The Original Splash Brother, Manute Bol
My morning line is HIllary 50, Trump 44, Johnson 4, Stein 2, with the Electoral College at 348-190.
My central thesis for this election is that Hillary Clinton is the favorite for two broad reasons: the fundamentals of the election favor the incumbent party and the Republican nominee is unlikely to persuade many voters to vote for him over Clinton who didn't already vote Republican four years ago. As for fundamentals, I mean the fact that Barack Obama is liked by more voters than he is disliked. The economy is generally solid and the opposition party has nominated a dumpster-fire. That dumpster-fire said things to get the nomination that probably preclude mutliple paths to the White House.
This shold make Hillary Clinton the clear favorite, and she is that. But she comes with her own baggage and has some highy unfavorables. As a betting matter she has been right about a 3-1 favorite ever since both parties settled on their respective nominees. I think that accurately reflect the state of the race, and is consistent with the 538 model.
1. Specific States.
In 2012 Barack Obama won 332 Electoral Votes. Mitt Romney won 206. President Obama won 10 out of 11 close states that year. That's actually good news for the GOP. The only state they really have to defend is North Carolina, which Romney won by just two points. The next closest margins of victory was Georgia by eight, Arizon and and Missouri by nine. Clinton needs to worry about Florida (less than one point in 2012), Ohio (three), Virginia (4), Colorado and Pennsyvlania (5) and New Hampshire (six).
So Donald trump needs a net gain of 64 Electoral Votes. The quickest distance to that, using 2012 margins of difference is to win Florida (29 EV), Ohio (18), Virginia (13) and Colorado (9). I think that Trump's racist comments about undocumented immigrants will translate into atrocious numbers among Latino voters. That probably puts Florida and Colorado out of reach. If so, he will need to win some blue states in the Upper Midwest.
Think of Trump as having three paths to 270 Electoral votes. Each is based on the assumption that he doesn't lose any Romney states. The crucial states are Florida and Colorado, because they have high numbers of Latino voters and I think they will be hard for Trump to win. :
A. Direct Line: Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.
B. Without Colorado: If he wins FL, OH & VA but loses Colorado, he will have 262 Electoral Votes. He could get the remaining eight by carrying one of the below configurations;
ii.Iowa and New Hampshire
iii Minnesota or Wisconsin. (Or Michigan, which is extremely unlikely.)
C. Without Florida. If he wins OH & VA but not CO or FL, Trump is in a huge electoral hole. He would have 237 electoral votes and need to win. To dig out of that hole, he probably needs to win either Michigan or Pennsylvania. Winning both PA & MI would be enough to win, but that's unlikley to happen. If he wins Pennsylvania, he gets within 13 votes and needs two more upsets among New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin. If he wins Michigan but loses Pennsyvlania, then he needs to win both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
If Trump loses both FL and CO, He would probably need to win Pennsylvania and Michigan. That's very unlikely.
The forecasts on 538.com show some traditionally red states as being competitive. At the moment, Nate gives Hillary a 25% chance of winning Arizona, Missouri and Georgia. But as the election gets closer, I think those states will tend to move in Trump's diretion. My official prediction is depressingly familiar. I think Clinton will win back North Carolina and I think she will win Nebraska' 2nd congressional district. That will get her 348 Electoral Votes.
2. Vice Presidential Choices.
Way back in November of last year I wrote that Tim Kaine would be the Democratic nominee for Vice-President. I'm sticking with that. He's the safe, sensible choice with experience in the senat and the exective. He also helps win one of the most competitive states, Virginia Hillary has the lead and she's a small-c conservative by nature. This is the safe pick.
The Republican running mate sweepstakes have come down to a handful of choices. Chris Christie would be absurd. Newt Gingrich would be terrible, but I think he's good at telling people like Donald Trump what they want to hear. That can't hurt when wooing a narcissist. I think General Flynn disqualified himself when he said today that he was tepidly pro-choice. I think Trump wold face a delegate revolt if he chose Flynn.
That leaves Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. The biggest question about this pick is whether Pence wants to give up being governor of Indiana. He's up for re-election and can't be on the ballot there twice. I don't know if he wants to give up being Governor for a 25% chance of being Vice-President. But he has to know that this will elevate his name recognition and it will allow him to play the grown up for the next 18 weeks. When 2020 comes around, he will have credibility with the people who loved Trump and perhaps with the establishment if he is thought to have made the race more competitive than it should have. He also has to consider the possiblity that should they win this thing, Trump might resign after a few months to cash in on his new fame. (This is a real prospect.)
So I think Pence is the smart choies of the remaining candidates. And really, how exciting can it be to govern Indiana? So we are looking at Clinton-Kaine and Trump-Pence. Neither of these choices affect any of my electoral college predictions, but they probably make Virginia and Indiana slightly more likely to stay with the party that they chose in 2012.
3. Worst Case Scenarios.
So I'm writing that there is a 25% chance that Donald Trump will be the next President-elect of the United States. Let's try to break down that that means.
First let me say that I'm always open to the idea that the Trump campaign is a giant scam and that the candidate will back out at some point rather than face ignoble defeat. But I don't think he will do this before the convention. He can't pass up that much free air time. But if things look bad in September, he might invent an excuse for him to dropout and say that his electors should just vote for Pence instead of him. I know this is crazy. The stuff of a bad novel by a political beat reporter. But what part of 2016 has not been just that? So let me clarify that I think the odds of the election winner are something like this: Clinton 75%, Trump 23%, somebody else, 2%.
But that leaves Mr. Trump with a 23% chance of winning. To put that in sports terms that's roughly equivalent to Manute Bol's three point field goal percentage. Sounds crazy but some of those shots went in. A more common sports analogy would be an NFL team with a 7 point defecit halfway through the third quarter. So Trump can win this. It's just not very likely.
My operating assumption for the past several months was that Trump's best chance of winning involved something horrible happening on American soil, most likely a terrorist attack that makes people willing to try out his ridiculous idea of banning Muslims and building a wall along the southern border. The mass shooting at the Orlando night club did nothing to move the prediction markets. So far the the mass shooting of Dallas police officer has also had no effect. But I'm leaving the room open for an October surprise. If we have multiple ISIS-linked or insipred attacks on the homeland in October, Trump's odds will improve.
He also has some issues to make hey with. He is running, contra the mainstream of the Republican party against free trade. He's going to promise people a return to the economy of the 1950 and 60s. He's also going to imply a trunt ot the culture of the 1950s. That does has some appeal. He is currently leading white men by more than 20 points. (Makes you proud, doesn't it?)
I think a Trump victory means four things happened:
1. Major terrorist attack on American soil or extended instances of violence against police officers.
2. A "scandal" of some sort that tarnishes Hillary more than Benghazi or the Email server have.
3. Tepid economic numbers in the fall.
4. Trump rebranding his message for the general electorate in a way that accentuates the economic insecurity of working class people while simultaneously convincing Wall Street that he won't actually impose any of his whackadoo economic poliices.
That last one is quite the typerope to walk. I don't think he has political chops or interpersnal skills to do it. That's why I'm an optimist.
4. Best Case Scenarios
This election cycle is already a wasted opportunity. When Hillary's only meaningful challenge came from a 74 year old socialist, it meant that the party was not about to change. And when the Republicans nominated Donald Trump they doomed themselves to four years of bleating the No True Scotsman Fallacy. When Trump loses,people like Ted Cruz will say "It's because we didn't nominate a real conservative." And in four years, they probably will do just that.
Hillary's vote margin over Trump will probably be bigger than the 3.95% that Obama's beat Romney by. But I don't think he will win by a bigger margin than the 7.3% that Obama beat McCain by in 2008. Even if she does, I think the only red states that become competitive are Georgia, Arizona and Missouri. A sweep of all the battlegrounds plus those three would get her up to 384 Electoral Votes. That's close to a route, but not quite the stuff of history. A truly historic meltdown by Trump might make Kansas, South Carolina and Montana competitive. But even adding them to the Blue pile would leave Trump far short of Goldwater-McGovern-Mondale territory.
A Clinton blowout probably involves for things happening;
1. A relative lack of serious terrorist activity.
2. Trump being unwilling or incapable of toning down his campaign rhetoric.
3. A massive fund raising dsparity because rich people determine that they are better off with Hillary for four years than the dumpster-fire.
4. Television ads that rehabilitate Clinton's image and cement Trump's imge among indpendents.
The hardest part is rehabilitating Clinton's image. I think there's 40% of the population that will vote for her opponent no matter how dangerous that opponsent is. That's why I'm not too excited about Kansas or Mississippi turning blue or even purple. Hillary won't play aggressively enough to make them copetitive.
5. Third &; Fourth Party Effects.
Gary Johnson is approaching double-digits in polls that include him. A lot of this is the result of Trump and Clinton both being so unpopular. But as people begin to take their vote seriously, they will not turn to Libertarians in huge numbers. I think his ceiling is eight percent and will have to fight like hell to get five percent. His best chance of making a dent is that Trump becomes so odious that many Republicans just can not vote for him and look their neighors in the eye. But I don't see the groundswell happening this year. Mid single digits it is.
Jill Stein of the Green Party recently offered to ste aside so that Berne Sanders coud instead run as the Green Party candidate. Okay, that was difficult to type with a straight face. What she actually did was she pretended that she would step aside for a candidate who she knew full well intends to endorse Clinton because she things it will curry her favor with disaffected lefties. It might, but they are small in number. Bernie supporters are already telling pollsters they will vote for Mrs. Clinton in higher numbers than Clinton supporters were saying the same of Barack Obama in 2008. But to be fair, these Sanders voters are from the left-wing of the party whereas the Clinton supporters of 2008 were from the rightwing of the party. Voting Green was never an option for them. But it will be for about 5% of the population, especially if the polls indicate that Clinton is certain to win the election and prevent a Trump presidency. Her ceiling is three percent. People still remember the Nader effect. It will kee her number down. (As will her pseudoscientific opinions about GMO and vaccines, among other things.)
6. What to Look Forward To:
A quick run down of the major events of the next 17 and a half weeks.
i. Trump's VP announcment: Probably No Later than July 15th. (That's when Pence has to decide between running for Governor or running for Veep. I think he's say Veep.)
ii. GOP convetion in Cleveland (and the ensuing riots). This is really Trump's best chance to put a new spin on his shtick. His one big asset as a candidate is that he knows how to use the medium of television to his advantage. I think the convention will be more variety show than politcal theater. People will talk about it. And there will be lots of confrontation in the streets. Here's a big prediction: on July 22nd pundits will be calling this a toss-up election. (Bettors will not.)
iii. Hillary's VP announcement. Probably Kaine but maybe some other boring white guy.
iv. DEM convention in Philadelphia (and the ensuing floor debates). I think Bernie's delegation will vote for HIllary. I also thin it will include enough young Occupy types to make the convetion less boring and sanitized than the Democratic conventions have been ever since Bill and Hillary took the reigns of the party 25 years ago. But Hillary and Kaine will both give great speeches that no one will be offended by or remember 2 months later and she will get her bounce and the pundits will say she's the favorie again.
v. First Presidential Debate, September 26th in Dayton, OH.
Circle your calendars for this one. The Quantum unknown in this election will be how Hillary reacts to debating a sociopath. If Bobby the Brain Heenan were not in ill health, I would want the Dems to hire him for debate preparation. She has to be ready for the worst of it. But Trump's big advantage is that he can also probably benefit from being (relatively) sane at this forum. He will be on stage, one one one with someobe that's been in the national political scene since before I could vote. He can probably do 50% crazy and 50% relatively calm and come away scoring points. Or he might call her something horrific and storm off the stage 30 minutes in. Like I said, circle your calendars.
vi. Vice Presidential Debate October 4th in Farmville, VA
I lived in Virginia for like 4 years. No idea where Farmville is. And I can't be bothered to Google it. Becuase that's how important the Vice Presidential debate is.
vii. 2nd Presidential Debate in St. Louis, MO.
Probably less compelling TV than the first, but Trump might act from the other end of the crazy scale just to keep her guessing this time.
viii. 3rd Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, NV
Perfect location but I shudder at the lame analogies about who needs to win the big jackpot and roll box cars on top of split aces in order to parlay a oh,, fuck it. We'll all be so sick of these two people by then. Trump might sneak in one last attempt to look normal in order to hold onto a state or two, The big questioin will be which stattes are in play by then.
ix. Election Day, November 8th.
Don't forget to vote. And then the polls will close and we'll find out that we have elected our first president. The only concession will probably come in the form of a deranged Tweet storm of obscenities And won't hat be worth watching?