The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s path to an electoral college victory isn’t narrow. It’s nonexistent.

At an Oct. 15 campaign rally, Donald Trump said the election was being rigged by "corrupt media" pushing "false allegations" and "lies." (Video: The Washington Post)
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The trajectory of the 2016 presidential race — which will result in a Hillary Clinton victory — remains largely unchanged from May, when Donald Trump and Clinton were in the process of wrapping up their nominations.

But what has changed recently is Clinton’s likely winning margin. For many weeks, even months, I have believed that Clinton would defeat Trump by three to six points. If anything, that range now looks a bit low, with the Democratic nominee apparently headed for a more convincing victory, quite possibly in the four-to-eight-point range.

Trump continues to be his own worst enemy, saying or tweeting things that only fuel chatter about his current and past views, values and behavior. His comments about people — from Vladimir Putin and Alicia Machado to some of the women who have accused him of sexual assault — have kept the focus on him at a time when he should be making the election a referendum on Clinton.

No, Trump’s supporters have not turned on him. But he trails badly with only a few weeks to go until Nov. 8, and he must broaden his appeal to have any chance of winning. That is now impossible.

Major national polls show Clinton leading among likely voters by anywhere from as few as four points, in the Oct. 10-13 Washington Post-ABC News poll, to as many as 11 points, in the Oct. 10-13 NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

Clinton’s personal ratings among registered voters remain terrible. A mind-boggling 62 percent of respondents in the Post-ABC poll said she is not “honest and trustworthy,” and 57 percent of those polled said they had an unfavorable view of her.

Yet these numbers help explain why Clinton is ahead in the race and could win by a large margin: Trump’s numbers are even worse.

What's in the new Washington Post/ABC News poll (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

A sizable 64 percent in the same poll said Trump is not honest or trustworthy, and an identical percentage said that he doesn’t have the temperament to be an effective president. A majority, 58 percent, said Trump is not qualified to be president, and 2 out of 3 respondents had an unfavorable view of the GOP nominee.

Trump is and has been a disaster as a presidential nominee, and that will not change in the campaign’s final days. Nor is there any reason to believe that voters from important demographic groups will warm to him. He continues to play only to his core supporters.

There is no surge among white voters for Trump — at least not enough to offset the Republican and swing voters he will lose.

The newest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows Trump doing worse against Clinton than Mitt Romney did against President Obama with almost every demographic group, including men, women, whites, Latinos, Republicans, voters with household incomes of more than $100,000 per year, voters with a college degree, voters with a postgraduate degree and voters 65 and older.

African Americans, white men without a college degree and younger voters are among the few groups with which Clinton is underperforming compared with Obama. But that should not give much comfort to Trump, who is drawing only 9 percent of African Americans, compared with the 6 percent that Romney drew against the first African American president.

It would be a mistake to call Trump’s current path to an electoral-college victory narrow. It is nonexistent. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, once part of the Trump scenario, have never been “in play,” and he is not competitive in states Obama won only narrowly in 2012, such as Virginia and Colorado. Trump is more likely to lose North Carolina than win it, which would put him under 200 electoral votes.

Frankly, the writing has been on the wall for months about this race. You simply needed to look at the candidates, their campaign teams, the map and the voters.

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The public’s mood certainly offered Trump an opportunity to make the election about Clinton and the president, and a serious Republican nominee could have taken advantage of the desire for change and Clinton’s baggage to win the race. But Donald Trump was always the worst messenger possible for delivering that message.

In one of my last columns for Roll Call, on May 10, I wrote that:

Given the makeup of the likely electorate, state voting patterns, the images of the candidates, the deeply fractured GOP and the early survey data, Clinton starts off with a decisive advantage in the contest. A blowout is possible.

Three months later, on Aug. 9, I reiterated that Trump was so poorly positioned for the fall campaign that he “needs a miracle to win.”

That conclusion was based both on the polls and on the reality that nominees who trail by double digits after the second national convention do not win presidential elections.

Now, with early voting already underway and only three weeks left until Election Day, the writing is on the wall. Clinton is headed for solid popular-vote and electoral-vote victories that are larger than Obama’s were over Romney.

While last-minute WikiLeaks releases could be embarrassing for Clinton, the battle lines of the 2016 presidential race are already set. Both the Post-ABC and NBC-Wall Street Journal polls show only a handful of voters still undecided in the race, and few committed voters are open to changing their minds.

Clinton’s lead could still widen or narrow a couple of points, depending on events. If her victory looks inevitable, some progressives may conclude that they can defect to Jill Stein without handing the White House to Trump. But the most important question is no longer whether Trump or Clinton will win but how large Clinton’s margin will be and whether she will have coattails.

Actually, those have been the most important questions for months.

Stuart Rothenberg writes about the politics of the presidential and congressional races.

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