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Demographic Scramble: Donald Trump's Electoral Path To The White House


Donald Trump's path to the Republican nomination appears to be pretty straight if he is the GOP nominee. What about his path to a majority in the electoral college? Well, here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In every one of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have won states that add up to about 240 electoral votes - not far from the 270 it takes to win. Repubicans have won only about 103 electoral votes. So a republican nominee has to win all the big battleground states or flip some blue states red, and that's just what Donald Trump says he can do in New Jersey, Michigan, even New York.


DONALD TRUMP: These are states that a normal Republican - 'cause I'm not a normal Republican in any way...


TRUMP: But a normal Republican cannot think in terms - frankly, I hate to say this - cannot think in terms of brining in Michigan.

LIASSON: The Republican Party certainly hasn't. After the 2012 election, the RNC commissioned a report nicknamed the autopsy which said to win the White House again, the GOP had to become more competitive with minority voters, particularly Hispanics. GOP strategist Ford O'Connell says yes, that kind of outreach is important in the long run, but...

FORD O'CONNELL: If we are not going to do that, there is a way to win the presidential election by goosing the white vote. The sky is not yet falling. We are on the brink, but we are not there yet.

LIASSON: And now, along comes Donald Trump with his hardline stance on trade and immigration. O'Connell says Trump might be just the candidate to eke out one more electoral college win with a largely white vote.

O'CONNELL: He could make the map larger. Because of where he's standing with white voters right now, he would have the Democrats on their heels, particularly in the industrial Midwest.

LIASSON: Ari Fleischer, former George W. Bush press secretary and an author of the autopsy report, thinks it's possible.

ARI FLEISCHER: Well, I see Donald Trump as a wrecking ball that he's currently swinging through the Republic party and destroying our positions on entitlement, reform and on free trade. But like all wrecking balls, he's going to swing in another direction, too, and that will be going through the Democratic Party, wrecking their support among traditional blue-collar working-class voters. That's the Donald Trump that we've seen so far. He changes everything.

LIASSON: Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg has a studied blue-collar white voters since the 1980s. Back then, he wanted to find out why these voters switched from the Democrats to the GOP. Now Greenberg wonders if the story of Trump could be called the revenge of the Reagan Democrats.

STAN GREENBERG: The Reagan Democrats are alive with the angry white male voters who've made themselves felt in the Trump primaries. And the question is, are there enough, and what's the price of trying to reach them?

LIASSON: We know the white working-class vote is shrinking. Non-college educated voters were about half the electorate in 1992. Now they're only about a third. But in Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, they make up 50 percent of eligible voters. Still, says Brookings Institution demographer Bill Frey, Trump's voters are hard to turn out.

BILL FREY: In the last election, white non-college persons in the electorate turned out at about 57 percent. White-college parts of the electorate turned out at about 80 percent. That's a big difference, right?

LIASSON: Frey says Trump would need an unprecedented turnout among these voters.

FREY: He would have to pull a rabbit out of the hat (laughter) to do this. The demography is against him in a lot of the country even though we see these huge crowds coming out at his rallies.

LIASSON: Donald Trump is a big motivator for his own voters and for his opponents. For every white working-class male he turns out in the Rust Belt, he could also bring out a college-educated suburban woman and a newly registered Hispanic to vote against him elsewhere - Stan Greenberg.

GREENBERG: The problem with the theory and the strategy is that I think almost immediately, you'll see other states like Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, states that have had a growth of both ethnic diversity, immigrant diversity but also a rise of cosmopolitan, well-educated populations. And those voters don't like Donald Trump.

LIASSON: Democrats aren't sure what to think. For every bit of Democratic schadenfreude at the GOP's disarray, there's an equal amount of anxiety about Trump's potential. Here's David Plouffe, President Obama's former chief strategist, talking to POLITICO's Glenn Thrush on a recent podcast.


DAVID PLOUFFE: Trump is a wildcard, and you just don't know. And even in Virginia, I think Trump would, in a general election, do very, very poorly in Virginia. But does he over perform Romney and McCain, for instance, in the Southwestern part of the state? He could.

GLENN THRUSH: I guess it depends...

PLOUFFE: We just don't know.

LIASSON: So Democrats and Republicans are asking the same question. If Donald Trump has broken every rule of politics so far, why couldn't he break some more? Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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