In 2012, rank-and-file Republicans told party leaders, "Anyone but Romney." Yet, to no one’s surprise, the hierarchy coronated Mitt Romney anyway, punting an election that should have been a slam-dunk.
The silver lining for 2016 was that, after four more years of President Obama, America seemed ready for a change. Even better for the GOP was that Hillary Clinton seemed certain to be the Democratic nominee.
Make the election a referendum on Hillary, and the White House would be theirs. After all, Hillary was unlikable, even within her own party (evidenced by her inability to put Bernie Sanders away); the consummate insider for a quarter century, she was the antithesis of the outsider whom voters were seeking; she was irrevocably linked to the president in a year many felt Obama-fatigued; and perhaps most damaging, she was the target of several investigations, facing possible indictment.
But then something unexpected happened: Donald Trump became the GOP nominee, and all bets were off. In an ironic twist, those in the Republican establishment became the ones pleading – "anyone but Trump" – but paybacks are hell. After years of ignoring their base, the party elites finally "got theirs."
Intra-Party strife aside, the big question now is: "Does Trump have a path to victory?"
1) The only person who could have shifted the referendum from Hillary to her opponent was Trump. And for good reason: despite Clinton’s high disapproval ratings, Trump’s are considerably worse. No candidate has insulted so many, so often, so offensively. And in the age of 24/7 news, those comments never go away.
The Clinton strategy is simple: Spend hundreds of millions to keep Trump’s negatives front-and-center. Combine that with the Democratic Party’s natural Electoral College advantage, and the path to a Trump victory, while possible, is extremely narrow.
2) National polls are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the Electoral College.
A winning candidate needs 270 votes. Hillary, as with any Democrat, starts off with a decisive advantage. Eighteen states are virtual "gimmes," with Democrats having won every one over the last six elections, including the big prizes of California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. Add New England, Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest, and Clinton sits at 242. At that point, win Florida, and it’s over. But even if the Sunshine State rains on Clinton’s parade, there are many other combinations that would put her above the threshold.
For Republicans, the nation’s shifting demographics create a significant problem. Add the extremely controversial Trump to that electoral equation, and it gets even more difficult.
One of the constituencies Trump has most alienated is Hispanics, with a recent Gallup survey showing him with a staggering 77 point unfavorable rating. Trump is poised to lose them in record numbers. And that likely puts states with ever-increasing Hispanic populations out of reach, such as New Mexico (over 40 percent Hispanic), Nevada, Colorado, and even Florida (which, combined with Trump’s low-blow thrashing of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, could prove very difficult to win).
Of the small handful of states in play, Trump faces an uphill battle in many more than Clinton. And the more red states Trump must defend, such as Arizona, North Carolina, and even Nebraska, the less time he has to campaign in other must-win places.
3) The existence of white, working-class, "Reagan Democrats" that Trump’s campaign claims to be wooing is largely a myth. In reality, those people left the Democratic Party decades ago. The number of Democrats still in that demographic, including union members, are likely not large enough to carry the day in the crucial Rust Belt states Trump needs to win.
4) Much has been made about a new poll showing Trump and Hillary statistically tied in the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. Newsflash: The pollsters missed April Fool’s Day.
These polls are sheer lunacy, good only to reinforce the insane notions of those who believe Trump will garner 370 electoral votes in a landslide — the same "experts," incidentally, who guaranteed a Romney landslide, including Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Dick Morris and George Will.
How is it possible for Trump to be tied when he is viewed unfavorably by two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters of women? And how is it remotely plausible that Pennsylvania, which voted against non-offensive "nice" guys John McCain, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush (back when demographics were more favorable to the GOP), will do an about-face and vote Trump? Factor in that Philadelphia suburbanites will vote overwhelmingly for the first woman candidate (irrelevant of Trump), and one can plainly see that polls showing the Keystone State in play are utter fantasy.
5) Another dark cloud over Trump is the fractured GOP, with numerous leaders (all the Bushes, McCain, Romney) withholding their support.
Given that endorsements are the least transferrable commodity in politics, does any of that really matter?
Yes. Big time.
If even 3 percent of Ted Cruz supporters, and 3 percent of the Romney/Bush faction stay home, Trump cannot win, because there’s simply no way to make up that margin, no matter how many Independents he garners.
Think disgruntled Republicans will come around because "Hillary will be worse?" Think again. Millions stayed home four years ago, despite the-sky-will-fall predictions if Obama won a second term.
And let’s be honest: Is there really a single Democrat who voted for Obama the second time, who will now vote for Trump?
There seem to be just three paths for a Trump presidency:
Millions of Democrats stay home, despite knowing they could hand the White House to someone they see as the devil incarnate (very unlikely).
Bernie Sanders or Michael Bloomberg runs third party, splitting the Democratic vote (unlikely).
Hillary Clinton gets indicted (possible but increasingly unlikely).
He won’t do it, but for Donald Trump to possibly be successful, he needs to look in the mirror, blame himself for the obstacles he faces, and do a genuine mea culpa. Most tragic is that his negatives are entirely self-inflicted – and completely avoidable. But because of them, the Republican Party is on track to lose not just the election, but quite possibly control of Congress – not to mention a possible civil war within the GOP. And all because Donald Trump couldn’t respect the two issues that still matter most in American politics: Character and civility.
If that prediction holds true, the message to the Grand Old Party will be the same as the Ringling Brothers Circus: Will the last "elephant" to leave please turn out the lights?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]