Four years ago, almost nobody gave Donald Trump a realistic chance to win the White House. Right up until the vote totals started coming in, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite in the minds of the media and the smart set. A few hours later, the outsider businessman from Queens was the president-elect.
In 2016, Trump’s road to gaining 270 votes in the Electoral College and winning the White House was clear: hold the states Mitt Romney had carried in 2012 — especially North Carolina — and add Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The surprise pickups of Wisconsin and Michigan were gravy.
Once again, the election will be won or lost in the battleground states, which this year include Arizona and possibly Minnesota. Trump’s path to 270, therefore, remains essentially the same: Hold what he already has and try to pick off a blue state or two while minimizing his own possible losses in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan.
He did it before — and he can do again. Here’s how:
Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, and he’s likely to squeak by again — especially after Joe Biden’s ill-advised remark at the final debate that he wants to “transition” away from fossil fuels, which directly threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of workers in a place where fracking has revitalized the economy.
The president seems to be in good shape in Ohio, which he won by 8 points the last time. Of greater concern is Florida, which went for Trump in ’16 by a mere 1.2 points. He’s been trailing in the polls there, but Trump’s popularity with Hispanic voters has been surging, so look for Florida to stay — barely — red.
Minnesota, meanwhile, went for Clinton in 2016 by less than two points, and a long summer of urban violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police may lead to a 2020 law-and-order win here for Trump. The same is true of neighboring Wisconsin, where violence also flared in Kenosha. Rounding out the upper Midwest is Michigan, which Trump carried by a mere 0.23 percent last time. Current polls show a soft 8-point lead for Biden, so lightning just might strike twice there this year.
The Southwest has been slipping away from the GOP, in large part due to immigration and middle-class liberal flight from the hot mess of California into neighboring states, but gun-friendly Arizona has voted blue only once since 1952. While the race is tight, and Trump isn’t helped by the lackluster Senate candidate Martha McSally down-ballot, expect the state’s tradition of rugged individualism to help him pull out a win.
Trump has several hidden advantages. As in 2016, there are uncounted numbers of shy Trump voters who avoid pollsters and refrain from visible signs of support out of safety concerns. Second, there are patriotic Democrats appalled by the hard left turn their party has taken and who will vote to pull the nation back from the brink. Finally, there’s Trump’s lackluster opponent, Joe Biden — a corrupt, cardboard cutout running a front-porch campaign from his Delaware basement.
This year, early voting will set a new record: already, some 80 million Americans, nearly 60 percent of 2016’s total turnout have cast ballots. Among these in the 20 states that report party registration are 18.2 million Democrats and 11.5 million Republicans.
Early voting generally favors the Democrats, but in several states Trump needs to win, including Florida and North Carolina, Republicans are closing the gap.
The good news for Trump is that if he can win Nevada and hold on to Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Arizona and Georgia, he can afford to lose Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota and still cross the finish line with at least 275 electoral votes. In the weird year of 2020, that’s as good as a landslide.
Michael Walsh is an author and screenwriter. His next book, “Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost” (St. Martins), will be published on Dec. 1.
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