Depending on which political talking head you listen to, the predicted result in the forthcoming presidential race can be any one of the following: Hillary Clinton will win in a landslide; Hillary Clinton will win handily; Hillary Clinton will win a squeaker; Donald Trump will win a squeaker; Donald Trump will win handily; or Donald Trump will win in a landslide. Each of those possible results has advocates who are confident of their prediction. Obviously, only one of those predictions will turn out to be correct. Let’s look at the logic behind each.
Hillary wins by a landslide – Her biggest asset for this prediction is her opponent. Trump has high negatives even within his own party. Polls show him strongly opposed by women and Latinos, two significant voting blocs. This prediction assumes that Clinton holds the Obama majority (sizeable even in the 2012 race) and builds on it. It also assumes that a significant number of Republicans either do not vote at all or vote for Clinton. And it assumes that the Trump campaign continues to be poorly funded, badly organized, and minimally staffed so that Clinton handily wins the ad wars and the GOTV (get out the vote) work on election day (and in the early voting in those states that allow it). On days/weeks when Trump sounds completely disconnected from the real world or continues his assault on major demographic groups, this prediction seems completely plausible.
Hillary wins handily – This prediction relies on the well-established analytics from the last six presidential campaigns in which the Democrat has won the popular vote in five of them and the Electoral College vote in four of them. It assumes that the base of Electoral College support for any Democrat will hold and that the clear demographic trends in swing states like Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia will keep them in Hillary’s column. It also assumes that Trump’s appeal to white male voters will fail to pan out in significant enough numbers to overcome the clear advantage Clinton should have with women and minorities. This prediction is entirely reasonable based on the Electoral College map and the increasing strength of the Latino vote in key battleground states.
Hillary wins a squeaker/Donald wins a squeaker – If the race turns into a Bush v. Gore rerun, either of these results is entirely realistic. How that might happen is also not all that hard to envision. Both candidates are highly unpopular. Hillary has slightly less unfavorable ratings than Donald, but not by all that much. If Trump succeeds (as he did with all 16 of his Republican opponents) in painting Clinton as unacceptable (either by saying she is “crooked,” or by pinning all the old and new alleged scandals on her, or just by making the public believe all the lies he will spout about her), he could easily overcome the negative view many voters have of him. That might be enough to pull him even, both in the popular and the Electoral College vote. And if the election ends up at the Supreme Court again, all bets would be off, because this time the vote would most probably come down 4-4 (assuming the Republicans never confirm President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia).
Donald wins handily – This prediction assumes a Bush v. Kerry type result in which Trump wins key battleground states like Ohio and Florida while Clinton stumbles in one or two that have recently been reliably Democratic, like Wisconsin and Iowa. For this result to occur, Hillary would have to be unable to pierce the Trump mystic, perhaps because, like his erstwhile Republican opponents, she doesn’t hit him hard enough at the outset of the campaign, and also perhaps because he uses the same slash and burn tactics in the debates as he used in the primary debates, leaving Clinton feckless and dispirited (à la Jeb Bush). This prediction also assumes that by the time votes are cast, the Republican establishment comes around fully and supports Trump with enthusiasm, which could occur if Trump looks like a possible winner in October.
Donald wins in a landslide – This is the Trump steamroller prediction that assumes that he continues his magic act by convincing not just his white male working class base that he is the answer to all of their anger and frustration, but that he also convinces large numbers of women and Latinos (and even African-Americans) that he really will do right by all of them. It assumes that he is catching lightning in a bottle with his unorthodox and unprofessional campaign and that it is just what a large majority of the electorate is aching for at this particular point in the country’s history. It also assumes that Hillary fails to project herself as anything other than an establishment/status quo candidate and that she also fails to respond effectively to his name calling and lies. Scott Adams (the cartoonist of the Dilbert comic strip) has championed this prediction, and he makes a pretty convincing case for it, claiming that Trump is using all the basic hypnosis techniques and is marketing himself perfectly, while Clinton is feeding right into his game plan by running a traditional campaign.
On any given day, I can believe any of these predictions. I want to believe that Trump will be unveiled, both by his own actions and by a well-orchestrated campaign by the Democrats, and that the electorate will see him for the embarrassment that he is. But I don’t have much confidence in my fellow citizens. Like the majority in Great Britain who voted to leave the European Union, they are largely angry and frustrated, and they are anxious to find a new path. Trump can easily be seen as the equivalent of a Brexit vote, notwithstanding that the results of his election would most likely be as devastating for the United States as the “leave” vote is proving to be in the United Kingdom.
In the end, this presidential election will be momentous, resulting either in the election of the country’s first woman or of the country’s first pure demagogue.