Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Trump’s Path to 270 Is REALLY Hard

Not only does the entire electoral environment have to reverse direction, but then the Trump campaign needs a lot of luck.
July 18, 2020
Trump’s Path to 270 Is REALLY Hard
Amber Dahlin holds a sign urging the electors to vote their conscience outside the Colorado Capitol building in Denver, Colorado on December 19, 2016 to demonstrate against US President-elect Donald Trump on the day the Electoral College votes to certify the election. Members of America's Electoral College convened across the country Monday to formally anoint Donald Trump as president, with opponents clinging to slim hopes of a revolt that could deny him power. / AFP / Chris Schneider (Photo credit should read CHRIS SCHNEIDER/AFP via Getty Images)

1. 270 to Win?

The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter has done a typically great job of visualizing why Joe Biden’s position in the Electoral College is so strong. This graphic really brings home the geography:

Here’s the situation: If Biden wins all the states that currently lean in his direction, he’s the next president.

End of story.

But it’s actually more instructive to look at this equation from the other end of the telescope: What does Trump have to do to win?

Well, he has to hold Ohio and Texas, two states where he’s suddenly closer than he was in 2016, by a lot.

Then he needs to hold Georgia. This should be doable. If the Republican can’t win Georgia, then his campaign is simply DOA.

He also has to hold North Carolina. This one is tougher. North Carolina went for Obama in 2008 and Trump’s margin in 2016 was only +3 points. Is Trump going to do less than -3 points, nationally, than his 2016 total? Hard to see how.

This doesn’t mean that he can’t hold NC. But it makes that a pretty hard play.

Then Trump has to win Florida. His 2016 margin in Florida was +1.7 points. And this is what his state of play currently looks like in Florida:

So Trump winning Florida is a stretch. Not impossible, but a lot of things have to start breaking right for him.

(Side note: Have you seen any things breaking right for Trump for the last year?)

Anyway, moving along, after catching a break in Florida, Trump then has to get really lucky in Arizona. Biden has been consistently ahead of Trump in Arizona since before COVID. To make matters worse, Trump will have to run ahead of incumbent Senator Martha McSally, who’s getting blown out by a famous, beloved, and well-funded Democratic challenger.

But here’s the thing:

Even if Trump holds off in Ohio and Texas, locks down Georgia, catches a break in North Carolina, wins another squeaker in Florida, and pulls off a miracle win in Arizona . . .

That still isn’t enough to win the election.

Trump needs to do all of that, without a single slip-up, and then he needs to somehow claw his way back in Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania, or Michigan.

Impossible? No. Nothing is impossible.

Likely? I don’t know. You’ve been watching this man and his administration for the last four years. Do they strike you as a brilliant, well-oiled machine with tremendous discipline and strategic acumen?

2. The Goon Squad

It’s difficult to know what is true and what is not with this story, but it certainly seems like the Department of Homeland Security has paramilitary teams riding around downtown Portland in unmarked vehicles.

And these paramilitary teams are snatching American citizens off the street.

Without identifying themselves.

They are then detaining citizens in undisclosed locations without charging them.

And eventually releasing them without establishing any sort of paper record about the incident.

And that the DHS is doing all of this in contradiction of the official requests of local and state authorities, who are asking them to stand down.

Maybe there’s more to the story. But if the initial reports are true, this is the type of thing you expect from a third-world police state.

And it’s also how people—both citizens and law enforcement officers—get killed.

You know, just another day in Trump’s America. But if Joe Biden is elected there will be chaos on the streets of American cities!

3. Whale Song

As you know, I am an absolute sucker for longform pieces about whales:

In the middle of Johnstone Strait, close to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, a calm June day has dialed up a plate-flat sea. But that won’t last long.

“Humpback,” says Jackie Hildering from the cockpit of her runabout, Fluke. She turns her head to a distant sound and a vertical cloud rising off the water.

There it is. Or he, or she; gender indeterminate. Hildering, a humpback whale researcher, angles the boat toward the humpback and throttles the engine way back. She’s just close enough to try—with a telephoto lens—to identify this individual by its unique tail flukes. Humpbacks are fairly slow swimmers, but this one’s moving quickly enough to make her job hard. A mobbing is going down. A half-dozen or so Pacific white-sided dolphins are swarming the whale Hildering will later identify from photographs as an adult named Squall.

The dolphins juke around Squall’s head and flanks. Why are they messing with the whale?

“Dolphins can be mystical and complete jerks—both things are true,” says Hildering, cofounder and director of education and communication at the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), a Port McNeill–based nonprofit studying humpback and minke whales. These dolphins are potentially “learning by provocation,” as Hildering puts it. They’re clearly having a ball. Not so the humpback. This “most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales,” as Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, described the humpback, must be feeling mighty put upon. The whale flexes its body, trying to shake off the harassers, and rolls, exposing one of those great pectoral fins, which can be as long as one-third of its body length, and which gives the humpback its scientific genus, Megaptera, or “large-winged.” Squall slaps it down, apparently in self-defense, like a sweet-natured grandmother whacking a mugger with her umbrella.

As recently as a decade ago, this kind of scene was rare in BC waters. Dolphins routinely splashed about, but not humpbacks. Here in Johnstone Strait, the big show, the prime tourist draw, was killer whales—the salmon-eating residents that prowl the neighborhood. As the humpbacks began showing up in greater numbers in the early 2000s—here and across the North Pacific more broadly—their reputation grew to almost mythic status. They’re big acrobats and fascinating to watch. When researchers discovered that these filter-feeding baleen whales—they prey on small forage fish and invertebrates—will sometimes upend the marine mammal–eating transient killer whales’ dinner plans, that added even more to this new arrival’s narrative. Humpbacks are known to swoop in and disrupt a killer whale hunt, sometimes pulling a targeted seal or sea lion pup safely onto their belly with one of those pectoral fins. You could call them the ocean’s Justice League. “You know how you put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others?” says Fred Sharpe, a research biologist with the Alaska Whale Foundation who has been studying the species for over 30 years. “Humpbacks aren’t like that. They just wade right in to help those in need, as if they can’t help themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.