A demonstrator wearing a Donald Trump mask gestures at a protest against the Republican US presidential candidate in New York City, in April.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s unprecedented political success has surprised no one more than Donald Trump himself, and his unlikely rise is providing the candidate with confidence he will shock the world one final time on election night.
“Our magnificent, historic movement has surprised the world and defied expectations at every single turn,” Trump said last week in Orlando, Florida. “We will have one last glorious surprise for the pundits, the politicians and the special interests when we win and return the power back to the people.”
But Trump faces daunting statistical odds: Data from dozens of nonpartisan, independent polling firms, collected over months using various survey methods, strongly suggest that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, will easily clinch the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House.
Victory for Trump requires that he sweep every remaining swing state and pick up one state leaning heavily toward the Democrats – or upend the map entirely, winning states in the Midwest that have not gone Republican in decades.
Trump hopes that by the early evening hours, Florida and North Carolina will have tallied their early votes to show that Clinton is not ahead as much as she had thought. Victories in these states will salvage Trump’s hopes for at least an hour, as results begin to come in from New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and unexpectedly competitive states like Georgia – all states Trump must win.
The only scenario in which he can lose one or two of these states is if he surprises with victories in the Midwest rust belt – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Ohio. Polls have consistently shown Clinton ahead in all but Ohio, which she, mathematically speaking, can afford to lose.
These are Trump’s two paths. Yet early voter turnout suggests the worst-case scenario is far more likely for the Trump campaign: that it will be the very demographics Trump has repeatedly insulted – Hispanics and Latinos, women, blacks and other minorities – who turn out in record numbers to make up Clinton’s winning coalition or, perhaps more accurately, the anti-Trump coalition.
Latino early voting smashed records in Nevada – a state likely to be all but lost for Trump, given that seven out of 10 registered voters have already cast their ballots, showing Democrats with a 13.7% advantage – as well as in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
He has consistently maintained historically low support among women throughout the course of the campaign, only aggravated by his taped comments about sexually assaulting women made public last month.
These statistics are evidence to Trump of a “rigged system” – the candidate claims that journalists and pollsters are colluding to cover up his untold sources of support.
But polling throughout the Republican primaries accurately reflected his ultimate voter totals, both of which were reliably covered.
He also claims the rigged system includes crooked state and local officials controlling poll stations, seeking to suppress his voters and assist Clinton supporters. The states in which he claims this system is being rigged against him – Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and the like – are all run by Republican gubernatorial and state houses.
While Trump has claimed for weeks that this vote will be altered (he has not specifically outlined how this would be achieved on a scale wide enough to affect the outcome), he has conversely promised to accept the result as legitimate if he wins. He has thus set up a contradictory narrative for himself: that a conspiratorial group of politicians and bankers will not allow him to win, but that his victory is nevertheless still possible through the power of the ballot box.
After 600 days of campaigning, this election ends in a dilemma.
Democrats fear that Donald Trump, a unique force in American politics, represents an existential threat to the world’s oldest democracy – willing to delegitimize the electoral process for his own personal gain. And yet, Republicans supporting him – up to three to one registered GOP voters – seem unconvinced that America has much of a democracy at all.
Special interests are a powerful force in the United States. The country’s legacy media organizations are imperfect. Corruption in Washington concerns both parties and has been a consistent theme of the 2016 campaign.
But no evidence exists that Tuesday’s vote will be rigged. Trump’s voters will be counted, and they will be heard.
If the coalition Trump has built fails to put him over the top, then the result will not reflect a rigged electoral system. It will reflect that a majority of the country has rejected Donald Trump’s vision of American greatness.