The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump says he can win New York — as he did in 2016, when he lost his home state by 22 points

The New York Post is a tabloid newspaper which, in better times, sits outside bodegas and newsstands in New York City in hopes that passersby will be enticed to pick it up and lay out two bucks for the privilege. The more enticing, salacious or aggravating the front cover, then, the better the chance that someone will grab an issue. And what could be more triggering for a commuter in the city these days than a photo of President Trump brashly predicting that he’ll win the state in November?

The Post’s interview with Trump covers some ground, certainly, but it’s that prediction which understandably became the centerpiece.

“I’ll solve the crime problem. I’ll solve their tax problem. I’ll solve all their problems. Who would not vote for me?” Trump explained to the paper. “We’re going to look into SALT, we’re going to look into crime, we’re going to look into all of the things and solve the problems — of many problems that they have in New York.”

If you’re curious what “looking at SALT” means, he’s referring to a shift in the tax code which meant that state and local tax (hence: SALT) payments couldn’t be used as federal tax deductions, a change that cost New Yorkers an estimated $15 billion.

That change was part of the tax package that Trump championed and signed into law in 2017.

During the interview, Trump passed out maps of the 2016 results in New York State, showing that most of the state’s counties voted for him. This is somewhat akin to a president conflating wins in the geographic expanses of Wyoming and the Dakotas with overall popular-vote success — which, of course, Trump does all the time.

It’s worth remembering that Trump made a similar claim in 2016.

“I think we will win New York,” he said in Indiana in April 2016. “I really do.”

He did not. He lost the state by more than 22 points.

It is true that he lost the state by a narrower margin than Mitt Romney had in 2012 — but, then, this was his home state. Presidential candidates often do better in their home states. In 2008, Hawaii voted nearly 37 points more Democratic than it had in 2004, demonstrating support for the state’s native son, Barack Obama. Trump’s improvement in New York was much more modest. (In fact, he lost the precinct housing Trump Tower in Manhattan by 38 points.)

And that was before he signed a law jacking up New York’s tax bill by $15 billion.

Why did Trump boldly predict victory in New York both now and then? It’s honestly hard to say. But it was by no means the only such incident. He promised likely victory in a number of states that he would obviously lose.

For example, he said in May 2016 that “we are going to win Illinois.” He didn’t. In fact, he did worse than Romney.

He said in June 2016 that he thought “we have a good chance” of winning Oregon. He didn’t.

He insisted in June 2016 that he would take a number of blue states and “make them Republican states. Connecticut is one of them.”

He lost Connecticut by nearly 14 points, though he did improve over Romney by a bit.

“We are going after the state of Washington,” Trump said the same month. “We are going after places that no other Republican goes after.”

There’s a reason for that.

Less than a month before the election, he made a particularly bold claim.

“Why do they always say that a Republican can’t win Massachusetts?” he asked. “I think we can.”

He could not. That he fared worse than Romney, though, should be tempered by remembering that Romney once served as the state’s governor.

His boldest claim in 2016?

“I think we can win the state of California and win it pretty substantially,” he said during a rally in San Jose that June. “Now, I’ve been told by all these geniuses, all these brilliant guys — they all say you can’t win the state of California. I think we can.”

Score one for the geniuses. Not only did Trump lose California, he lost it by a staggering 4.2 million votes.

There were states where Trump predicted victory in which his claims were less unlikely.

He said in March 2016 that he would win Virginia, which the Republican candidates had lost only narrowly in 2008 and 2012. He didn’t.

In other swing states, though, his claims ended up being supported by the results. Obama’s two narrow wins in Ohio didn’t keep Trump from swinging the state, in dramatic fashion, part of his surprising Rust Belt success.

“We’re going to win the state of Ohio,” he said in April 2016, “and Ohio is going to remember that I stuck up for Cleveland.” (Stuck up for it, by the way, by not moving the convention out of Cleveland — which seems like a bad precedent for his chances in North Carolina this year.)

Trump confidently announced that he would win Florida, perennially a close contest, that April. He did, by a narrow margin.

Then there were his unexpected wins in Pennsylvania and Michigan, both states that shifted to the GOP between 2008 and 2012.

“I think I’m going to win Pennsylvania easily,” Trump said in May 2016. “We have tremendous support there.”

He won it, though not easily.

“I’m going to win Michigan, and normally a Republican would not go to campaign there, and I’m going to win, just like I did in the primaries,” Trump said that same month. “I’m going to win Michigan by a lot.”

By a little, actually, but a win’s a win.

There were also states that Trump said he would win which, well, obviously he would. There was some thought, for example, that Hillary Clinton might overperform in Arkansas, given that she’d once served as the state’s first lady. The 1992 and 1996 elections were the only times in the past 40 years that the state voted Democratic, after all, a function of Bill Clinton’s leading the Democratic ticket.

But a Clinton win in 2016 was unlikely, and, in fact, Trump did better in the state than Romney had.

Trump also predicted a win in Indiana, which Obama had narrowly won in 2008. Trump outperformed Romney by almost 9 points — but, then, his running mate was the state’s governor.

How’d Trump do on these 14 predictions? He got six of them right, including those last two. Of course, that includes his bold predictions in Pennsylvania and Michigan, which were central to his actual victory.

But New York? The most recent poll in the state, conducted by Siena College in late June has Trump down by 25 points to former vice president Joe Biden. That’s largely a function of Trump trailing in the city by 48 points, but he’s losing by 10 points upstate, too.

Sure, sometimes states swing by wide margins from one election to the next. The state of Utah, for example, voted 30 points more Democratic in 2016 than it had in 2012. That was in part a function of Romney’s having been on the ballot in 2012 and, in part, a function of the red state’s unusual indifference to Trump’s charms. But it’s also a function of the state still voting for Trump by 18 points: had there been a chance that a Democrat might win Utah, it’s safe to say that the dynamics might have shifted.

In other words, given that Siena poll and recent history, New York has a pat response to Trump’s prediction of victory. Being a Post and all, we’ll deliver it in the New York tabloid’s preferred format.

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