I can say with some satisfaction that I have never underestimated Donald Trump. That’s important. While most every other pundit was writing his political epitaphs, I was predicting early on that Trump or Cruz–and probably Trump–would take the nomination over anyone in the establishment lane. (I also predicted that Sanders would do better against Clinton than most gave him credit for and for similar reasons–a prediction that also more or less came true.) Voters are angry, and angry voters usually try to jolt the system by choosing unpredictable candidates outside the status quo.
So when Hillary Clinton gives a speech to rave reviews that calls Trump “dangerous” and “risky,” I can’t help but roll my eyes. Most voters want dangerous and risky right now, or at least they want someone who won’t just keep doing the same things for the next four years that we’ve been doing for the last two decades. The differences between Bush and Obama are enormous, of course, but a great many Americans on both the right and the left want a greater range of policy options than that on offer by the centers of the two parties.
So it’s entirely possible that Trump could end up doing better against Clinton than almost anyone suspects, even without an exogenous event like a recession or terrorist attack. But I wouldn’t go so far as to predict even a decent likelihood of a Trump victory.
The problem for Trump isn’t that he couldn’t possibly win the popular vote. The problem is that he has virtually no path to 271 in the electoral college. Greg Sargent has more, cribbing from an analysis by Dave Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight:
Wasserman ran a simulation designed to calculate what would happen in 2016, relative to 2012, if whites turned out at the same rate they did in 1992, while assuming that the vote shares of every other group remain constant. The good news for Trump: This really could theoretically bring in some nine million additional white voters, which could be enough for him to win the national popular vote (again, assuming that everything else remained consistent with 2012).
But here’s the catch: Wasserman finds, remarkably, that “these ‘missing’ white voters disproportionately live in states that won’t matter in a close presidential race.” In only three battleground states — Florida, Ohio, and Nevada — would full activation of these “missing” white voters be enough to potentially make a difference. But even in Ohio and Nevada, Trump would still have to win whites by overwhelming margins to overcome Obama’s 2012 edge in those states.
Of course, even that analysis is overly kind to Trump, who has no prayer of reaching Romney’s 2012 totals among minority voters in a country that has gotten significantly browner since then.
It’s not at all clear how Trump or the GOP plan to deal with this problem. No matter how you slice it, Democrats are almost a lock to win the White House even if their presidential candidate is struggling. The blue wall remains virtually unassailable even for a Republican with some crossover appeal along race and gender lines–and Trump is definitely not that. If the election were held today, either Clinton or Sanders would demolish Trump in the electoral college in a landslide.
And about that popular vote total? That’s not looking too good for Trump, either, as the latest national poll puts Clinton up by 10 points on the presumptive GOP nominee.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Clinton to lose. But it does mean that Trump would have to do something miraculous to beat her.