The Republican Party is facing a crisis in November. If you're thinking that crisis has a face, an orange and bulbous face, you're half right. Donald Trump is surely a problem for Republicans, both in the short and long-term, but the party's issues go well beyond the Donald.
Any analysis of a presidential election has to begin with the electoral college. Whatever you think of the electoral college, that's how presidential contests are decided. And when you look closely at the map, it's clear that Republicans have a narrow path to victory in November, regardless of who they nominate.
As The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted yesterday, the numbers in Florida alone portend doom for the GOP. A recent poll was conducted by the Associated Industries of Florida, a prominent business group in the state, and they found that Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump by a 49% to 36% margin if the election were held today. Clinton tops Cruz by nearly 10 points in that same poll.
The memo released by the group sums it up: “In this critical swing state, it is clear to us that Republicans continue to suffer substantial brand damage amongst all segments of the ascending electorate (younger voters, Hispanics, and No Major Party voters) and this presidential campaign has clearly exacerbated these attitudes.”
If these numbers are even remotely accurate, the Republicans can't win in November. Cillizza explains: “If Clinton wins Florida and carries the 19 states (plus D.C.) have voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in each of the last six elections, she will be the 45th president. It's that simple...And here's the underlying math. If Clinton wins the 19 states that every Democratic nominee has won from 1992 to 2012, she has 242 electoral votes. Add Florida's 29 and you get 271. Game over.”
Hillary Clinton is deeply unpopular, but there's no good reason to suppose that Trump can win in traditionally blue states, not with such dismal support among women (with whom he has a 66% unfavorable rating) and minority voters. Sure, it's possible, but not at all likely.
Even if Republicans nominated a “safer” candidate like Paul Ryan or John Kasich, they're still facing an unforgiving terrain. The so-called safe states for Republicans, as Cillizza points out, only amount to 102 electoral votes, meaning the nominee needs another 168 to reach 270. That leaves the Republicans in an extraordinarily difficult spot. The Democrats, conversely, begin with a substantial electoral college advantage.
There are many reasons why the GOP finds itself in this predicament, but the most significant is the party's failure to appeal to non-white voters in any meaningful way. Cillizza makes the crucial point: “New Mexico, a state in which almost half the population is Latino, is the ur-example here. In 2004, George W. Bush won the Land of Enchantment in his bid for a second term. Eight years later, Barack Obama won the state by 10 points over Mitt Romney...What has become increasingly clear is that any state with a large or growing non-white population has become more and more difficult for Republicans to win.”
This trend is unmissable in states like Virginia and North Carolina, where Republican support has steadily slipped in the last decade or so. Indeed, it's difficult to find states on the electoral college map that are moving rightward. Meanwhile, the Democrats are growing their base in critical states, slowly carving out a reliable path to the presidency.
The anti-democratic redistricting policies of the GOP won't help them either. Gerrymandering will undoubtedly help Republicans keep their majorities in Congress, but it won't shield them from these broader trends. If anything, the national numbers illustrate just how scandalously important redistricting has become. Republican control of Congress is a reflection not of their support among citizens but rather of their ability to redraw 55% of districts around the country to favor them (only 10% have been redrawn to favor Democrats). This is how Democratic congressional candidates received 1.4 million more votes than their Republican opponents in 2012 and managed to gain a paltry 8 seats.
But that won't rescue the party from what appears to be a disaster in November. Trump has intensified the GOP's demographic challenges, but he didn't create them. Republicans have been cultivating their demographic problem for many years. As their base grows older, whiter, and more extreme, the party ceases to be competitive in presidential elections. They can blame Trump all they want, but these problems preceded Trump, and they will persist long after him.