Published on TheHill.com on May 10, 2016
The new Quinnipiac Poll showing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton essentially tied in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania has sent the chattering class into collective shock. The same Washington insiders who insisted that Trump could never win the GOP presidential nomination may now want to rethink their equally stubborn insistence that he can’t win the general election.
Polls show that, as unpopular as Trump is among women, Clinton is equally disliked by men. It appears that the only white men who are not voting for Trump are Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush.
It’s too soon to say whether Trump will win. But it is not too soon to say that he can win.
Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012 by 5 million votes. Here’s how Trump could close the gap in 2016.
Among white voters, turnout dropped from 67.2 percent in 2004 to 63.1 percent in 2012. Trump has shown in the primaries that he can bring them back. Add to this the rise in the white population, and we can expect about 10 million new whites to vote. Romney carried whites 61 percent to 39 percent. If we assume that Trump can carry whites by the same margin, but with 10 million more of them, he will carry the new voters 6 million to 4 million, cutting the Democratic margin nationally by 2 million votes.
Among young people, dissatisfaction with both Clinton and Trump has reached record levels. In the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders beat Clinton by margins approaching 80-20 among those under 30. Trump also lost the millennial generation by large margins in the GOP primaries. The likely result is that young voters will revert to their traditional pattern of sitting out the coming election.
Obama carried voters under the age of 30 in 2012 58 percent to 38 percent and generated a high turnout, enough to make them 19 percent of all votes cast. But in 2008, they only cast 18 percent of the vote, and in 2004 they constituted just 17 percent. With Clinton’s inability to stoke much enthusiasm among young voters, it is quite likely that their turnout will drop back to 17 percent of the vote in November. That would indicate a drop in under 30 turnout of 2.5 million voters. Since Obama won them by 20 points in the last cycle, we can subtract 500,000 votes from the anticipated Democratic total.
Likewise, African-American turnout was enormous for Obama. Blacks, who cast only 11 percent of the vote in 2004, cast 13 percent in 2008 and in 2012. This increase of 2.5 million votes, despite no increase in their share of the U.S. population, was astonishing. Since they almost all voted Democratic, if their turnout drops back to its pre-2008 norm, as is likely with a white candidate at the top of the ticket, it would cut another 2.5 million votes from Clinton’s total.
So add it up. Clinton loses 2.5 million black votes and 500,000 young votes and Trump gains 2 million white votes, and you have completely erased Obama’s 2012 margin over Romney.
And this calculation ignores the differences between the candidates. Clinton is in trouble because of her past record and her lies about it. Trump is in jeopardy because of the positions he has taken on key issues and the language he uses to articulate them. Trump can always trim his positions, moderate his rhetoric, smooth his edges and appear more acceptable and presidential. But what is Clinton to do with the facts of her background?
How can the former secretary of State explain Benghazi? Her decision to use a private email server? The massive speaking fees she and her husband received in return for favorable actions by her State Department and the anticipation of more from the White House? The pardons Bill Clinton granted to her brother’s undeserving clients? Her parlay of a $1,000 investment into $100,000 on the cattle futures market?
Trump can campaign endlessly on these scandals, making Hillary Clinton hedge, lie, cover up and misstate the facts each day. Meanwhile, her efforts to paint Trump as a Neanderthal will fall in the face of his likely sweet reasonableness as the campaign unfolds.
I’m not saying Trump will win. But he could.
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