Trump’s path to victory: Working-class whites

DENVER — Should he win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump’s most plausible path to victory in the general election would be a GOP map unlike any in years. He’d be relying on working class, largely white voters in states that have long been Democratic bastions in presidential contests, from Maine to Pennsylvania to Michigan.

To make that work he’d have to thread a narrow needle — not only holding on to those core supporters but also softening rhetoric that has alienated black and Latino voters and calming those in the GOP who vow to never vote for him.

It could be tricky, but the past eight months have taught political professionals in both parties not to underestimate the man.

“He attracts a different kind of voter,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz. “It’s a completely different equation.”

Trump has signaled he’s already thinking about the general election, bragging that “we’ve actually expanded the Republican Party” and slamming Hillary Clinton as part of the political establishment that’s to blame for the sour economy.

“She’s been there for so long,” Trump said after notching seven victories on Super Tuesday in states as diverse as Massachusetts and Alabama. “I mean, if she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years.”

Trump has dominated a majority of Republican primaries by combining his celebrity and can-do demeanor with a message that once was off-limits in both parties — a full-throated demand to restrict both trade and immigration. That’s now a potent mix for voters from any party who’ve seen jobs vanish and wages stagnate in an increasingly globalized economy.

“Immigration and trade policy changes the winners and losers, and the people who are going to be in play are the ones who are the losers in that process,” said Roy Beck of Numbers USA, which advocates limiting immigration. “This has the potential to turn out a lot of voters.”

Trump has boasted that he could win even Democratic strongholds like his home state of New York. Analysts say that’s unlikely, and he may face a tough climb in more diverse or well-educated states like Colorado, Florida and Virginia that have traditionally been presidential battlegrounds.

Instead, Trump may best appeal to the Rust Belt, from Pennsylvania through Wisconsin, an area that’s been a bedrock of Democratic presidential victories but is reeling from job losses and still struggling to recover from the recession.

“The path for Trump is through the Rust Belt,” said Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network, a center-left group in Washington that studies the electorate. “It doesn’t mean it can’t get done, but he will have to do things that no one has ever done as a Republican.”

Trump will also have to contend with basic mathematical realities of an electorate that has been favoring Democrats as it’s become increasingly diverse.

Though Trump’s vowed he’ll win Latinos, it’s unlikely he’d outdo Mitt Romney’s performance with Hispanics in 2012, and he could probably count on only modest improvements among blacks. That might require him to win even more of the white vote to prevail in the election than the 63 percent Ronald Reagan captured in his 1984 re-election, when Reagan won 49 states.

“He’s going to be battling on very different terrain if he’s the nominee,” said William Galston of the Brookings Institute.

Finally, Trump would have to bridge divides with Republicans who say they won’t vote for him because of what they see as his demagoguery, breaks from conservative thinking and his personal conduct. Romney, the party’s most recent presidential nominee, has blasted him as a “phony.”

“I can’t tell you how many suburban Republicans Trump will lose to us, but he’ll lose plenty,” predicted Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, though he acknowledged that the billionaire developer also could pick up some union members who would otherwise vote Democratic. “My gut reaction is he’ll lose more suburban independents than gain Reagan Democrats.”

He added: “It scares you a little bit because you just don’t know.”

Trump supporters believe he’s being underestimated again. Ed McMullen, Trump’s South Carolina chairman, noted that the candidate had broad appeal in his state — winning women, college graduates and evangelicals.

“I think clearly what happened with Mr. Trump was the message was not something that was only hitting one group,” McMullen said. “It was not just angry white men.”

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said Democrats will have to use ads to blunt Trump’s apparent strength with economically disaffected voters.

“One of the challenges will be defining Trump around the economy,” Lake said. “This is a guy who could win or implode.”


Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at .

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read