Opinion writer

(EPA/Jason Szenes)

THE MORNING PLUM:

A new analysis published this morning by FiveThirtyEight’s Dave Wasserman casts still more doubt on one of the most cherished narratives of the 2016 cycle: That Donald Trump might, just might, be able to surprise all of us and win the White House by activating millions of anxiety-ridden missing white voters with his bluster, bigotry, and all around bigness.

Wasserman’s analysis looks at this question in a new way: He asks what might happen if Trump actually did succeed in activating these missing white voters. The baseline for this is the 1992 campaign, which is the last time the white share of the national vote actually did go up, defying a trend that has shown that demographic’s vote share steadily ticking down since 1980. The parallel to the present is clear: Billionaire Ross Perot activated these missing whites during that year by railing against unfair trade deals and promising to restore American greatness.

That’s what Trump is doing, only he’s going even further: he’s also promising to deport millions of illegal immigrants and to ban Muslims from entry into the U.S., both of which seem designed to further maximize his chances of riding white backlash into the White House. Can it work?

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.

Two important points on top of this: All of this assumes that Trump will perform as well among nonwhites and college educated whites as Mitt Romney did, an assumption that is extremely generous to Trump. And meanwhile, demographics continue to shift against Republicans:

There are two other huge reasons why focusing exclusively on “missing” white voters fails to capture the magnitude Trump’s challenge in 2016.

First, the nonwhite share of eligible voters has grown since 2012, forcing Trump to activate even more white voters just to keep up. The nonwhite share of the citizen voting age population grew from 29 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2014. At that rate, it’s on pace to be 31 percent in 2016. Although African-American turnout could decline without Obama on the ballot, traditionally weak Latino turnout could surge thanks to antipathy towards Trump. Just 48 percent of eligible Latinos cast ballots in 2012, and according to the Pew Research Center, the number of Latinos eligible to vote will increase from 23.3 million in 2012 to 27.3 million in 2016.

Second, there is no guarantee Trump will perform as well as past Republican nominees among existing white voters. In particular, Trump seems to be underperforming with white college-educated voters, who already turn out at extremely high levels.

“In most battleground states, Trump would need to activate far more working-class whites than Perot did to win,” Wasserman concludes.”Trump would require truly historic levels of support and turnout among working-class whites — in addition to avoiding erosion with other groups — to be within range of winning.” Demographics expert Ruy Teixeira’s numbers suggest something similar.

And as Teixeira also points out, some of the steps that Trump is taking to maximize white turnout, particularly blue collar white turnout — such as vowing mass deportations — could actually drive up turnout among nonwhites, offsetting any advantage Trump gains with white voters.

Obviously Trump should not be underestimated, and this will still be a tough campaign. But that’s because these elections always are tough in a divided country. There is a tendency to ascribe quasi-magical political powers to Trump, based on the idea that he is running an “unconventional” and “unpredictable” campaign that supposedly “scrambles ideological boundaries.” But it remains very possible that Trump could succumb, in part, to the very conventional problem that doomed Romney in 2012: Demographics. Indeed, it’s even possible that the very things that lead some observers to ascribe Trump these magical powers could make that conventional problem worse for him.

Donald Trump won South Carolina's presidential primary with strong evangelical support. Yet evangelicals remain bitterly divided, as many question his stance on social issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

***********************************************************************

* HILLARY LIKELY TO CLINCH NOMINATION ON JUNE 7TH: Political scientist Alan Abramowitz examines the states that are voting next Tuesday, and concludes Sanders may make it very close in California, New Mexico, and South Dakota, with Clinton likely winning comfortably in New Jersey and Sanders winning Montana. He concludes:

The model gives Sanders almost no chance of achieving the sorts of landslide victories that he needs on the last major day of voting to dramatically reduce Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates. Indeed, based on these forecasts, it seems almost certain that Clinton will have won enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination on Tuesday.

Indeed, the networks will likely call the nomination for Clinton after the polls close in delegate rich New Jersey, and before the outcome in (even more delegate rich) California is known.

* BERNIE PREDICTS ‘MOMENTUM’ HEADING INTO CONVENTION: This is an interesting quote from Sanders:

“If we win California, and if we win South Dakota, and North Dakota and Montana and New Mexico and New Jersey, and the following week do well in Washington, D.C., I think we will be marching into the Democratic convention with an enormous amount of momentum.”

So Sanders has to win all six on June 7th? Regardless, what matters is the pledged delegate math, and he needs to win overwhelmingly in these contests to close the gap.

* HILLARY TO HAMMER TRUMP ON FOREIGN POLICY: Yahoo News previews her speech today, noting that Clinton will denounce Trump as “simply unfit” for the presidency in a dangerous world:

Hillary Clinton on Thursday will denounce…Trump’s eyebrow-raising remarks on national security, including his suggestions that the United States resume using torture, pull back from what he called the “obsolete” NATO alliance, encourage key allies like Japan to develop nuclear weapons programs, build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and freeze Muslim immigration to the United States.

One thing worth watching for his how aggressively Clinton goes after Trump over torture and his Muslim ban, and how she uses those to argue that supposedly-tough-on-terrorism Trump would actually help terror recruitment.

* TRUMP BLASTS CLINTON, BUT LEAVES SOMETHING OUT: Hillary has been hammering Trump as a “fraud” over the new Trump University revelations, and CNN reports that Trump struck back, citing Benghazi, her emails, and her alleged low energy. But:

Amid all of his attacks, Trump did not once mention Trump University or push back against her claims, including her accusation that the since-defunct university is “more evidence that Donald Trump himself is a fraud.”

Trump has historically not shown a reluctance to defend himself, sometimes at great length, against specific charges. What’s different this time?

* BERNIE’S QUESTIONABLE DELEGATE MATH: Glenn Kessler has a good overview of the problems with Sanders’s argument: He claims he will still try to flip superdelegates, while simultaneously denouncing them as undemocratic, even after losing the pledged delegate count:

The irony is that without the superdelegate system in place, Sanders likely would be toast on June 7, when six states essentially complete the primary process, including California with its 475 delegates….So Sanders is complaining about a system that is actually keeping hope alive for his supporters, on the theory that superdelegates can change their vote any time before the convention starts in late July. But it’s a false hope.

That’s the essence of the matter. After the voting concludes, and Sanders is behind in the pledged delegate count, his argument will become unsustainable.

* AND TRUMP DOESN’T LIKE TO HEAR WOMEN ‘SHOUTING’: CNN digs up this lovely Trump quote from a 1994 interview:

“I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing. If you’re in business for yourself, I really think it’s a bad idea. I think that was the single greatest cause of what happened to my marriage with Ivana,” Trump said. He said that he disliked hearing her “shouting on the phone” during contentious business deals.

Interesting. You may recall that Trump recently said about Hillary that “I haven’t quite recovered from her shouting,” while cringing at the prospect of listening to that for “the next four or five months.”