The Electoral Consequences of Trump for Republicans

Two quick musings that stem from tweets late last week, but on which I wanted to expand just a touch. 

Account after account of Donald Trump sexually harassing women, on top of the now infamous video in which he proclaimed his proclivity for such behavior hasn't done that much damage to his standing in the polls. Sure, Trump has dropped a few points in national surveys, as well as battleground state polls. But he hasn't fallen off the cliff in the way that we might have expected after such remarks. 

Polls taken in places like Ohio,  Florida, and North Carolina still depicted a close race. Similarly, polls taken in key Senate races last week didn't indicate that voters were socking it to Republicans for daring to nominate Trump. 

Which brings me to two theories—first that Trump may avoid truly cratering nationally, or in battleground states, while still experiencing a far bigger defeat than many past candidates. If these polls are accurate (and we have no reason to doubt them), historians can stop scurrying to recall what percentage of the vote James Cox received in 1920 (Cox has the ignominious distinction of the worst showing in the modern era). As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal and the Hotline has pointed out, Trump has durable support from the vast majority of Republicans. In some cases, voters have said that there is nothing that he could do or say to lose their support. 

But, intriguingly, while Trump may not be headed for less than 35% of the popular vote, or double digit losses in key states, his "cratering" might be reflected more by the number of states now in play. Polling and anecdotal evidence indicates that Republican bastions like Georgia, Arizona, and possibly even Texas or Utah might be in play. While Trump's core of support remains strong, by turning off suburban voters, women, millennials, and other key constituencies, he has enlarged the battleground for Hillary Clinton.

Thus, it seems possible that Clinton could score a more resounding victory in the electoral college than in the popular vote. Maybe her national margins won't exceed President Obama's 7 point victory in 2008. But her electoral college margin just might. At the very least, she now maintains many pathways to victory, whereas Trump essentially needs the electoral equivalent of a royal flush to win. 

Turning down ballot, amidst polls showing the Senate battleground holding steady, we also saw a few scattered House polls (I can think of a Democratic poll from Virginia's 10th District and one from New Jersey's 5th District) showing Republican incumbents in real trouble. These polls coupled with increasing concerns from House Republican leaders that their majority might actually be at risk prompts another theory.

Perhaps Trump does more damage to House Republicans than to Senate Republicans. States tend to be more diverse than congressional districts. So in a state with a hotly contested Senate race, like for example, Pennsylvania, while Trump may have repelled suburban voters (a poll last week showed him losing the Philadelphia suburbs 56-28), he also might attract white male support in other parts of the state. By contrast, in suburban Congressional districts, or Congressional districts in blue states, there are fewer of Trump's core champions to offset the loss of suburban voters and women. 

Thus, the consequences of Trump losing big might be felt more by House Republicans than their Senate counterparts. I still doubt that control of the House will flip, but maybe Democrats come closer to flipping 20 seats than 10.