Friday, September 02, 2016

Why Trump's Window Has Nearly Closed

As a Democrat, I am predisposed to a few things.  I can never quite tell if this is something that's been true of the left forever, or just since I became actively and not placidly involved with the party (when Democratic politics became less something I'd read about in books and more a day-to-day part of my life), but we are naturally and visibly anxious no matter what is happening in an election.  If we are behind, we are Chicken Littles to the nth degree; there is nothing short of armageddon happening and the ghost of FDR riding down on a white horse saying "chill out dude" wouldn't even quench our panic.  If we're winning, however, we still say "but don't take anything for granted" like we're warding off an evil spirit.  Seriously-go to literally any liberal blog where a Democrat is in the lead, and check the comments section-the phrase "we can't take anything for granted" will be uttered in at least 20% of the posts.  I'm not sure if this stems from the 2000 presidential election, where we saw victory snatched away from us on Election Night when Al Gore was declared the victor in Florida (thus ensuring us the election) and then suddenly it disappeared and our punishment for prematurely celebrating was eight years of the Bush administration, but man do Democrats become insufferable (myself included) from September-November of an election year.

The problem this year, is, though, that (and I literally feel myself adding a qualifier as I type this), Hillary Clinton is vastly ahead of Donald Trump at every level.  We're headed into Labor Day weekend, and yet Donald Trump is behind in virtually every single swing state, and is close to Hillary Clinton in some states (i.e. Arizona) where normally the Democrats have no actual shot at winning.  Her ground game is exceptional, she leads in virtually every national and swing state poll, she just brought in an astounding $143 million in August, and is confident enough to send some of her surrogates to places like Arizona, Utah, and Georgia.  Hillary Clinton is one of the most naturally cautious politicians in American politics-she wouldn't be risking advertising spending in a place like Colorado or Virginia if she didn't think they were in the bag.  The presidential race is becoming much, much harder to envision Donald Trump making it into the race.

Some people may quibble and say "but he's gained in the polls," but the reality is that with one exception (a brief period after the FBI press conference), Donald Trump has never led Hillary Clinton in aggregate polling-she's always been in the lead.  Being down by 4-6 points is "good news" for Trump's campaign.  If the shoe were on the other foot, Democrats would have declared doom and gloom, because it's very hard to see someone down by that much this late winning in almost any circumstance.  The fundamentals of the race aren't there for him, particularly when you remember a simple fact: all Hillary Clinton truly needs to do is hit 270 electoral votes to win the White House.

As a result, here is where the Democrats' natural advantages in the electoral college (namely that they have a historically strong coalition of western states, New England/Mid-Atlantic, and the Great Lakes region) became a fantastic asset.  The Democrats start well north of 200 electoral votes in a normal election year, and really it's getting to the last fifty or so that requires the bulk of the work.  Hillary Clinton is leading in every single swing state, but she doesn't really need to do so.  I think because we're distanced enough from the Al Gore/John Kerry elections (Obama won by comparative landslides) that we've forgotten all you need is 270 electoral votes.  Hillary Clinton could lose Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, all states where she's currently in the lead at Real Clear Politics...and she'd still win the election.  Let that sink in for a second-Trump regains the ground in six swing states, and he's still behind.  That's not counting places like NE-2, Arizona, and Missouri where polling has shown Clinton has a shot.

Really, where Trump ran into serious issues and where Clinton locked down the election were five swing states that have heavily gone to her camp, and made up an impressive wall: Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.  Colorado was definitely the result of Trump's own hubris-his comments on immigrants early on in the campaign, coupled with his loss of college-educated women, probably doomed him in the state, which has a strong population of both groups that Clinton can rely upon to take the nine electoral votes.  Wisconsin and Pennsylvania almost always go Democratic, but the polling swung there earlier than usual this year, to the point where they look more like Minnesota in their numbers than your average swing state.  New Hampshire has gone with the presidential victors in recent years, but has definitely started to see its once traditional dislike of the Democratic Party (it's always been the most conservative state in New England) be shed further and further to the point where it's more blue-purple than purple.  And finally, there's Virginia, which was already headed in Clinton's direction before she picked Tim Kaine but with his selection (which I maintain, for the simple reason of 270 insurance, was a smart one) has felt secure.

And that's pretty much it for Trump if Clinton takes those states.  Despite protestations that a state like New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, or Washington might turn, they haven't shown any sign of that in polling or in campaigning.  Clinton's wall shows little signs of breaking, and even it does she's still leading in six "gravy" states at this point, plus making plays in a couple of others.  She's in a position of power so dominant that Republicans are apparently privately telling Trump that if he can't fix the campaign soon (probably within a week of the first debate) this is a lost cause.

Now, I will say a couple of things.  There are still factors that deeply matter in the election results  The media, for example, desperately wants him to do well because a horse race sells more clicks than a blowout.  You saw that this past week when Trump's horrible international trip to Mexico, where the president of the country literally called him a liar after he left, was seen on-par with Bill Clinton getting fast-tracked passports from the State Department while his wife was Secretary of State (hate to break it to you New York Times, but a former president would have gotten fast-tracked passports regardless of who was in charge at Foggy Bottom) to save two journalists' from North Korean work camps.  No good deed goes unpunished, indeed.  I mean, that's pretty much the height of ridiculousness, but out of a compulsive need to seem "nonpartisan" or because they know no one will pay attention if everyone thinks Clinton will win, the media is intent on insuring that the race seem competitive.

Additionally, 270 is not really going to be seen as a victory for the Clinton campaign.  If Trump manages to somehow get to, say, 267 electoral votes (what would happen if Clinton won her base states, plus only New Hampshire, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), it would be a huge blow to her mandate and would almost certainly mean the Democrats lost the Senate and the House (though even in that situation their minorities would be larger).  Pundits would (correctly) state that she only won because Donald Trump was a complete, unparalleled disaster as a candidate, and would get no honeymoon, and Republicans (likely smelling blood in the water) would try to make sure she was a one-term president.  It would mean most of her agenda would be nothing more than a campaign dream.  That would be a pretty bad hit for the Democrats and of course for Clinton herself, and would surely feel like a loss from a practical standpoint.

BUT, she'd still be president.  That's the true focus here when I say Trump is losing his chances at victory.  There's winning in January, which is what Clinton (always the A+ student), is truly running for now, and there's winning in November.  And based on every poll out there and every indicator on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has an unbelievable advantage to win in November even if the January victory is still being fought.  Democrat, should, as I pointed out in a cliche that I'll indulge above, still work hard and try to get out every vote.  There are a bizarrely large amount of Senate races in battleground states, and getting Clinton more votes in a place like Florida or Arizona or Iowa could make the difference in congressional contests, and every victory they score there will be another chance of Clinton winning in January (which, for those who back her agenda, is an equally important milestone).  Every electoral vote Democrats put in her column will help to fight off Republicans who will proclaim "she only won because of Trump."  But the reality is that it would take a miracle I've never seen in modern politics for Trump to bounce back from to actually win.  It's theoretically possible, but anyone who says it's probable or likely can't read the numbers.

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