Start here: Hillary Clinton begins the general election against Donald Trump with a major head start in the race to 270 electoral votes. I wrote about it in this space earlier this week. Most political handicappers have released projections over the past 72 hours that affirm that idea.
But ever since Trump secured the Republican nomination Tuesday night with his sweeping win in Indiana, I've been noodling around with what an electoral map that elected Trump might look like. Then Philip Bump built this awesome electoral college interactive that allowed me to build out all sorts of maps to figure out whether there were any plausible ones where Trump wound up with 270 (or more) electoral votes.
There are! I built five maps where Trump gets elected president. They're below, listed from his highest electoral vote total to his lowest. To be clear (again): This is a thought experiment aimed at understanding what a national map that elects Trump looks like. I don't think any of these maps is, for sure, how the election will turn out. That said, let's jump in.
Trump's best chance of winning is to turn the industrial Midwest/Rust Belt, which remains a Democratic stronghold, into Trump country. This map hands him not just the swing state of Ohio but longtime Republican targets (and misses) Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The idea here is that Trump's demonstrated appeal to white, working-class voters would be most potent in this area, which has been ravaged by the collapse of the manufacturing economy. Notice, too, that if Trump could pull off this sort of Midwestern sweep, he could lose Florida and still get elected.
As the first map shows, Trump can win the presidency without winning Florida. But, man, is his path a lot easier if he can win his adopted home state. That's not totally implausible given his demonstrated strength in the state during the primary season and the fact that a decent chunk of the Latino population in Florida are Cubans who tend to be more conservative than most other Hispanic groups. The map above also gives Trump Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Subtract Iowa, the toughest of those three for him to win (I think), and Trump is at 276. Subtract Wisconsin and keep Iowa, and he's at 272 — and still president.
This map is very similar to #2 above. The only difference is that Trump loses Iowa but wins New Hampshire, giving him two less total electoral votes — hence 280. Trump's numbers in New Hampshire during the primary seasons were consistent and consistently high. And his combative manner and rebellious reputation are a nice fit for the Granite State ethos.
The key to this map is Wisconsin. It's a state that has been moving slowly but surely toward Republicans at the state and federal level and where the electorate is already super-polarized along party lines. (Thanks, Scott Walker and the recall effort!) Trump's struggles in the Wisconsin primary — his worst loss of the entire process — should provide some pause for whether he is the right GOP candidate to turn the state from blue to red. But it's certainly possible — particularly if Walker and the state party apparatus get actively on board with him. (Walker as Trump VP?)
In this map, Trump wins the key, big swing states of Ohio and Florida and the key, slightly smaller swing state of Virginia. He also claims New Hampshire's four electoral votes that put him (barely) over the top. It's worth noting that in 2000, George W. Bush's winning map looked a lot like this — minus his victories in Colorado and Nevada.
And then there is this map, which is not totally out of the question, in which Trump and Clinton tie at 269 electoral votes and the election is thrown to the U.S. House. Probably won't happen, but in an election year like 2016, I rule nothing out.