I am generally not inclined to be an optimist. But I think the 2016 presidential election is, in fact, a case where optimism is entirely justified:
The fundamental problem for the Republicans is that they’re already at a structural disadvantage in the Electoral College. The last six presidential elections have resulted in four very comfortable Democratic victories, a virtual tie resolved by the Supreme Court, and a narrow win by a wartime Republican incumbent in a decent economy—and George W. Bush was still less than 200,000 votes in Ohio away from a loss. The higher turnouts of presidential elections work against the GOP, and changing demographics are only making the problem worse. Barring economic catastrophe, a poor candidate for the Republicans is like handing an anvil to a mountain climber; they can’t really afford even a modest negative impact.
Let’s start with one state: Florida. It is enormously difficult to see any path for Republican victory that doesn’t include the Sunshine State. But it is very difficult to see Trump, who is likely to both mobilize a higher-than-usual minority turnout and fare even worse among such voters than Mitt Romney, winning a state that was roughly 40 percent African-American and Hispanic as of the 2010 Census—a percentage that is almost certainly higher in 2016. For what it’s worth, the early polling shows Clinton clobbering Trump in Florida.
Trump’s weakness with minority voters and educated professionals will also mean that he’s nearly drawing dead in increasingly blue Virginia, and he may well be an underdog in North Carolina as well. Losing all three states would essentially foreclose a Republican win.
Even assuming that Clinton merely holds Florida and Virginia, it’s not clear how Trump can win. He would have to have unusual success in the upper Midwest, but this is probably Republican wishful thinking.
If Trump loses Florida and Virginia, even winning Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania wouldn’t put him over the top. Adding Michigan would do it, but contrary to some assumptions, Michigan is not a swing state. Obama won it in 2012 by nearly 10 points against a quasi-native son Republican candidate, and that was in much worse economic circumstances and before Governor Rick Snyder drowned his party’s brand in the Flint River. Trump is not going to carry it. You would also have to be an extremely optimistic Republican to think Trump could capture the relatively diverse and urban state of Pennsylvania for the GOP for the first time since a much more moderate Republican carried it by less than two points in a landslide election in 1988.
After 2012, many Republicans were aware that the country’s demographics were tilting against them in presidential elections. Nominating Donald Trump perversely exacerbates these problems rather than alleviating them. This doesn’t guarantee a win for Hillary Clinton, but it does make it overwhelmingly likely.
There’s also the question of money and organization. Trump isn’t going into his own kick to fund a presidential general election campaign, and while I don’t think #NeverTrump is going to be much of a thing and that most Republicans will fall in line, if more GOP money men than usual decide not to give to Trump this matters more than usual.
Never say never again, but Clinton — despite not being a particularly good general election candidate — is a yoooooooge favorite.