention featured Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith who was slain in Benghazi? Remember how her speech was called a “cynical exploitation of grief”? Or the “unabashed exploitation of private people’s grief” or “the weaponization of grief”? Remember how she “ruined the evening“? How it was “a spectacle so offensive, it was hard to even comprehend”? How some liberal commentators said, “Mrs. Smith was really most interested in drinking blood rather than healing”? How her speech represented an “early dip into the gutter“? Remember how a GQ writer publicly expressed a desire to beat her to death?
In every interaction about the Kahn family, Donald Trump reveals what most observers already knew: He’s a narcissistic ass who can’t even be bothered to fake empathy. But the Democratic convention organizers’ choice to showcase the Khans as the spokespeople for the message that Trump is morally unacceptable to be the leader of the country is the mirror image of the Republican convention organizers’ choice to showcase Smith. And we see that most people’s reaction to each grieving parent aligns precisely with their partisan perspective.
One more point on the mass amnesia about Patricia Smith: Democrats fumed that she held Hillary Clinton responsible for her son’s death; we can argue about just how much responsibility for the attack in Benghazi falls on Clinton’s shoulders. But Smith’s fury against Clinton is driven by her belief that the former Secretary of State lied to her; she said, “When I saw Hillary Clinton at Sean’s coffin ceremony, just days later, she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.” Hillary denies the claim and implies Smith is lying.
We don’t know Patricia Smith. We don’t know if she’s a generally honest person or a generally dishonest person. We don’t know if she’s remembering the interaction clearly or if overwhelming grief has affected her perception of things.
But we do know Hillary Clinton from three decades in public life. And we know she lies when she’s cornered. Running from snipers in the Balkans, being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House, “all my grandparents” immigrated to America, her tale of trying to join the Marines, her claim she never received or sent any material that was classified on her private e-mail system, her claim to have started criticizing the Iraq War before Barack Obama did . . . she lies, and she lies, and she lies. And so between Smith and Clinton, one has earned the benefit of the doubt, and the other hasn’t.
ADDENDA: Busy week ahead! Check out the Three Martini Lunch today and for the rest of the week; a new TJAMS is on the way, I’m tentatively scheduled to appear on CNN Wednesday and NRA News on Thursday.