The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump said he could put several blue states in play. It’s clear he can’t.

Donald Trump and his advisers said the candidate could put several Democratic-leaning states in play, but a convincing Clinton electoral win looks likely. (Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News)

For months, Donald Trump and members of his political team promised to put reliably Democratic states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Oregon into play. But now, with only two months until Election Day, it’s clear that those promises were empty boasts.

The presidential electoral map shows Trump losing key swing states and barely holding on in some GOP bastions. Given the current numbers, the major question is the size of Hillary Clinton’s electoral-vote victory.

Over the past 10 presidential contests, there have been three narrow electoral-college wins (1976, 2000 and 2004) and three true blowouts (1980, 1984 and 1988). The remaining four contests (1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012) produced something in between — a comfortable victory for the winner but not quite a landslide. The winners in those four elections received between 332 and 379 electoral votes, while the losing candidate drew between 159 and 206 electoral votes. (In four of the 10, there was a faithless elector.)

At this point, Clinton is more likely to approach the size of Barack Obama’s wins, whether his 365-to-173 electoral-vote win over John McCain in 2008 or his more narrow 332-to-206 victory over Mitt Romney four years later. A 1980-style blowout does not seem to be in the cards, given the country’s current political divide and the two major-party nominees.

It was only a month ago that Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chairman, told The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Philip Rucker: “We can carry Michigan. We can compete in Wisconsin and win.”

[In final 100 days, Clinton and Trump to chart different paths to White House]

Manafort also said Democrats were “smoking something” if they thought that Clinton had locked up Colorado, and he warned that the Clinton campaign was going to have to spend resources in Connecticut and Oregon. Ten days earlier, Manafort told Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “Pennsylvania’s in play. I mean, with Mike Pence, Wisconsin is going to be in play. Michigan is going to be in play. Connecticut is in play.”

But it wasn’t only Manafort who sounded delusional about the electoral map. In April, then-Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski told a Boston radio station that Trump would put Massachusetts in play.

Of course, the candidate himself set the stage for these kinds of wild promises. According to CNN, Trump said in January, “We are going to win New Jersey.” In May, he asserted, “We are going to focus on New York.” He also promised, “We’re going to play heavy as an example in California,” along with, “I put so many states in play: Michigan being one. Illinois.”

None of these promises rested on serious political strategy or logic. As often is the case with Trump, they were little more than braggadocio.

According to RealClearPolitics, state polls now show that the Midwest Rust Belt strategy of Trump has gone nowhere. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are not in play.

Iowa, with a very old and white electorate, could be competitive in November, and surveys in Nevada, which was hit badly when the real estate bubble burst and has the lowest percentage of college graduates in the country, suggest that the state is also worth watching. But the 12 electoral votes that those two states have combined wouldn’t move the needle much for Trump in the unlikely event that he carries them.

On the other hand, Colorado and Virginia, two swing states in 2012, look like potential blowouts, with Clinton holding double-digit leads in both, according to RealClearPolitics. Both states may be trending blue these days, but the presidential swing from 2012 to 2016 surely has more to do with the relative appeal of the Republican nominees than with long-term demographic shifts in both states.

Many analysts and journalists note that polls show both Florida and Ohio are competitive in the general election. That’s true, but all four recent Ohio polls show Clinton leading by four to six points, and seven of the past eight Sunshine State surveys show her ahead, with the most reliable of the bunch, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll, putting the Democrat’s lead at five points.

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 8 points in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. The poll also finds a majority of voters find both candidates dishonest. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

A five-point victory in Florida would translate into a victory of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent (in a two-way race), certainly not a blowout but not exactly a photo finish, either, especially in possibly the “swingiest” state in the nation.

Four years ago, Obama beat Romney 50 percent to 49.1 percent in Florida, a margin of less than one percentage point. In 2008, Obama carried the state by 2.8 points. In other words, a five-point win in Florida by Clinton would be convincing, given the state’s recent performances.

Can Clinton expand her likely victory by carrying Georgia and Utah, or even Arizona and Indiana? It’s too soon to know whether any normally Republican presidential states other than North Carolina may flip to the Democratic column. But if Trump loses nationally by eight or nine points, which is possible, he certainly could lose some Republican states (as McCain did in 2008).

But what if Trump rallies and loses the presidential contest by only a couple of percentage points? Some GOP strategists believe that he could win at least 270 electoral votes even if he falls a few points short in the popular vote.

With Trump performing poorly in both Colorado and Virginia and not yet making large Rust Belt states competitive, it is hard to see the Republican nominee being able to put together enough electoral votes to win the White House. Even adding Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada to Romney’s 2012 vote would leave Trump short of the 270 electoral votes he would need for victory.

A solid Clinton electoral-vote victory looks to be the most likely outcome, with her floor probably somewhere near Obama’s 332-electoral-vote total against Romney.

Stuart Rothenberg is a columnist for PowerPost, writing about the politics of the presidential and congressional races.

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