I’m accused of being a pessimist about Donald Trump’s chances on Election Day — accurately. But let’s take the optimistic outlook for once, and see how things look for the GOP nominee if he catches a lucky break and the ball bounces his way.
Give Trump all of the traditionally Republican Mountain West states, the Midwest, Texas, and everywhere in the South except North Carolina and Florida, which we’ll return to later. Trump’s lead in Georgia has been small but consistent. Assume Evan McMullin doesn’t win Utah. Assume Hillary doesn’t steal an electoral vote in Nebraska. Trump’s only led one of the three polls in Arizona this month, but let’s assume that state sticks with its traditional support for the GOP nominee.
With most of the traditional Republican states, Trump starts at 191 electoral votes, and needs another 79.
Most of the polling has him ahead in Iowa, although one had him tied with Clinton. Give him Iowa’s six. The only poll that puts Trump ahead in Maine’s Second Congressional District — the larger, more rural one — is from a Democratic firm. Give Trump another electoral vote from Maine.
Now he’s at 198, needing another 72.
Let’s start with Ohio, a state where Trump has consistently performed better than he has in other swing states. The last four independent pollsters found a tie, a tie, Trump ahead by four points, and Trump ahead by one point. A new poll by Remington Research, a GOP firm, puts Trump ahead by four points. USA Today compares Trump to the legendary Youngstown Democratic congressman Jim Traficant, and there’s some fascinating parallels: populism, denunciation of trade deals, outrageous quotes and a sense of humor, and an odd haircut.
I’ve got real worries about Trump’s get-out-the-vote operation in this state — or perhaps more accurately, I think Hillary Clinton’s will be much better. But let’s assume Trump cleans up among those blue-collar, working-class white voters and puts Ohio in the Trump pile. That puts him at 216.
Florida? A lot of recent polls have Hillary a small lead, but the new Bloomberg survey has Trump ahead by 2 points.
More than 2 million Floridians have cast ballots already. Registered Republicans traditionally are more likely to vote early, and we’re seeing the same trend this year: the latest numbers show nearly 876,000 Republicans have cast ballots compared to more than 862,000 Democrats. More than 336,000 voters with no party affiliation have voted. This is another one of those states where you would really like to see a presidential campaign with a perfectly-tuned, cooking-with-all-four-burners get-out-the-vote program. That is not quite the case this year:
At one point last week, Democrats briefly overtook Republicans in absentee ballots cast, marking the first time Democrats have ever caught Republicans in pre-Election Day ballots before in-person early voting begins.
But the lead didn’t last. By that point, the Trump campaign had realized it wasn’t actively calling and mailing absentee ballot voters to get them to mail their votes in. The campaign quickly instituted what’s called a “chase” program to pressure voters to fill out their ballots and send them in.
But let’s assume the Bloomberg poll accurately predicts the result on Election Day, and Trump narrowly wins Florida. That gives him two of the biggest crown jewel swing states, and he’s at 245, just 35 electoral votes away.
The bad news is that none of the remaining states that are even remotely in play give him that alone; he’s going to need two.
And a bunch of traditional “swing” or competitive states don’t look all that competitive this year: Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia or Wisconsin. Trump has never led any independent general election poll in any of those states. He hasn’t led any poll in Pennsylvania since July.
If we put all of those in Hillary Clinton’s pile, along with the traditional Democratic states, she’s at 263 electoral votes. She’s knocking at the door.
Trump polled well in Nevada for a stretch, then Clinton led several in a row, and the last two independent polls have a tie and Clinton ahead by 7 points. The most recent Remington Research poll — again, a GOP firm, so take that into account if you feel necessary — has Trump ahead. But let’s put this in the Trump pile, and conclude he carries the state as a beloved employer.
A couple of polls in late September put Trump ahead in Colorado, but it’s been a consistent lead for Clinton since. Mike Pence and Eric Trump are campaigning there this week. Give Colorado and it’s nine electoral votes to Trump, and he’s at 260.
It’s been a long time since Trump led a poll in North Carolina, except for the latest Remington Research poll. But Clinton’s lead had been from one to three points, until the latest New York Times/Siena poll. The Trump campaign is clearly focusing on North Carolina all the way to the end; I fully expect this will be one of his last visits of the 2016 campaign.
If Trump wins North Carolina and all of the other states outlined above, he finishes with 275 electoral votes, and becomes the 45th President of the United States.
As noted, that’s the optimistic scenario. Right now, I wouldn’t want to bet any significant amount of money on him carrying most of these states. A giant question is whether the get-out-the-vote operations of independent right-leaning groups and the GOP senators in those states — Portman in Ohio, Rubio in Florida, Burr in North Carolina, Heck in Nevada — can make up for the late-starting, under-funded Trump volunteer get-out-the-vote operations. If so, we shouldn’t expect Trump to underperform his final polls.
Bloomberg: ‘Trump’s Staff Knows He’s Losing’
Bloomberg offers a fascinating look inside the Trump operation: more data-driven than you might expect, and no, not quite as skeptical of the public polls as his fans insist:
Despite Trump’s claim that he doesn’t believe the polls, his San Antonio research team spends $100,000 a week on surveys (apart from polls commissioned out of Trump Tower) and has sophisticated models that run daily simulations of the election. The results mirror those of the more reliable public forecasters—in other words, Trump’s staff knows he’s losing. Badly. “Nate Silver’s results have been similar to ours,” says Parscale, referring to the polling analyst and his predictions at FiveThirtyEight, “except they lag by a week or two because he’s relying on public polls.” The campaign knows who it must reach and is still executing its strategy despite the public turmoil: It’s identified 13.5 million voters in 16 battleground states whom it considers persuadable, although the number of voters shrinks daily as they make up their minds.
Trump’s team also knows where its fate will be decided. It’s built a model, the “Battleground Optimizer Path to Victory,” to weight and rank the states that the data team believes are most critical to amassing the 270 electoral votes Trump needs to win the White House. On Oct. 18 they rank as follows: Florida (“If we don’t win, we’re cooked,” says an official), Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia.
This morning, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight says Hillary Clinton has an 85 percent chance of winning the presidency, sweeping all of the swing states, winning Arizona, and finishing with about 338 electoral votes. Heading into the first debate, Silver’s formula gave Trump a 45 percent chance of winning the presidency.
ADDENDA: A question I’m still wrestling with: Is WikiLeaks’s hacking — and likely work with Russian intelligence — partially justified if it exposes criminal behavior by American politicians, such as bribery?
I see some arguments that WikiLeaks “is doing the work that American journalists should be doing!” But how is American journalist supposed to learn about Hillary Clinton soliciting a $12 million donation from the Morocco government in exchange for an appearance? The Clinton meetings with the Moroccan leaders are private; no journalist is inside the room. The Clinton Foundation’s disclosure forms don’t mention what they promised in exchange for their lucrative donations from foreign governments. The Clintons lie, obviously.
In other words, short of breaking and entering into the Clinton Foundation’s offices, or spending years undercover in the Clinton Foundation — the sort of work an intelligence agency does, not a journalism institution with deadlines and a publication schedule — how was anyone supposed to know about a secret deal like this? That’s why it’s secret!
Of course, here’s the bigger problem. What are the American people supposed to do when the only way they can learn the actual agenda and priorities of their aspiring president is through the leaks from a foreign intelligence service?