Here’s a sobering sign of the state of our politics: It’s becoming very plausible that Donald Trump, despite running one of the worst presidential campaigns in modern history, could lose the presidential race by the same Electoral College vote margin as Mitt Romney. A campaign that doesn’t believe in television ads, offers insults instead of policies, and lacks a full-fledged campaign staff, could end up performing nearly as well as a high-character candidate who ran a respectable losing campaign against President Obama.
For all the talk that Hillary Clinton is expanding the map, most of the Republican-leaning states still remain Trump’s to lose. Arizona will be a battleground state, given its sizable Hispanic population, but Trump is polling at 49 percent in a new CNN/ORC poll, 5 points ahead of Clinton. The influx of conservative retirees is mitigating the impact of the state’s diversifying electorate. Missouri and Indiana will be more competitive than in 2012, but the states’ sizable share of white working-class voters will make them tough for Clinton to crack. In this month’s Monmouth polling, Trump led by 1 over Clinton in Missouri and by 11 in Indiana. “I’d be shocked if Clinton won in Missouri; they just hate her there,” one Democratic strategist involved in Missouri races told National Journal.
Democrats hope suburban Atlanta voters could give Clinton an edge in Georgia, but the racial polarization in the state (a sizable, heavily Democratic black electorate combined with a deeply conservative white electorate) makes it look a bit more competitive than it is. Only North Carolina, a traditional battleground that Obama carried in 2008, looks like a smart bet to shift into the Democratic column this November.
For her part, Clinton is well positioned to sweep most of the battleground states—with Iowa and Ohio looking like the toughest Obama states to keep in the Democratic column. Trump’s campaign talked a big game about contesting Pennsylvania, but his poor performance in the Philadelphia suburbs is taking the state off the map. Clinton and her allies stopped advertising in the Keystone State, even as the Trump campaign just announced a new buy there. Team Trump isn’t spending any ad money in Wisconsin and Michigan, two Rust Belt states that the party hoped to contest in this election. The notion that Trump would expand the map into reliably blue states was always a pipe dream.
As Jeremy Peters perceptively pointed out in The New York Times, it’s almost impossible to envision a true landslide presidential election anymore—losers on the scale of Barry Goldwater (1964), George McGovern (1972), or Walter Mondale (1984). Partisan perceptions are so locked in that it’s hard for any candidate to cede the solidly Democratic or solidly Republican states. Even all the hype about Clinton’s chances in ruby-red Utah have nothing to do with her own political standing there. It’s because the GOP vote is splintered between Trump and two independent candidates.