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Reaching the ‘Bannon Line’

The threshold necessary to secure Trump’s defeat.
October 1, 2020
Reaching the ‘Bannon Line’
(JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

The clearest path to defeating Donald Trump was mapped out this past January, when erstwhile Trump adviser Steve Bannon, in a (pre-indictment) interview with the Associated Press, admitted that the president’s route to re-election is essentially eliminated if just 3 to 4 percent of Republican voters move away from him.

My colleagues at the Lincoln Project and I have named that threshold the “Bannon Line.”

Flying in the face of tradition and logic, the president has spent his time in office doing everything possible to drive away the middle, thus painting himself into a political corner. Because of this, the only electoral path to victory for the Trump campaign is with unprecedented turnout and support from his base. But there are just not enough voters left in Trump’s base—so if we can achieve even moderate success reaching the Bannon Line, Trump is likely to lose.

With the exceptions of Nebraska and Maine, every state (and D.C.) awards its Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis. For swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, each of which Trump won by a whisker in 2016, reaching the Bannon Line—shifting 3 or 4 percentage points away from Trump among Republicans—would completely flip all three states. And if we swing by the same 4 percent not just Republicans but also the independents who voted for Trump, he loses not only those three states but also Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia—a decisive defeat.

Although we have hope that more than 4 percent of Republicans will put country over party and step up to oppose Donald Trump, hope alone won’t end this unceasing madness.

It’s going to require a dedicated effort from each and every one of us, reaching out and talking to our fellow Republicans about Trump’s glaring leadership issues, his incompetent handling of the coronavirus, how the economy can’t be put back on track until we have a national pandemic plan in place, and why he is a unique threat to both our democracy and the world’s stability .

Because here’s what we know: Donald Trump’s swing vote is America’s suburbs. Those votes are slipping through his fingers. He’s underwater with every group imaginable, except non-college-educated white men. Older voters, college-educated voters, and college-educated white women are now leading a mass exodus from the president and coalescing in support of Joe Biden. In 2016, Trump won 65-plus voters by 7 points. This year, he is behind Biden by 6 points with those voters in the battleground states—a 13-point flip. Add to that, in those suburbs, he’s got a massive double-digit deficit to Biden—driven by Biden’s 20-point-plus lead among suburban women and, 39-point lead among college-educated white women.

The Trump campaign believes he can win the suburbs by directly inciting a culture war—but his poor leadership, selfishness, and erratic behavior is costing him the demographics that would tip the scales in his favor: suburban women, veterans, and faith-based voters. Meanwhile, COVID-19 overwhelms and decimates our communities, forcing millions of Americans to worry about job security and sending our children to safe schools, and even to struggle with paying rent and affording food, all due to the president’s incompetence.

Republican voters need to know that to save the country, they will need to break with their party in November.

At the Lincoln Project, we are devoting all our effort and energy over the next month to making that case. We don’t have to convince every voter. All we have to do is reach the Bannon Line.

Mike Madrid

Mike Madrid is a co-founder of the Lincoln Project. A longtime Republican political strategist and a former political director for the California State Republican Party, he is currently a partner at the public relations firm GrassrootsLab.