President Donald Trump likes to talk. He’s a typical New York blowhard in many ways—obnoxious, loud, self-confident (probably too confident), and not very self-aware. His favourite topic of discussion is the 2016 presidential election and how he shocked the planet by pulling perhaps the biggest upset in modern American political history.
That victory, however, rested on thin reeds. Trump actually received more than 2.5 million fewer votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, yet won the election thanks to the Electoral College. He was victorious in all the right places, breaking through the Democratic party’s so-called blue-wall in the Midwest by turning out his rural base and winning over traditional, blue-collar voters who went for Barack Obama four years earlier. The liberal-turned-Republican peppered Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin with rallies and red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps and seconded the merchandise with an anti-elite and anti-NAFTA message. And it worked well enough to land all three states in the GOP column for the first time since the 1980s.
Trump, however, is now in trouble with those voters. The president’s approval ratings in Wisconsin (-13), Michigan (-10) and Pennsylvania (-7) are underwater. For Trump’s re-election team, why this is the case is less important than whether it can be reversed. Trump, vice president Mike Pence and campaign surrogates will be spending a lot of time in the Rust Belt between now and November 2020 trying to remind these very same voters why they made the right decision to vote against the Clinton machine in 2016 – and why the billionaire from Queens, NY deserves a second term.
Polls this week, next week, or next month aren’t at all indicative of what the electoral landscape will look like on Election Day in 18 months' time. But they do give political prognosticators a measurement of how the candidates match up if the ballots were cast today. The fact that poll numbers can change on a weekly basis is great news for Trump because they aren’t looking too pretty at the moment.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidate Joe Biden is leading Trump by 11 percentage points. Even Elizabeth Warren, the uber-liberal senator from Massachusetts who Trump brands as “Pocahontas,” scores better than the president in the state. Trump operatives will tell you that they aren’t worried, that numbers rise and fall like the haze in Washington, D.C. But they would have to be deaf to political reality to not to feel some concern beneath the steely exterior.
It’s simple arithmetic, after all. Hypothetically, if Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan (or even just Pennsylvania and Michigan) were to fall out of Trump’s column, he would have a near impossible route back to the White House (this is, of course, assuming the rest of the map is consistent).
With a combined 46 electoral votes between them, those three states are the key to Trump earning another four years. While it’s possible he could offset losses in the Midwest with gains in Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado, such a feat would be like lightning striking the same place twice. The reality is that Trump needs to make sure the “blue-wall” isn’t rebuilt.
It’s going to be a very dicey act to pull off, especially if hard-hat, “union man” Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination. The last person Donald Trump wants to face is a guy like good-ole’ Joe who is supported by union households, beloved by former Obama acolytes and a known quantity in small-town America.