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 Shrug

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pch101 says:

    I dunno. I’m going to guess that Trump and Cruz would both end up with similar electoral maps, which wouldn’t be much different than 2012. Kasich might do a bit better, since he may have better odds than most of winning Ohio, but he probably can’t get to 270, either.

    As we know, 49 of our 51 presidential elections are winner-take-all, so it has no effect on the final outcome whether a given state is won by a hair or by a substantial margin.

    I suspect that most Republican loyalists who bother to vote will for the Republican, regardless of who it is. The nominee may determine the level of turnout and the margin of victory/defeat, but that probably won’t change many state-level outcomes.

    One of the fundamental problems for the GOP is that Virginia, Nevada and Colorado have become more blue due to demographic shifts. This is somewhat offset by Missouri transitioning from being a swing to a red state, but that produces a net deficit of 18 electoral votes and two states for the Republicans. That’s a lot of votes when these things are won by the margins.

  2. James in Silverdale says:

    The remarkable thing about the new Sabato electoral college map

    is that there are no swing states. None are marked as “toss-up.” This is a baseline map that indicates the GOP has no direction to go but “smaller.”

    The recent comments from Trump regarding nukes and abortion sound like an egomaniac who sees the deal has gone south, and has no idea how to extricate himself.

    Look for him to be replaced by Paul Ryan at the convention, who will go on to lose WI. Trump says things out loud the GOP would rather not have him say, and it’s too late. They’ve been said, and social media never forgets.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    and to nearly win a fifth in 2000

    Which the Dems lost because of rat fracking by W’s brother and others and intervention by the Supremes.

    Remember that no matter how badly the GOPs lose the Prez election, they are still a power at the state level. No matter how much Trump, or Cruz, loses to Hillary, she probably still faces an R majority in the House, with an intransigent Freedom (sic) Caucus and a nearly evenly split Senate with the filibuster.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    @James in Silverdale:

    The remarkable thing about the new Sabato electoral college map
    is that there are no swing states. None are marked as “toss-up.” This is a baseline map that indicates the GOP has no direction to go but “smaller.”

    Interesting map.
    Hillary has to be thinking her lucky stars that Cruz and Trump, albeit for different reasons, have very high negatives, so much so that they cancel out and offset Hillary’s negatives. The biggest hurdle for Hillary and Democrats to overcome is indifference and (relatively) low turnout. If the Democratic turnout is high, Hillary wins. If the Sandernista are disappointed losers who sit on their hands and don’t vote then all bets are off.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    The Dems should be able to play off fear of Trump or Cruz to drive turnout . Kasich less so, but only because they don’t know him very well.

  6. PJ says:

    At this time, which Republican wouldn’t lead the GOP to electoral college disaster?

    If Trump wins => electoral college disaster.

    Brokered convention and the GOP nominates Cruz, having the second most electoral votes, instead of Trump. Pissing off Trump voters and Cruz not being a good general election candidate either => electoral college disaster.

    Brokered convention and the GOP nominates either Rubio, Kasich, Ryan, or any other candidate other than Trump and Cruz => Pissing off _both_ Trump and Cruz voters => electoral college disaster.

    I fail to see a way out for the GOP.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Or nominating Trump might lead to a historic win… More likely a bad, but historically precedented loss.

    A lot of people on the right will rationalize a way to vote for a racist carnival barker. They were willing to vote for Sarah Palin as VP, after all.

  8. Tyrell says:

    Hillary needs to distance herself far away from the president’s administration to carry states in the south, southwest, and some big midwest states. She will be in trouble if she writes off the south.
    Trump could make it a horse race in New York and Ohio.
    Sanders is gaining momentum and taking the offensive.
    Both parties could wind up in a dead heat. Then the interest in a third party will grow faster than a Texas twister. Possibilities there could maybe be Gates, Bloomberg, Powell, Carson.

  9. PJ says:

    Do you also see flying pigs in the future?

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: Did you look at Sabato’s map in @al-Ameda:’s comment? If the Rs nominate Trump, Hillary doesn’t need to fight for southern, midwestern and western states. Sabato has her taking FL, VA, NC, OH, IL MN, WI, MI, CO, NM. Why should she beat her brains out for Wyoming’s 3 electors? All she has to do is keep breathing to sweep the electoral college if Trump’s the nominee.

    The rest of the Rs hint and dog whistle because they know that saying straight out the stuff Trump says pisses off women. It alienates the “minority” that’s really a majority. His favorable/unfavorable with women is around 20/70! How does he lie his way around that in seven months?

  11. SteveGinGTO says:

    FYI, the block of Democratic states with 242 electoral votes has a name.


  12. SteveGinGTO says:

    BTW, for all popularity polls about Presidential candidates, there is a big caveat.

    Let’s take Hillary, for example. The unfavorables or favorables about her in Deep Red states won’t affect her overall one iota. Those states and every vote in them were never in her success equation, one way or another. If they vote for her or against her, she lost their state, anyway.

    So they affect popularity polls but not her electoral success.

    So the real polls need to be state specific, excluding Deep Red states, for her.

    For Ted Cruz, we need to exclude Deep Blue states, because their votes are not accessible to him, no matter what.

    For Trump? Who knows.

    Without clarifying if the poll querants are from “available” states, I see such polls as misleading and mostly useless.

  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tyrell: Dude, not even the 1992 version of *Bill* Clinton at his least damaged and most Bubba could win in the South in 2016.

    The best *any* Democratic presidential candidate can hope for in the current environment is to be popular enough in areas of the South that have a high proportion of Democratic-leaning voters that he or she can drive increased turn-out for the benefit of down-ticket races.

    What Democrats are not at good at understanding as the GOP is that structural changes in the state and local political environment are what drive changes a decade or two down the road. Hate the Congressional districts drawn after 2010? Start getting Democrats elected and appointed to water commissions and school boards and city commissions in 2012 and 2014, so that they are positions to move to state legislatures in 2018 and 2020, where they then become positioned to contest the House seats they just drew in 2022 and 2024

  14. Paul Hooson says:

    Thanks to Mitt Romney, Utah, one of the most conservative and Republican states is in play for the democrats because Trump is so disliked. This is important because Utah has not voted democratic since the 1964 LBJ landslide. This gives some idea of how massive a win by either Hillary or Sanders could be. More evidence Trump cannot win is that he runs way behind Hillary in both NY and NJ. I don’t know of anyone ever elected president who did not win their home state. In 2000, Al Gore actually lost the election because he failed to carry his home state of Tennessee. Most people looked at the disputed vote in Florida, but it was Tennessee that actually cost Gore the White House. In 2012, Romney could not win either home state of Michigan or Massachusetts, while Ryan could not win Wisconsin.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:


    She will be in trouble if she writes off the south.

    Not really. Obama won in 2008 365 electoral votes to 173. The only Southern states he carried were Florida, Virginia and NC. Had he lost all three of them, he still would have won 310 electoral votes to 228.

    Likewise, in 2012 he won 332 electoral votes to 206. The only Southern states that he carried were Florida and Virginia. Had he lost both of them, he still would have won 290 electoral votes to 248.

    Electoral trending, if it indicates anything, indicates that the South is largely lost to Democrats for the foreseeable future, and that’s fine 1) because we don’t need it to win, 2) what we would have to do / say / promise to actually win there would hurt us everywhere else, and 3) because those same electoral trends will eventually shift the South back towards being purple. Investing time, resources and energy into the South for national elections is a waste of all three for the Democratic Party.

  16. CSK says:

    Trump is b!tching now that Kasich is “stealing” votes from him, because Kasich’s name is on the ballot.

    Apparently, in TrumpWorld, having your name on the ballot constitutes theft of votes that belong to Trump.

  17. stonetools says:


    No matter how much Trump, or Cruz, loses to Hillary, she probably still faces an R majority in the House, with an intransigent Freedom (sic) Caucus and a nearly evenly split Senate with the filibuster.

    Actually, the word on the street is that an anti Trump landslide could endanger the House. I doubt that, myself, but I also hear that McConnell is virtually resigned to losing the Senate- and if the Senate goes Democratic, the filibuster will be gone for Supreme Court and executive appointments. There is no way Schumer and the Senate Democrats are going to allow the Republicans to filibuster Supreme Court and executive appointments the way they did for Obama’s appointments.

  18. al-Ameda says:


    Hillary needs to distance herself far away from the president’s administration to carry states in the south, southwest, and some big midwest states.

    Why does she need to distance herself from a president who is popular (52% approval now), has won 2 elections, and who has presided over an economic recovery that has seen; (1) the UE rate drop from 10%to 5%, (2) saved 100’s of thousands of jobs by not letting GM and Chrysler go into bankruptcy, (3) a stock market that has recovered from 8,000 to over 17,000, and (4) a housing market that has regained most of the trillions of dollars lost in the 2008 crash? She’d be foolish to distance herself from Obama.

    She will be in trouble if she writes off the south.

    Apart from Florida (not the South most people are thinking of) what southern state is a possible victory for Hillary Clinton? Now, she’s smart enough to campaign there because there are congressional races that matter, and she needs to be sure that Democrats are motivated to turnout.

    The people who hate Hillary Clinton will never be persuaded otherwise.

  19. DrDaveT says:


    Electoral trending, if it indicates anything, indicates that the South is largely lost to Democrats for the foreseeable future, and that’s fine 1) because we don’t need it to win, 2) what we would have to do / say / promise to actually win there would hurt us everywhere else, and 3) because those same electoral trends will eventually shift the South back towards being purple.

    Shorter HL92:

    The South still has a majority mediaeval constituency. You guys need to fix that. When you do, you can be part of the solution instead of the core of the problem.

    Sorry, southern brethren. Tough love.

  20. Thomas Weaver says:

    Let’s take a look at the “current” situation and assess the future (November) at another time. First, the news media’s bias is guesstimate against Trump and Cruz…Does not this article prove that?
    Pick a more recent time to “guess” like after the PA and NY primaries… My guess is that the delegate count will be close to a possibility and a dirtier campaign…

  21. Kylopod says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Dude, not even the 1992 version of *Bill* Clinton at his least damaged and most Bubba could win in the South in 2016.

    Clinton didn’t even win the South in 1992 (or 1996). He won four Southern states that have since gone deep red: Arkansas (his own home state), Tennessee (Gore’s home state), Kentucky and Louisiana. On the other hand, he lost Florida and Virginia, which voted for Obama twice.

    The last Democrat to win the South was Jimmy Carter in 1976. (He lost it in 1980, only winning his home state of Georgia.) By the 1990s, even having a ticket with two Southerners wasn’t enough for Dems to carry a majority in that region.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @SteveGinGTO: I think the Stop Trump guys agree with you and have written off this presidential election. They seem to think the choice is between Cruz, who will lose big time, or Trump, who will lose big time and destroy their party.

    I disagree, I think they’re a bunch of proto-fascists conservatives who will display in-group and hierarchical loyalty and line up behind Cruz, Trump, or the poor schmuck who gets drafted on the 203rd ballot in Cleveland. But that seem to be their thinking, that Cruz will do less damage down-ballot and to the Party.

  23. Hal_10000 says:

    I am dubious of the narrative of a Clinton landslide if Trump is the nominee. Trump’s negatives are very high right now but they’re close to maxing out. As we get closer, the GOP will rally behind him. He’ll still lose, I think, simply because, well, he’s Trump. He’ll probably lose big (I hope). But I don’t think we’ll get a Johnson-Goldwater or Nixon-McGovern type landslide. That would require a terrible GOP ground game and a popular nominee, neither of which will be in place.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: Trump’s favorable/unfavorable with women (52% of the electorate) is something like 20/70. That is close to maxing out. There seem to always be 10% who misunderstood the question or think they’re punking the pollster. So it can’t get much worse for Trump.

    Except for his ‘who you gonna believe, me or Chris Matthews lying transcript’ on punishing women, do you see him doing anything that might turn this around?

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @al-Ameda: Only the young-un’s who like to pout. I bet a lot of Sanders supporters are like me–voting strategically for Sanders in the primary but willing to vote for Hillary in the general. Our main reason to vote for Sanders in the primary is to let Hillary know that there are a lot of us out here pissed off at her whole-hearted embrace of Wall Street and she had better start thinking about Main Street instead.

    But if its Hillary vs. Trump/Cruz? No way I’m going to vote for the Republican alternative. Going 3rd party is a protest vote, and staying home and not voting means “I don’t wanna play” or “I’m lazy.”

  26. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000: While I’ve heard a lot of people invoke Goldwater, most people who understand anything about politics realize no candidate of either party is likely to lose 44 states. There just aren’t that many persuadable voters today, like there were back in 1964. But “losing big” doesn’t necessarily mean to the degree of Goldwater. If Hillary were to get roughly in the territory of Obama ’08, that in itself would be pretty astonishing compared to what most political observers expected a year ago, and there’s a very real possibility she could do even better than that, picking off states like Georgia or Arizona.

    Furthermore, I’m skeptical of the assumption that the entire GOP will rally around Trump once he’s nominated. In 2008, the Palin selection inspired several high-profile defections; Trump at the top of the ticket is a far more extreme situation, and all the signs indicate that most of the Republican establishment realizes it.

  27. Tyrell says:

    @Kylopod: Al Gore lost his own state. I never understood that. To me, if their own people don’t vote for them, they must know something.

  28. Kylopod says:

    @Tyrell: The main reason Gore lost Tennessee was similar to why Romney lost Massachusetts: his political views had shifted significantly since the time he had held office there. Gore began his career as a socially conservative Southern Democrat who moved leftward prior to his 2000 run, just as Romney was a Northeastern moderate Republican who moved rightward before his 2008 run.

    What you’re trying to imply–that Gore has some kind of odious qualities that turn off those who know him best–is a cheap shot with little basis. He wasn’t unpopular as a Senator or Congressman. The reason his state didn’t vote for him in 2000 was because his views no longer fit that of most Tennessee voters, not because they disliked him personally or felt he was unqualified in some way. We live in an age of extreme partisan polarization where most voters vote based on party and ideology first. It’s why, for example, Scott Brown lost reelection handily in 2010 even though polls showed most MA voters liked him–or, for that matter, why Mitch McConnell easily won reelection while his approval ratings with Kentucky residents were in the toilet.

    The favorite-son effect can matter at the margins (there’s evidence, for example, that Romney’s poll numbers rose in Wisconsin after announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate–it just wasn’t a big enough increase to win the state), but it’s not some absolute rule you can use to measure a candidate’s home-state popularity while ignoring the state’s overall reddishness or bluishness.

  29. Hal_10000 says:


    Clinton’s unfavorable are a bit high too. Not near Trump territory but still pretty high. A lot of people will vote for a candidate they don’t like if they think the other candidate is worse. And I think Trump is going to go all out trying to make Clinton look as bad as possible. It’s his only chance.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    And I think Trump is going to go all out trying to make Clinton look as bad as possible.

    Of course he will…but it’ll be a lot easier to do the reverse…hell, Trump himself has helped to make it so easy…