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Donald Trump should enjoy July because it’s probably not going to get any better than this.
While he still trails in polling averages nationally and in key swing states, he has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton and is heading into the Republican National Convention with the wind at his back, mostly do to the thrust of years of congressional Republican investigations weaponized by FBI Director James Comey “legitimizing,” as Gene Lyons wrote, “what can’t be proven.”
Trump starts out with the same problem any Republican would face: He needs to win over a huge chunk of Americans who voted for Barack Obama twice, or at least convince them to stay home or vote third party. And as a demagogue with an unprecedented appeal to bigots and more experience exaggerating or lying about his charitable donations than serving anyone, his problems only multiply from there.
Here’s why he’s still losing:
- He’s about to take on a “generic Republican.”
Donald Trump is the most unpopular presidential nominee ever, right? Right. But you know what’s even more unpopular than Donald Trump? The Republican Party. Trump has actually sidestepped some of the party’s biggest liabilities by largely avoiding red meat ranting about abortion and LGBT rights — while sending clear winks to evangelicals that he will back their anti-choice, anti-equality agenda in the most important way possible: letting the Heritage Foundation pick his Supreme Court Justices. That’s over now. Mike Pence looks like what a child would come up with if you said, “Draw a generic Republican. Or, draw an unfunny Steve Martin.” But he nearly destroyed his career and his state’s economy by embracing a far-right bill as governor of Indiana that allowed businesses to discriminate against gay people. He then lost most of his conservative cred will by caving to the liberal position that gay people should be able to buy things with money. In the state house and in Congress, he was virulently anti-abortion rights and anti-Planned Parenthood. Plus he limits Trump’s ability to stray from GOP dogma with his widely publicized lust for privatizing Social Security and his warm embrace of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. And, unlike Trump, he can’t pretend that he was ever against the Iraq War because he proudly voted for it, over and over again.
- Trump is expanding the map — the wrong way.
Two words encapsulate Donald Trump’s problems with an electoral map that has elected a Democrat in four out of the last six elections: North Carolina. Clinton is up in the Tar Heel state, which is increasingly diverse and went Democratic in 2008. Look at this map if Clinton takes North Carolina, along with all of Obama’s safest states.
She could lose Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — states Obama all won twice — and still win. Trump has bragged about expanding the map — sometimes into the Rust Belt, sometimes into the West Coast, sometimes into New York. He trails in all of these places. But there are signs that Clinton is competitive in Arizona, Georgia, and possibly even Kansas, South Carolina, and Utah. If Trump is forced to compete in any of those states, he’s starting at a disadvantage Mitt Romney would never face.
- He’s stepped into a demographic trap it will be tough to get out of.
Trump’s next biggest concern should be Pennsylvania, the graveyard of Republican presidential campaigns. We’re told that Trump’s white identity bluster and anti-trade stance has special appeal in the withered towns of the Rust Belt. But a recent poll shows that he’s winning 0 percent of the African American vote in the state. But Trump has an even bigger problem. His sour appeal to working-class white voters is alienating college-educated Republicans. In a recent poll, Clinton is up 15 percent with college-educated white women, the biggest lead for any Democrat since 1980. This is the “demographic trap” Democratic strategist Ruy Texeria first told the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent about in January: “If Republicans run a whites-oriented, hard core conservative campaign, swing-ish, moderate, college-educated whites in the GOP coalition may desert to the other side. And it could also drive up the minority vote for Democrats.” Trump hasn’t don’t anything to wiggle himself out of it. Usually, especially in the case of Judge Curiel, he’s just making it worse, which is why he’s getting killed in the Philadelphia suburbs. And now he has Mike Pence’s help. And as you see from the map below, if Trump loses Pennsylvania, there’s almost no way he can win:
- He continues to reaffirm Americans biggest fear about him.
According to Trump campaign chair and advisor to star war criminals Paul Manafort, Trump delayed the announcement of his running mate on Thursday because the candidate had an “emotional” reaction to the horrific terror attack in Nice, France, which required the billion dollar baby to call up several TV shows and call for a world war. According to research backed by MoveOn.org, Americans’ single biggest fear regarding Trump “is that as President he would escalate the likelihood of catastrophic violent conflict from without and within, posing a serious threat to the future of the United States.” He seems petty, churlish and erratic. In the Republican Primary, this — along with his bigoted bluster — passed as strength. But for many Americans it just reads as a serious case of stranger danger facilitated by a collapsing and desperate Republican Party.
- Clinton has a Obama-like machine while Trump has outsourced his entire campaign.
Mitt Romney raised a shitload of money and ran a half-decent campaign. He lost by about 5 million votes. Since then demographics have only gotten worse for the GOP and no one is quite sure what Donald Trump is doing. “Having worked in GOP grassroots politics for more than 20 years I can honestly say I have never seen a Republican presidential campaign with this weak of a field presence,” one Florida Republican told Politico. Trump claims that he’s just getting started building up his field operation, though most of it will be outsourced to the Republican National Committee, which would be great news if this weren’t a presidential election and Trump weren’t inspiring a surge in new citizens registering to vote.
And here’s how Trump wins.
President Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe coined the term “bed wetters” to describe Democrats tendency to express their fears in messy ways. That map above would be an electoral tie if Trump wins one electoral vote in Maine, which he likely would if he won Pennsylvania and Ohio. There are reasons to be scared. Trump is scary. But only if we let him.
Democrats could lose if they don’t register voters and get them to polls. But there’s a much bigger danger facing this nation.
Two things consistently win elections: donations and volunteers. The best way to depress either is by killing enthusiasm with a narrative of false equivalence. This is exactly what the White House Correspondents Association indulged when it seemed to equally criticize Trump’s approaches to the press.
Yes, Clinton hasn’t done a press conference in a while. But Trump is actually banning and harassing press outlets. Not only that, he’s promising to abridge the First Amendment with stricter libel laws to target news organizations that present negative information about him.
Presenting these two approaches as equal offenses affirms the “lesser of two evils” narrative, when the truth is that Trump is the greatest potential evil we’ve faced on a presidential ballot in generations or, possibly, ever.
Trump is an historic threat to democracy. He lies to sow racial bigotry and he refuses to be held to the norms of our politics — such as releasing tax returns — designed to prevent fraudulent, lawless individuals from taking power.
This man a unique threat — and failing to make that clear is how this election could be lost.
Photo: Julian Raven, a supporter of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, holds his artwork at the Public Square in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart