Can Trump Win? Sure. However the Path Is Slim and Troublesome.


President Trump’s victory in 2016 is remembered for defying polls and beautiful Democrats. However in some ways, it was not a shock.

He prevailed with a piercing outsider message on jobs, immigration, China and commerce. He restrained himself on Twitter within the closing weeks whereas portraying his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as hostile to the economically disenfranchised blue-collar voters flocking to his rallies. His marketing campaign labored systematically to drive up margins of white voters in battleground states that Democrats had largely taken without any consideration.

Mr. Trump’s obstacles are significantly larger this time. He’s an unpopular incumbent within the midst of a pandemic and an financial decline. He’s dealing with a a lot totally different opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has fastidiously studied errors Mrs. Clinton made in 2016.

But with two weeks till Election Day, Mr. Trump retains a slender path to victory, within the view of many analysts, one that might require him to attract on his simplest techniques from 2016 and make elementary adjustments in his marketing campaign model to broaden his enchantment past his political base. He additionally wants Mr. Biden to make a mistake.

The clearest highway for Mr. Trump is to carry one of many three states he snatched from Democrats in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin — in addition to the remainder of his successful electoral map, together with Arizona and Florida, the place Mr. Biden is now aggressive. Polls point out that could be a daunting job, however not an inconceivable one, notably if he succeeds once more in driving up assist amongst working-class voters, together with in additional rural areas he dominated in 2016, whereas holding down Mr. Biden’s assist amongst nonwhite voters.

Nonetheless, interviews with 21 Republican and Democratic strategists, a lot of whom have labored for different presidential campaigns over the previous 30 years, recommend that Mr. Trump will want some Eleventh-hour disruptions within the race. Which may embody a foul stumble by Mr. Biden within the debate on Thursday or on the path; courtroom rulings or Republican techniques that suppress the Democratic vote; and a G.O.P. floor recreation that seems voters who might not have been counted by pollsters.

And Mr. Trump might want to deliver self-discipline to the marketing campaign path that has to this point eluded him, the strategists say. That may imply presenting a forceful and uncluttered enchantment that he’s higher in a position than Mr. Biden to rebuild the economic system, whereas making an attempt but once more to attract a distinction between himself and an opponent he has sought to painting as ideologically too far to the left to run the nation.

Ultimately, most strategists stated the one greatest hope for Mr. Trump was for Mr. Biden to do one thing to fret or alienate swing voters who Mr. Trump has already pushed into the Democratic camp. And counting in your opponent to make a deadly mistake within the closing days isn’t a superb technique.

Republicans have proven success in registering new voters in states like Florida and Pennsylvania. That could possibly be vital in constructing on a key part of the president’s 2016 strategy: turning out working-class white People who haven’t voted earlier than.

“There are few days left to alter the trajectory of the race,” stated Sara Fagen, who was the White Home political director for President George W. Bush. “Trump’s greatest likelihood at this level could be to dramatically increase turnout amongst non-college-educated white voters within the industrial Midwest.”

Sustain with Election 2020

Even optimistic Democrats (and most Democrats are optimistic) say this can be a trigger for concern.

“The Republicans have been laser-focused on rising the voters this time,” stated Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s 2000 marketing campaign for president. “The Republicans have a greater operation on the bottom than something we’ve seen since 2004.”

And it isn’t solely white working-class voters. Polling means that Mr. Trump is doing as nicely or barely higher with Black and Latino voters in some states than he was in 2016 towards Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Biden is aggressive in a number of states that Mr. Trump received in 2016: Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Some polls additionally present Mr. Biden with a major lead in Florida, which has lengthy been the Lucy-and-the-football state for Democratic presidential candidates.

However any highway to re-election for Mr. Trump leads by means of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He’s unlikely to win with out holding on to a minimum of a kind of three 2016 upset states (and ideally two), although which of them supply him the very best alternative adjustments by the day.

Some analysts have instructed he pour assets into Wisconsin, which started in-person early voting on Tuesday. “It’s fairly a problem for him,” stated Katherine J. Cramer, a political scientist on the College of Wisconsin-Madison. “It looks as if Biden is actually holding his personal right here.”

From there, he can flip to cobbling collectively the electoral votes he wants to succeed in 270 — by holding on to Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and doubtlessly grabbing Nevada, Minnesota or New Hampshire from the Democrats. Greater than something, Mr. Trump can not lose Florida.

Mr. Biden enjoys massive leads in lots of nationwide polls, however the race is tighter in lots of of those states. Which will show important if some state polls are off, as they have been in 2016, although pollsters say that’s not seemingly. “Return and have a look at October 2016,” stated Newt Gingrich, the previous Republican speaker of the Home. “This was the time of the panic over the ‘Entry Hollywood’ tape, when everybody knew that Trump was lifeless. I at all times stated he was going to win.”

Mr. Trump might restrict the persevering with political harm from his administration of the pandemic, analysts stated, if he stopped providing chipper assessments of the coronavirus and ceased presenting himself as proof {that a} illness that has killed over 220,000 individuals isn’t a giant menace. Then he might flip to points that might broaden his enchantment, notably to ladies and older voters.

“He ought to take coronavirus significantly,” stated Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic marketing consultant and veteran of presidential campaigns. “He ought to begin chairing Covid conferences. Do some joint appearances with Anthony Fauci. Present some empathy for individuals whose lives have been misplaced. Cease speaking about himself.”

Karl Rove, the senior strategist for Mr. Bush, stated that Mr. Trump might search to blunt Mr. Biden’s assaults on the White Home’s administration of the pandemic by pointing to Mr. Biden’s own response in the course of the winter.

“There’s a variety of data on the market {that a} disciplined marketing campaign might use to say to Biden, ‘What you and your advisers have been saying and doing then exhibits you didn’t have it proper and all this criticism is Monday morning quarterbacking,’” Mr. Rove stated.

One of many causes Mr. Trump received in 2016 was that he started exhibiting extra self-discipline within the closing weeks of his marketing campaign: much less tweeting and trolling.

If he have been to reprise that, maybe he might get weary People to offer him one final look.

“Trump should flip to the disciplined teleprompter demeanor he used over the past two weeks of 2016,” stated Charlie Black, a veteran of many Republican presidential contests. “He should discuss two points solely: the economic system and the Democrats’ plan to pack the Supreme Courtroom.”

However in 2016, Mr. Trump was not coping with a pandemic. He was out-hustling Mrs. Clinton on the marketing campaign path every single day, and he or she was coping with a each day inflow of unhealthy information.

And if there’s something the political world has discovered over these previous 4 years, it’s that Mr. Trump doesn’t pivot. If he’s getting take-the-high-road recommendation from his strategists, there isn’t any signal that he’s following it, as despondent Republicans have been reminded this week when Mr. Trump began attacking Dr. Fauci.

Mr. Trump has at all times counted on Mr. Biden’s having a psychological lapse that might underscore the president’s competition that the previous vice chairman has misplaced one thing on his fastball. Mr. Biden has offered loads of missteps over time to encourage that sort of hope. However that didn’t occur on the first debate, and Mr. Trump has been pissed off in his makes an attempt to take advantage of Mr. Biden’s stumbles on the marketing campaign path.

There’s yet one more debate and two extra weeks of campaigning that may give Mr. Trump a possibility to keep up strain on his opponent — with assaults on the enterprise dealings of his son Hunter Biden, as an example — in hopes of forcing a mistake that might deliver again some swing voters whom Mr. Trump has misplaced.

Republicans have been making an attempt, with laws and court battles, to limit absentee balloting, which might make the distinction in an in depth election.

“Encompass the counters, discover pleasant governors and commissioners who received’t certify the vote,” stated Susan Estrich, who managed the 1988 presidential marketing campaign of Michael S. Dukakis. Stuart Stevens, a Republican marketing consultant who’s now a critic of the president, stated that Mr. Trump’s “solely lifelike hope is voter suppression by means of each means attainable.”

Mr. Trump has stunned the world earlier than. However even accounting for his loyal base, and his tenacity as a campaigner, Republicans and Democrats say Mr. Trump’s political future might now be out of his fingers.

“It’s been locked in for months, and is now transferring away from him even additional post-debate,” stated Mark Salter, a senior adviser to Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. “I suppose some unexpected disaster or large Biden mistake would possibly reverse the pattern, however it appears fairly clear {that a} majority of voters wish to get Trump the hell out of there earlier than he screws up much more.”