This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on June 20, 2016.
Last week, it was Detroit; Colorado Springs; Los Angeles; Newport Beach, California; Salt Lake City; Park City, Utah; and Orlando. This week, it’s Chicago; Pittsburgh; and Asheville, North Carolina.
Suffice it to say, I get around the country a lot and will have more frequent-flyer points than my wife and kids can possibly use. At most every stop, I come across people—overwhelmingly men, invariably white—who are openly or tacitly supporting Donald Trump. A second group of Republicans will vote for him, albeit not enthusiastically, but he is their nominee. For them, voting for Hillary Clinton is not an option. To a person, the true Trump backers passionately cling to the belief that he will win in November, though their arguments and convictions get weaker and less persuasive every week. But they truly believe it.
Given the peculiarities of this year, who is to say they can’t be right? After all, presidential nominations usually go to current or former governors, and occasionally a random senator, but this year, current or former governors of Arkansas, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas—along with a sitting senator from Florida and a former member of that body from Pennsylvania—all crashed and burned when they sought the GOP nomination.
While Democrats had an unexpected degree of excitement with Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, she ended up beating Sanders in the popular vote by 56 to 43 percent and among delegates by 2,765 to 1,888, according to the count from TheGreenPapers.com. Democratic voters ultimately did what was expected, but they took an interesting detour along the way.
Even allowing for the long and strange year that it’s been, the arithmetic for Trump is getting increasingly challenging. With women making up about 52 percent of the electorate and Trump getting buried among women voters, it’s hard for him to do well enough among men to make up the difference. And with Trump losing so badly among minority voters, it’ll be a struggle for him to do well enough among white voters to make up the difference.
Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six times in a row, comprising 242 electoral votes, or 89 percent of the 270 needed to win. Republicans have won just 13 states with 102 electoral votes, or 38 percent of 270. So Trump has a lot of ground to make up. Using 2012 as a benchmark, Trump backers passionately hope that he can outperform Mitt Romney in Ohio, and maybe Michigan and Pennsylvania, but the odds are pretty good that he will underperform Romney in states with large Latino populations such as Colorado and New Mexico, as well as those with large and fast-growing upscale suburbs such as Colorado and Virginia. With more state-level polling likely to come out in the next couple of months, we will have a better idea how seriously to take signs that Arizona, Georgia, and maybe even Utah are getting more competitive than they were in 2012.
So what can change the course of the Clinton-victory trajectory? While committed Clinton haters are keeping a candle lit for an indictment, it would certainly seem as though the odds are dramatically lower than a few months ago and drop even lower every week that goes by that she isn’t charged. It would be a major surprise if she got indicted this close to the election.
A foreign policy crisis could conceivably scramble things up, but it’s not clear whether that would drive voters toward or away from Trump. You can argue it either way.
It’s the economy that seems like the biggest variable, but even if the economy or the markets tank, it’s not clear which way that might drive voters. The “Brexit” vote in Britain on Thursday is the immediate test for the financial markets. The odds of Britain leaving the European Union would seem to be increasing, and many financial analysts worry about the consequence of such a vote on the markets.
Not necessarily related, I hear more and more from fairly senior and sophisticated business leaders who are concerned about the economy. The other day, I shared a car to an airport with a Wall Street executive from a major firm, talking on his cell phone about a proposed business deal; the possibility of a recession featured prominently in the conversation. But even if we knew that the markets were going to take a plunge or that the economy was going to substantially slow down, who would it help or hurt? Would voters become more inclined to vote for change or would they grow more cautious, more risk averse?
So there are external factors that could creep into this race and turn it upside down. Increasingly, it would appear that Trump would need something like that to shake up this race. It certainly isn’t headed in his right direction now.