The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hillary Clinton won’t win Texas and Donald Trump won’t win California

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Fresno, Calif., on May 27, 2016. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are delusional.

I mean, if you want to be president of the United States, a bit of self-delusion is almost a prerequisite. But here we're talking about a very specific type of delusion: The sweeping delusion that they are so popular, they might break through the locks binding normal red-blue splits in states. That states that have for years — decades — been reliable votes for the other party will this year be so enamored of the candidate from the other party that they'll suddenly flip.

This morning, Cillizza explained why Donald Trump's repeated insistence that he might win New York or California was ridiculous. But buried in Rebecca Traister's fascinating profile of Clinton was a dubious assertion of her own. Traister writes:

So which states do you think Trump puts in play? I asked, mentioning the possibility of Georgia, which some think could go Democratic for the first time since her husband won it in 1992.
“Texas!” she exclaimed, eyes wide, as if daring me to question this, which I did. “You are not going to win Texas,” I said. She smiled, undaunted. “If black and Latino voters come out and vote, we could win Texas,” she told me firmly, practically licking her lips.

Well, yeah, if black and Latino voters come out and vote and no white people do? Sure, then Clinton could win Texas. In 2012, Mitt Romney got more than 1.2 million more votes than Barack Obama and won the state by 16 points. There are no exit polls from the state that November to tell us the racial composition of the electorate, but that's a very big gap to make up.

Texas is reliably red, in the way that California and New York (the other state that Trump claims he can win) are reliably blue. None of these are the most red or blue state in the country; in 2012, the reddest state was Utah (given Romney's presence on the ballot) and the bluest was Hawaii (given Obama's). Setting aside home/friendly states, the reddest and bluest states were Wyoming and Vermont.

But, California, New York and Texas have not been below 10 percent more favorable to their preferred parties in the past four presidential contests.

The demographic swings that are expected to redefine American politics aren't happening so quickly that Texas comes into play for Clinton. Georgia, the state Traister mentioned, has moved much more toward an even contest in part thanks to demographic shifts. New polling in the state, though, still gives Trump an advantage. In recent contests, partisans have been more likely to support the candidate from their own party, and that partisanship alone makes it more likely that states that have voted strongly for one party or the other will continue to do so.

Clinton knows this. Trump . . . probably does. Clinton is saying she can win Texas in part to reinforce that Trump has ongoing problems with non-white voters. Trump is saying he can win California because he likes to boast about things — and his primary election boasts often came true.

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There's another reason that Trump's team is trying to argue that California is in its sights. Senior Trump adviser Sam Clovis appeared on MSNBC on Monday and explained the campaign's strategy.

"The big issue is that the Democrats will have to spend a lot of money and time there," he said. "When you contest those states and you force the opposition to spend money where they have not usually had to spend money, I think that's a big deal."

Well, sure. This is not an uncommon strategy. As the electoral map evolves over a campaign, candidates shift money and resources into states that have become closer and occasionally drop in to the opponent's home turf to make them spend their own resources. The only problem with Clovis's argument — and, presumably, the Trump campaign's strategy — is that California is so far outside their reach right now that Clinton won't even need to spend money to fend them off. Clinton is starting the general election race with big advantages in staff and money, so for Trump to plan to spend his own time and money in a state that she'll almost certainly win, the most damage would be done to Trump. Clovis is right: forcing the opposition to spend money where it hasn't had to is smart. But in this case, Trump is spending his own money, unforced. That's not smart.

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The natural response to this line of argument is that 2016 is so different that perhaps Texas or California will be in play. To which I will note that, if they are, the election is already over. If Clinton has a shot at winning Texas, there is no conceivable way that Trump will be elected president.

This is the motivating thought: What if we win like Ronald Reagan did in 1984? In that case, all the normal patterns are off. But then what you're really saying isn't "I think I can win in these select states where my party usually wins." It's: "I'm so amazing that I can do something stunning and shock the world."

And that, at least for now, borders on the delusional.