Can Trump Win?

This has been a year of a lot of hand-wringing for the elites, the insiders, the national press and, well, just about everybody, except the “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” supporters of Donald Trump.

The prevailing and conventional political wisdom is that for a Republican to win the presidency, securing the usual strongholds in the south and Midwest, coupled with wins in Florida and Ohio bring victory in the Electoral College. This worked for George W. Bush twice when he eked out wins against Al Gore (maybe a full recount in Florida flips the 2000 election) and John Kerry (a high turnout in rural and suburban Ohio was the difference in 2004).

The Obama wins in 2008 and 2012 seemed to set the bar even higher for a Republican with Obama picking up formerly reliable red states—North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico… even usually really red Indiana.

So, the pundits have been suggesting that given this electoral map, the path for Trump is really difficult, if not impossible. Not so fast.

Even with Donald Trump’s high negatives with Hispanic voters and his seemingly everyday remarks that offend women voters, he is poised to reconfigure the electoral map and find a pathway to winning the White House.

So what’s so different in this cycle?

Well, first, Donald Trump is anything but your garden variety national Republican. Hillary Clinton would likely clobber a candidate from the Republican establishment, particularly one with a Washington pedigree, under the “old” model. In a somewhat perverse way, Trump may actually be saving the Republicans from a nasty Electoral College beating.

It doesn’t take a historian to recall that it was Democrat Bill Clinton, with support from establishment Republicans, who pushed for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump correctly points out that Carrier and Ford Motors are just a couple of mammoth U. S. corporations fleeing to south of the border under the NAFTA flag. Right here in the Pioneer Valley, I remember Springfield Wire Corporation, a century-old company, just a couple of years ago pulling up stakes and moving manufacturing to, wait for it…. Mexico, at the urging of its largest customers in order to cut labor costs.

So, how did NAFTA work out for the American worker? Not so well.

Even minority voters will have to pause if asked the question “are you better off today than you were eight years ago” when the nation’s first African American president Barack Obama was elected. The African American community has been the hardest hit with the mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes, another piece of landmark legislation promulgated by Bill Clinton and Republican cohorts.

Then there’s Iraq; Hillary Clinton joined the Republican chorus for the invasion. Trump says Iraq and other Middle East interventions, largely supported by both parties, have been disastrous—does anyone really disagree with that?

And, last time I checked, the Affordable Care Act, which has many great features, requires just about everybody to shell out more money for healthcare in the form of much higher deductibles, at a time when wages have been stagnant for the average family for over a decade.

At the same time, average Americans are still reeling about bailing out the “too big to fail” banks. It was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who had a big hand in deregulating Wall Street (part of his “triangulation” strategy to make Democrats more cozy with elements of the Republican constituency). It makes me wonder “what was she thinking?!” when we all learned Hillary took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street and the poster child for greed, Goldman Sachs, to share insights with those insiders that she now won’t share with the rest of us.

We are reminded that only two candidates haven’t taken contributions from Wall Street— Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

This legacy, which Hillary Clinton seems to be defending or upholding, pits her as the ultimate insider running against the ultimate outsider in Trump. Did I mention 2016 looks like an “outsider” year?

So if Trump holds on to the traditional Republican states (where else are they going to go?) and wins Florida and Ohio—polling indicates he’s in a dead heat in both—and formerly Democratic locks like Pennsylvania (Clinton’s comments to “put miners out of work” are sure to come back to haunt)… he wins.

With this as a backdrop, Hillary Clinton continues to run a campaign, and promote a message, that seems to say, “I’m the most capable at running the system”— when voters seem to be shouting they want a “rigged” system blown up. Clinton looks to be running a campaign that was designed for presumed opponent Jeb Bush. Oops.

If nothing else, this election cycle may produce a new formula for winning the presidency to respond to the uncertainty Americans feel. Someone should tell Hillary Clinton, who continues to frame her campaign around the idea of a third Obama or Bill Clinton term. It’s time for her to tear up the script, or Trump may just win.

See my conversation about the Trump phenomenon on WGBY's Connecting Point here.

Photograph of Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins

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