Talking to the Miasma

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April 17, 2019 2:41 p.m.

Over the last week I’ve been trying to make sense of what seems to be Democrats’ April funk. Some of this seems directly tied to the completion of the Mueller probe and subsequent refusal to share its findings. But as a number of TPM Reader emails I’ve shared in recent days have shown, it goes beyond that. Some of it is simple fatigue. It is difficult to remain engaged and be buffeted by daily outrages and erosions of the edifice of the state after 30 months. But one thing I’ve been particularly struck by – I think growing from each of these factors – is many people thinking Donald Trump is basically a lock or a strong favorite for reelection.

Let me start by saying I certainly don’t think the 2020 presidential election will be a cakewalk for Democrats. One clear lesson of the last century is that US Presidents usually get reelected. But it is hard to see how a President who has never gotten traction out of the low 40s public approval and has consistently had disapproval well over 50% can somehow be a shoe-in for reelection. That can’t be true.

He can win. Definitely. Maybe he can be favored to win because of the electoral college or a divided opposition. But a President who has been so consistently unpopular can hardly be a strong favorite.

I was talking to one midwestern Democrat about this. And this person told me they figured it was pretty likely Pennsylvania and Michigan would return to the Democratic fold in 2020. They were much less certain about Wisconsin. Indeed, they thought President Trump had a good shot at winning it.

Let’s set aside whether these prognostications are accurate. Let’s focus on the hypothetical.

When I pulled up my map I was surprised and dismayed to see the following.

If you take the 2016 election and re-add the number of electoral votes set aside by faithless electors you get Trump 306 and Clinton 232 electoral votes. (Presumably, though we can’t be certain, you don’t have faithless electors if they can really change the result.)

If you take combined 36 electoral votes of Michigan and Pennsylvania and remove them from the Trump column and reallocate them to the Democratic column you get a 268 to 270, an effective tie and an actual tie at 269 each if Democrats win both district electoral votes in Maine.

This assumes all the other blue or swing states stay in Trump’s column. One faithless elector makes it a tie. This is not at all an impossible scenario. The country would be ill-prepared in practice to manage a tie election in any circumstance. In present circumstances, the result could be very dark.

I’ll come back to the general issue of Democratic pessimism soon.

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