Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBy briefing White House, Nunes plays Trump's wiretapping game Trump looking at B cut to UN peacekeeping programs: report Pelosi blasts Trump’s ‘rookie error’ on ObamaCare repeal MORE has a realistic, if difficult, path to 265 electoral votes. It’s getting to 270 that looks improbable.
Trump is in a tight race with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonNew England Patriots to visit White House on April 19 More than ever, Justice must demand a special prosecutor for Trump-Russia probe White House scoffs at CNN report on alleged Russian collusion MORE in Florida and Ohio, the two swing states that are perennial battlegrounds in the White House race.
That won’t be easy.
The most difficult battles for Trump to reach even that threshold are in North Carolina and Florida. In both states, a majority of polls show Trump trailing.
North Carolina, especially, is a difficult target for Trump this year, and one Clinton is focused on putting in her column.
Still, neither candidate can count on a victory there yet.
It Trump wins all of those states, plus Iowa and Nevada, both won by President Obama in 2012, he would reach 265 electoral votes.
Winning Iowa and Nevada wouldn’t be a huge stretch for Trump. In fact, both are probably easier targets for him to hit than either North Carolina or Florida.
Trump has been ahead in Iowa for much of the presidential race, and he and Clinton are in a dead heat in Nevada.
But even if Trump pulled out wins in all four of those states, he would be five votes short of 270, the magic number needed to win the presidency.
Trump also has to make sure his lead doesn’t erode with losses in Arizona, Georgia or Utah. All three of those states have been safe for Republicans, but all are battlegrounds this year. A loss in any of the three would doom Trump.
Charlie Cook, one of the most respected election analysts in the country, is so certain of a Trump defeat that he says it is a “done deal.”
The Trump campaign sees 2016 as a “change election,” according to a senior campaign source.
His team is banking that pollsters are misreading the electorate on a gargantuan scale. They point to the Brexit referendum this June, when polls failed by 4 percentage points to predict that Britain would vote to exit the European Union.
“Path very well defined,” the campaign source added, laying out the target states detailed above. “Not about strategy now, only execution.”
Trump’s strategists privately accept he’s behind, despite their bullish rhetoric. But they insist they still believe he’ll win. And that’s what they’re telling the boss when he asks.
If Trump can win Nevada and get to 265, the Republican’s strategists hope he can pick up one vote in Maine’s second congressional district.
Maine doles out two electoral votes to the statewide winner and then one each to the winners of a liberal congressional district and a conservative one, meaning Trump can add one to his score by winning in the rural parts of the state.
That would get Trump to 266 electoral votes — still four short of a win.
Trump's strategists are targeting some combination of states where Clinton is seen as the favorite to get them over the top. These states include New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Wins in more than one of these states could also offset a loss somewhere else.
On paper, New Hampshire seems like the best bet for Trump.
He cruised to a victory in the state’s primary, and voters there backed President George W. Bush for president in 2004. The state’s primarily white population resembles other states where Trump has been strong.
Yet Trump is behind Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in New Hampshire by 6.5 percentage points. The Republican has done poorly with college-educated voters, who make up a higher proportion of the electorate in New Hampshire than Ohio. It’s one reason why Trump could be having more trouble there.
Pennsylvania has long been a target of the Trump campaign and previous GOP presidential candidates. Like Michigan, it hasn’t voted for a GOP candidate in a presidential election since 1988.
Clinton so far has had a durable lead in the Keystone State, suggesting Trump is unlikely to break this pattern.
Trump has also been consistently behind Clinton in Michigan and Wisconsin, which hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1984.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray described Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as “almost completely off the map” for Trump, pointing to long-standing Clinton leads in all three states.
The last two GOP presidential candidates hoped to win Virginia — where Obama broke a losing streak for Democrats in 2008. Yet Trump has all but given up on Virginia, where Clinton has a 7.2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average.
Two senior sources in Trump’s operation confirmed the Trump campaign puts Virginia in a “maybe column” with targets such as Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington. Minnesota and Wisconsin, at least, would be longer shots for any Republican presidential nominee.
“It's a heavy lift,” the senior campaign source acknowledged, before arguing that Clinton also faces a difficult path to 270.
“But it is for her also. They are just as nervous because she is not a closer.
“And we have the best closer in the world,” the source added. “And she wants to take a nap.”
In reality, however, Trump has the much tougher path to 270, assuming polls are reasonably accurate.
In fact, Liam Donovan, a former aide to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argues a Trump win would depend on a “huge systemic failure.”
“Trump isn't going to thread the needle,” he said. “If he wins, it's because everything we know is wrong.”
If everything pollsters are doing is wrong, Donovan said, it’s possible a whole host of states could go to Trump. But that’s not to say he’s arguing that possibility is likely.
“For instance, Pennsylvania doesn't flip without a uniform swing that would bring Colorado and Nevada and Wisconsin and New Hampshire with it,” he said. “So it seems like boom or bust from my standpoint, with almost metaphysical certitude on bust.”