The last time Republicans could celebrate winning the White House on election night was 1988. In 2000 it took 31 days and in 2004, Ohio wasn’t called until the day after the election.
One of the original sins that has helped create the Trump campaign is the fantasy held by some conservatives that 2008 and 2012 should have been easy races for Republicans to win. It’s not difficult to understand where this view comes from: These people can’t fathom the appeal of a Barack Obama and assume the world thinks like they do. On one level, it’s typical tribalism, like an Auburn fan who can’t imagine rooting for Alabama. But on a deeper level it reflects the willful denial of reality that has helped Donald Trump and Breitbart take over the Republican Party.
If you believe that 2008 and 2012 were actually easy races to win, it leads you to a series of conclusions now manifest in the disaster that is the Trump campaign. A race would be easy to win if only a candidate savaged an opponent, if only a candidate screamed at the media, if only a candidate really appealed to white voters and called non-white voters, well, “rapists” for example. It’s like believing the Earth is flat. Once you live in that reality, it’s only logical not to send ships over the edge.
It wasn’t really a coalition of angry working-class voters that led Trump’s flat-earth crusade. It was a coalition of angry rich media figures who know, even if they are wrong, there is a lot of money to be made denying reality. It’s Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, Rush Limbaugh, and the usual carnival barkers, most of whom are too smart to believe their own nonsense. But they have made fortunes peddling bile and prejudice and the market continues to be good.
Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for those who have argued it should be easy for a Republican to win the White House. He’s spent over a year screaming at the president and Hillary Clinton, calling our largest neighbors “rapists” and stirring up religious bigotry. In a country founded on religious freedom, he’s called for a religious test to enter the United States.
In the flat-earth world, Trump should be headed to a landslide. He’s running against a Democratic opponent who faced a fierce primary, historically one of the keys to winning the White House. Rarely does the White House remain in the same party for three terms. Hillary Clinton is hardly a fresh face and started the general election with high negatives. This should be a cake walk for the angry candidate building an army of missing white voters. How’s it working?
By running a campaign appealing to white voters, Trump is doing less well with white voters than Mitt Romney (I was the chief strategist for that campaign). Trump’s on track to lose white college-educated voters, something no Republican has done since the FDR era. Even Barry Goldwater won white college-educated voters. Romney won white women by 14 points. Trump will probably lose white women.
Two data points should be enough to guide the Republican party forward: In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a sweeping landslide of 44 states with 56 percent of the white vote. In 2012, Romney won 24 states with 59 percent of the white vote. And a higher percentage of whites voted in 2012 than 1980.
If that’s not enough, consider this: Every four years the American electorate is two percentage points less white, with four percentage points fewer white voters with a high school education or less. The Trump candidacy is a classic example of losing five bucks on every sale and trying to make it up in volume.
Mitt Romney received 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Polls now have Trump getting under 20 percent with a significantly higher percentage of Hispanics voting. By the weekend, more Hispanics had voted early in Florida than the total vote in 2012. The record early voting of Hispanics in Nevada has likely closed off any path to victory for Trump and without Nevada, the electoral math for him becomes all but fanciful.
Facing these numbers, the best hope for the Trump campaign would be a major effort to turn out their voters on Election Day. But the Trump campaign never invested in a GOTV operation. There is little to no organization to activate. In key states like Florida and Ohio, the Senate campaigns are operating on their own, without the usual coordination with a presidential effort.
Of course it’s not like any of this hasn’t been known and acknowledged. After the 2012 election, the Republican party went through a detailed and painful analysis of how to change in order to win a national election. It’s never easy for any organization to be self-critical and Chairman Reince Preibus deserves a lot of credit for initiating the process. The conclusions of the so-called autopsy were clear: To win, the Republican party must attract more non-white voters. A specific goal of 31 percent of non-white voters was targeted, a 12-point increase over the 19 percent who voted for Mitt Romney.
So what did the Republican party do? The exact opposite. It’s as if after a study by the NIH proving that chemotherapy was effective against cancer, the AMA decided to try leeches instead. The result is that Trump is getting under 20 percent of the Hispanic vote and every indication is that they are voting in historically high numbers. It’s almost as if they heard the guy who called Mexicans “rapists.” Trump’s appeal to African-American voters was “they had nothing to lose” in supporting him, a monumentally condescending and dumb pitch to the voters who most appreciate they indeed have a lot of lose.
There is a reason no Republican Senate candidates appear on stage with Trump. None of these candidates are running a campaign in tone or substance that is similar to Trump’s and for good reason. Across the board, Republican Senate candidates are far superior to Trump. Hopefully voters will recognize this and respond accordingly.
For many of us who have worked in Republican politics, this election has put us in a strange and unfamiliar place. But we are there with the last two Republican presidents and the last Republican nominee. That’s not bad company. There are so many of us who worked for President George W. Bush who can’t support Trump: Michael Gerson, Peter Wehner, Nicolle Wallace, Dana Perino, Ari Fleischer, Matthew Dowd—it’s a long list.
We take no joy in not being able to back a Republican but the Trump party is a different party from the one we joined. We’ll see what happens on Tuesday. But the country deserves a better alternative.