This is the mea culpa moment for many a pundit, when they have to confess that they refused to believe the serious threat Trump presented to win the Republican nomination. My own confession was that I did not take it seriously in July, 2015, when I stated in so many words that Trump "will not be...their ultimate candidate", though even then I noted his successes in attracting support. In my preview of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, I did recognize that Trump's support was likely to materialize at the polls. After New Hampshire, there was no denying the threat (at least, I could not, much as I may have wanted to do so). I always hoped that the adults in the party would get together and do something to foreclose on his prospects, and I was surprised that they did not. (The miserably ineffective efforts of #NeverTrump and the stillborn Cruz-Kasich alliance of the past couple of weeks don't count as "doing something"). Yes, I was expecting Jeb Bush to win it; when he couldn't, I thought Rubio would, but I didn't doubt Trump's level of celebrity and showmanship could translate into electoral momentum.
So, this thing that I have been dreading for 18 months has come to pass. It's not that I really believe those Trumpistas who have been convinced by the braggart that he can win in a landslide, that Hillary is a weak candidate, etc. Neither do I think he is the weakest candidate they could have chosen, though, and I take little comfort from the squabbling of the Republican "leaders" and their reluctance to support him (or to appear on the stage with him, let alone on the national ticket with him)--they will be rounded up or suppressed by the time of the convention. I expect none of them will be running as a third-party candidate for the "true Republicans" (or a "New Bull Moose Party", which would be an interesting and historically reverent move); most of the party faithful will show up and vote as directed, even if unenthusiastically.
If I were looking for a candidate that would be easier to defeat in a general election, it would have been Ted Cruz, who would have won the hardcore party conservative vote but little more. (If Trump loses big this year, the Democrats may still get to run against Cruz in 2020, as the far right Tea Party would still be seeking their True Conservative who could win--that should be promising.) I have been fairly open in my personal preference for John Kasich, though he would have been the hardest one to defeat, and expressing my astonishment that the Republicans would not see this and move toward him. My reason for this seeming illogic? One cannot assume that any national party nominee, no matter how scurrilous, slow, or unqualified, could not win election: we have examples such as Nixon, Reagan, Dubya to squash such thinking. Kasich, for all his faults, was at least genuinely qualified, and not crazy, like Cruz or Trump are.
Doing Preliminary Electoral Vote (EV) Maps
In my last post, I addressed some of the major strategic questions that the Hillary Clinton campaign will face: keeping the coalition together, picking a running mate, communicating on the issues. I could have added a couple more obvious points, like using the threat of Trump to raise vast sums of money, enough that those big donors and PAC's should become almost unnecessary (which will help her cause, in the end, though I recognize a lot of that money will be paid forward and down on the ticket), or getting their hands on the names, software, and technicians who ran President Obama's hugely successful 2008 and 2012 web campaigns.
Moving to tactics, though, we must emphasize that this is decided in the end by the Electoral College, and ignoring its stubborn realities could be harmful to a candidate--of either party--whose campaign is focused solely on the popular vote. The dreaded scenario is big wins in certain segments of the electorate, or regions of the country, combined with losses in some closely-contested states with large populations. It caught up with Al Gore in 2000, and it could catch out Donald Trump in 2016, if he were wildly successful in his campaign, winning with large margins in some regions (the South, the Great Plains, the Inland West) but losing narrowly in states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Before we can address likely Electoral College outcomes, though, we must stipulate a couple of conditions for the basic scenario. The first is that there will be no major third-party candidates, that the candidates on the ballot in most states will be Hillary, Drumpf, the Libertarian Party nominee (most likely it will be former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson), Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and apparently there will be a Constitution Party nominee named Darrell Castle. There is a movement among dissident anti-Trump Republicans to nominate someone, partially out of spite and partially in the hope to keep mainstream Republican turnout up, but at this point I see no takers, in terms of people willing to put their name out there, where it would be vilified by Trump backers until the end of their conscious lifetimes. Some may also seek a challenger to Hillary on the left for the general election, or some sort of non-partisan moderate in the middle, but I think the outcomes in the two parties' primaries will eliminate those opportunities. Still, I would expect this election, in this scenario, to produce a record vote (2-4%) for the Libertarian party: many Cruz-type conservatives might opt for that rather than a nose-holding Trump vote, and those will not be wasted votes: a couple of percent withheld from Republican voters could mean the difference in a couple of states. The absence of a major third-party candidate would be another area where my guess was wrong: I thought Hillary-Bush would be sure to produce a dissident candidacy, based on the "neither candidate is acceptable to a large number of voters" theory; though it's not Bush, the same applies to the Wherever Man (and I had Trump as #5 on my list of 10 likely possible 3rd-party candidates), but circumstances seem to be working against this complicating scenario.
The second condition would be that both Clinton and Trump each run at least a fairly competent campaign. I have little cause to doubt Hillary, though there could be (in theory) some sort of "bimbo eruption" relating to her husband, a badly-handled outcome on the "damn email" case, or a brutally mishandled convention, relating to the supporters of primary opponent Bernie Sanders, which would turn off millions of should-be Democratic voters. On the Republican side, it's hard to say exactly what would be a fatal mistake by Donald Trump, as he has made so many with so little cost to his support base--perhaps something in the Panama Papers about money he has hidden away, or a tape recording of how he really "hates those rubes" that support him. A "47%" moment, or statements that indicate he is at heart bigoted against African-Americans, could really hurt him, as his supporters (mistakenly) are relying on the notion that he has their interests at heart, and some African-Americans might otherwise buy into his argument to shake up the status quo, which (even with Obama as President) has not been serving them well.
Anyway, one can build up the electoral map from scratch, or work from the map produced by the Obama victories of 2008-12; they will get to the same place: those states reliably Democratic in recent elections, those reliably Republican, the ones with an inconsistent pattern, and then the adjustment of the patterns for the peculiarities of this election. In this case, the three most likely variations from recent norms are: 1) a reduction in the turnout of black voters from their historic high points in favor of Obama; 2) an intensification of the support for the Democratic candidate among Hispanic voters and single women; and 3) an increase in the turnout and the support for Republicans among a group of voters I would describe as "middle-aged, white married people with status anxiety"--they would be the ones who will be most inspired by Trump's candidacy.
This last group is the true wild card of the election; their size is unknown but should not be underestimated. Contrary to what some have found, I do not think they are that similar to Sanders supporters--one should note that the patterns of who won primaries in the two parties has been similar, but for the most part, it has been the Trump and Clinton victories that have been in common (or Sanders and Cruz). Sanders and Trump both have populist appeals, but of different natures.
I do not think the net results of these three effects will turn too many states from their recent patterns. Here are a few comments, by region:
North East: Most states will remain solidly in the Clinton camp. Despite the indications from the NH primary (Trump won, Clinton lost), I see Clinton winning there, but I see ME as being a state where the Democratic support may be soft.
Middle Atlantic: Trump bluster about NY is just that; PA, NJ will have many passionate Trump supporters, but they should be outnumbered. VA and NC are states where I see Trump strongly outperforming Romney's level.
South: I don't believe winning GA will end up being a reasonable objective for the Democrats. Florida, as always, will be contested, but the result should reflect the national popular vote. The rest of the states will be Republican, as usual, though Arkansas might be a bit closer than in recent elections.
Mideast/Midwest: IN should go Republican; MI and WI Democratic; Ohio should be a tossup until Election Day, unless it is turning into a Democratic landslide. MN should be safe Democratic; MO safe Republican (we should probably follow the SEC and include it in the South!) West of Minnesota and Iowa (which I see as a pure tossup), and East of the Rockies, I don't see any Democratic states, with the possible exception of the one Congressional District in Nebraska that Obama won in 2008 (the attempt by Republican state legislators to close out that loophole failed this year).
Rocky Mountain states: This may be one of the more interesting battlegrounds of the election. UT hates Trump will but will still fall in line, but not by the usual overwhelming margin; CO should be safe for the Democrats. I don't feel real comfortable about NM, though I should: It has the highest Hispanic population %, the southern (Republican) part of the state should be more pro-Cruz than pro-Trump, and Gary Johnson could siphon off 5% or more would-be Republican votes. On the other hand, I am strangely optimistic about the Democratic chances in AZ, where John McCain's strong opposition to Trump (in the midst of a somewhat desperate re-election campaign of his own) creates uncertainty, and in MT, where the Democrats have shown some strength. Finally, NV should not be taken for granted; Harry Reid is determined to have a Democrat succeed him in his Senate seat, but the "middle-class anxiety" vote may work strongly in Trump's favor, and we should not forget Trump's big win in that state's early primary.
Far West: I feel that AK (Alaska) will be closer than usual; otherwise, the Pacific Coast should be solidly Democratic.
Here's my chart:
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
That chart shows 212-151 Democrats in terms of safe EV; 289-205 counting "Likely" and "Lean", with 44 as toss-ups (307-231 if forced to decide today). I would say that 289 likely Electoral votes indicates some reason for optimism but is hardly a safe bet.
You can do your own map at http://www.270towin.com/. You could look at veteran Charlie Cook's early map at http://cookpolitical.com/presidential/charts/scorecard (he has Clinton at 190-142 safe, 304-190 with leaners, with the same number--44--as tossups, though they are composed differently).
Betting on the Come
My (modest-sized) Predictit.org account has grown by 1/3 since last year. I have played it fairly cautiously, with lots of small bets, looking for the odds or the outcomes to move my way, and have won much more often than not. I did lose quite frequently on individual primary outcomes, but always with fairly small bets. My larger gains have come from Clinton on the nomination (and on odds of winning the Presidency), betting against the GOP going to a second ballot, and betting against all of the Republican declared candidates at various times (the ones against Trump being losing bets).
Currently, I have some longshot money hopes on Evan Bayh being selected as the Democratic VP nominee (with smaller stakes on Deval Patrick, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Al Franken); on the Republican side, I have a mix of positions: against those who I think may have hurt Trump's feelings, in favor of those who flatter him with their support (plus Condi Rice, Marco Rubio, who failed to hurt him, and John Kasich). Internationally, I am betting against Brexit, against Dilma in Brazil, and Rajoy in Spain (that one is still dragging on), against Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in the U.K., and in favor of the UN naming a woman as Secretary-General.
The new developments (just this week) are the individual state markets for some of the swing states in the general election: PA, FL, CO, VA, and OH. My initial positions are in favor of the Democrats in all five (in order to take a position and monitor movement), though my comments above would reveal I am not confident about the ultimate outcome in the last two of these. My bets are consistently against the Republicans/in favor of the Democrats in almost all of the contested Senate seat markets they have (PA, OH, WI, IL, NV, MD, NH, IN, though this last is at somewhat longshot odds), the exceptions being NC and AZ. You should note that the odds vary on these, as do my own levels of confidence in those outcomes, and my sizes of bet. Finally, my bet on the range of number of House seats the Republicans will hold after the election is for 218-230 (and against all the other ranges); in other words, a very narrow Republican majority.