James Hockney has twice been a Parliamentary Candidate in Barnsley.
For many Conservatives in Britain, America and across the world, what is happening to the Republicans in America is a depressing sight. The once great party of Lincoln and Reagan is now led by a populist strongman.
During the party’s primaries, Donald Trump was able to dominate the airwaves with one controversial statement after another, playing to a certain constituency within the Republicans whilst the many other moderate candidates split votes amongst themselves. By the time the field had narrowed, it was too late.
The presidential election itself is an entirely different campaign and even Trump is starting to realise this. Up until the conventions, Trump was still reasonably competitive with Hillary Clinton. But a series of factors have come into play.
First, the two Conventions could not have been more different, the Democrats’ was a symbol of unity and hope whilst the Republicans’ showed a fractured party, with Trump’s speech one of blame, hollow rhetoric and little substance.
Second, he is no longer the outsider. Whilst he was able to attack politicians with impunity early in the campaign, pitching himself as the non-politician, he is now, whether he likes it or not, a politician.
Third, his controversial messages are starting to catch up with him. I remember a commentator during the primary season comparing Trump’s campaign to a brown paper bag filled with water: when it goes, it will go fast. The process has taken longer than expected, but the signs are there. For example, Trump’s inconsistent messaging on security and world affairs has, in particular, damaged his standing with Republican women. His advantage over Clinton among this key demographic has begun to slide. The usual rule of thumb is that, for a Republican candidate to have a hope of securing the White House, they need to secure at least 90 per cent of Republican female voters to have a chance. In 2012, Romney won 93 per cent. In 2008, John McCain won 89 percent. And in 2004, Bush won 93 percent. Polling is currently showing Trump running in the 70s range.
Fourth, voters intensely dislike attacks on people that are outside politics. The point was clearly illustrated by the attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son died serving his country in Iraq. “Gold Star” parents are rightly revered in the USA. In Virginia, where there is a large armed forces contingent, Scott Rigell, a Republican congressman, announced that he would back the Libertarian ticket.
Fifth, ground game matters. While the Clinton campaign is bombarding the airwaves in battleground seats, the Trump campaign has not spent a cent. The rationale is they are ‘holding back’. However, the Romney campaign identified that the DNC heavily outspending them up to Labor day (May 1) had an impact on the final result in 2012.
The next elements of Trump’s troubles can be seen by examining activist activity in swing states. Let us look at a couple of them. In Florida, Clinton currently has 12 offices to Trump’s one. Many Florida Republican campaigners have lamented that in past campaigns, at this stage, there were already 10 offices open. In Pennsylvania – a state that has been trending Republican, with both state houses GOP-controlled, and where Romney only lost by five points in 2012 – Clinton already has three dozen offices to Trump’s three. More ominously, the Clinton campaign plans to open offices in all 12 counties carried by Romney in 2012. In New Hampshire, Clinton has 14 offices to Trump’s one. In Ohio, there is a sign of catch-up, with the Trump campaign opening 15 offices in addition to the sole current office. But the Clinton campaign already has 20 offices open there that have been running for months – and has more on the way.
The result of all this is the Trump is lagging badly not only in must-win states, but also in Republican-held states. This is no better illustrated than in Utah, which was carried by the Republicans in 2012 and 2008 with 72 per cent & 62 per cent respectively: there, Trump is struggling in the mid 30s. In Arizona, carried by his party with 53 per cent of the vote in both 2012 and 2008, Real Clear Politics currently shows a virtual tie with Clinton at 43 per cent. North Carolina shows Trump seven points down on 2012.
The only conclusion to be drawn from all this is that Trump is unlikely to win. He has to hold all the Republicans’ 2012 states, and gain additional states too. No Republican has ever won without carrying Ohio, where Clinton holds a slender but similar lead to Obama in 2012. Indeed, were election to be held tomorrow the result would be that Clinton would win by a devastating 362 to 176 electoral votes – with the GOP going backwards on 2012 and just about matching their 2008 tally.
This is all the more galling when the Republicans are up against a much weaker opponent in Clinton than Obama. Obama, who despite being at the end of a second term still has favourable poll figures (whereas Clinton does not). This really should be an election for the taking – but the Republicans have a candidate who is not only more unpopular than his opponent, but who is inexperienced as well.
This has ramifications down the ticket. For example in Florida, Rubio’s figures have been tracking Trump’s fall in support. Quite simply, there are no coat-tails; just an anchor with Trump’s name on it.
So the Republicans must drop Trump from the ticket if it has any hope of winning the Presidential election and protecting seats down the ballot. The question that follows is who the replacement candidate should be.
I believe that Romney should be drafted. At this short notice, with an election just months away, a candidate with a high profile is needed. But he could also bring experience of having run in a Presidential Campaign – and could hit the ground running. Romney will understand the opportunities and pitfalls, and would have an infrastructure of supporters and donors to call on from 2012. An objection will be that he lost last time. True – but he was up against a stronger candidate then.
Romney’s path to a 270 win would be to hold the states he won in 2012, and gain marginal states like Florida (lost by one point), Ohio (lost by three points), Virginia (lost by four points) and New Hampshire (lost by five points). Other states like Colorado and Pennsylvania would also be in play.
The 2012 result also must take into account the unparalleled disaster of Project Orca – the Romney ‘get out the vote’ web app. It was a new piece of software developed after the primaries. On election day, it was beset with technical problems and crashed. This affected the ‘get out the vote’ campaign. Whilst it is difficult to know how much difference it made, it is widely agreed that it depressed Republican voter turnout on the day. Only bold action now will save the Republicans from an impending electoral defeat. With Romney they would have a fighting chance.