Donald Trump Would Lead The GOP To Electoral College Disaster
Putting Donald Trump at the top of the ticket would likely lead to an Electoral College disaster for Republicans.
Donald Trump may be well-positioned to win the Republican nomination for President, but putting him at the top of the ticket could mean an historic loss for the GOP in November:
Donald J. Trump’s presidential candidacy has stunned the Republican Party. But if he survives a late revolt by his rivals and other leaders to become the party’s standard-bearer in the general election, the electoral map now coming into view is positively forbidding.
In recent head-to-head polls with one Democrat whom Mr. Trump may face in the fall, Hillary Clinton, he trails in every key state, including Florida and Ohio, despite her soaring unpopularity ratings with swing voters
In Democratic-leaning states across the Rust Belt, which Mr. Trump has vowed to return to the Republican column for the first time in nearly 30 years, his deficit is even worse: Mrs. Clinton leads him by double digits in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Trump is so negatively viewed, polls suggest, that he could turn otherwise safe Republican states, usually political afterthoughts because of their strong conservative tilt, into tight contests. In Utah, his deep unpopularity with Mormon voters suggests that a state that has gone Republican every election for a half-century could wind up in play. Republicans there pointed to a much-discussed Deseret News poll last month, showing Mrs. Clinton with a narrow lead over Mr. Trump, to argue that the state would be difficult for him.
Horse-race polls this early are poor predictors of election results, and candidates have turned around public opinion before. And the country’s politics have become so sharply polarized that no major-party contender is likely to come near the 49-state defeats suffered by Democrats in 1972 and 1984.
But without an extraordinary reversal — or the total collapse of whoever becomes his general-election opponent — Mr. Trump could be hard-pressed to win more than 200 of the 270 electoral votes required to win.
As it is, any Republican candidate is likely to have a difficult time putting together the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the Presidency thanks to what appears to be a fairly solid Democratic lock on a number of states stretching back to the 1992 election that have allowed the Democratic candidate to win four of the last six Presidential elections, and to nearly win a fifth in 2000. Based on these elections, any Democratic candidate walks into a General Election with a fairly solid base of states that include everything from California to New York, along with states such as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, some of which may seem tempting to Republicans in a given year but which have all gone solidly for the Democratic nominee since at least 1992. Depending on how you classify these states, this gives the Democrats as much as 242 Electoral Votes that are more or less in the bank, while Republicans can reliably rely upon states totaling no more than 206 Electoral Votes. The advantages for Democrats are obvious. Assuming they can hold on to the states that have been reliably Democratic in the past six elections, a Democrat needs to win only 28 of the remaining 90 Electoral Votes in order to win the election, something that could be done simply by winning Florida and its 29 Electoral Votes or by winning Ohio or Virginia and a handful of other states. Republicans, on the other hand, would need to win 64 Electoral Votes, something that wouldn’t even be done if the GOP somehow managed to win Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.
The reality of this Electoral College math makes 2016 difficult for any Republican candidate, and even more so for a candidate as universally disliked as Trump:
Mr. Trump has become unacceptable, perhaps irreversibly so, to broad swaths of Americans, including large majorities of women, nonwhites, Hispanics, voters under 30 and those with college degrees — the voters who powered President Obama’s two victories and represent the country’s demographic future. All view him unfavorably by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
In some states, Mr. Trump has surprised establishment-aligned Republicans with his breadth of support beyond the less-educated men who form his base. Even so, his support in the nominating process, in which some 30 million people may ultimately vote, would be swamped in a general election, when turnout is likely to be four times that.
“We’re talking about somebody who has the passionate devotion of a minority and alternately scares, appalls, angers — or all of the above — a majority of the country,” said Henry Olsen, a conservative analyst. “This isn’t anything but a historic election defeat just waiting to happen.”
What could ensure a humiliating loss for Mr. Trump in November are his troubles with constituencies that have favored Republicans in recent elections. Among independents, a group that Mitt Romney carried even as he lost to President Obama in 2012, Mr. Trump would begin the fall campaign at a considerable disadvantage: 19 percent have a favorable opinion of him, but 57 percent view him unfavorably, the Times/CBS survey found. Given his loathed standing among Democrats and the possibility that many in his own party would spurn him, Mr. Trump would need to invert his numbers among independents to even be competitive in November.
With white women, a bloc Mr. Romney easily won even in defeat, Mr. Trump is nearly as unpopular: 23 percent view him favorably, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. And that was before Mr. Trump attacked Senator Ted Cruz’s wife, ridiculed a female reporter against whom Mr. Trump’s campaign manager was charged with committing battery, and suggested that women who have abortions should face criminal punishment before reversing himself.
Mr. Trump’s penchant to offend and his household-name celebrity are a potentially lethal combination, as most voters have both firm and deeply negative opinions of him. His incendiary comments about minorities and the disabled, and proposals to bar Muslims from entering the United States or to force Mexico to pay for a wall on the southern border, have resounded so widely that half of all voters said they would be scared if he were elected president, according to the Times/CBS poll.
“There is no precedent for this,” said Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster. “In the modern polling era, since around World War II, there hasn’t been a more unpopular potential presidential nominee than Donald Trump.”
Added into Trump’s negatives are the fact that head-to-head polling has shown him losing to both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by double digit margins. While General Election matchups like this should be viewed somewhat skeptically this far away from Election Day, they are yet another indication of just how tough a task Republicans would have with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. In that case, the best case scenario would have the GOP doing no better than Mitt Romney did in 2012 or John McCain did in 2008. The worst case scenario could get quite bad indeed. States like North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri could suddenly become competitive. The Clinton’s ties to Arkansas could make that state competitive again, meaning that Republicans could end up seeing a loss on a par with those suffered in 1992 or 1996 even if there isn’t a strong third-party candidate in the race as there was in those two races. Even if Republicans ended up winning most of these states in the they could potentially be required to expend resources defending them that otherwise could be spent trying to win in states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. This could have an impact not only on the Presidential race but also on the battle to hold on to the Senate, where Republicans are already faced with the prospect of defending seats in states that are likely to go strongly for the Democratic candidate for President regardless of who it might be. Put someone as seemingly unpopular among so many important voting blocs on the top of the ticket, and the risks to down ballot races become even more apparent.
To be fair, the numbers don’t look that much better for Republicans in the fall if you put Ted Cruz at the top of the ticket given that he too loses to both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, albeit by not as wide a margin as Trump, and it is hard to see how a candidate like Cruz could put together the kind of coalition that would be necessary to win in states like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia in the fall. With Trump, though, it seems clear that the GOP is courting the kind of electoral college disaster that could have widespread implications for the party as a whole that could be difficult to recover from absent serious changes in the direction that the party is going in the future. For the time being at least, that kind of discussion seems to be off the table. Indeed, it’s more likely that a loss in November would lead to more infighting than that it would lead to the kind of internal reflection that led Democrats to make the kind of changes that led to the nomination of Bill Clinton in 1992. Instead, the echo chamber is likely to tell conservatives that, once again, they lost because of the betrayal of the “establishment” or some other reason that places the blame anywhere other than at the feet of an ideology that seems to be falling out of step with larger and larger segments of the American public. At some point, they’ll either learn that lesson or slip further into becoming a largely regional party that can’t win national elections and capture the White House.