During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) seemed to acknowledge that President Donald Trump, his own party’s nominee, was far from guaranteed to win a second presidential term.
Graham made the comment while speculating on how Americans will vote this year based on judicial nominations to the Supreme Court made by presidents belonging to each party.
“Republicans generally look at people of a disposition like Judge Barrett,” Graham said. “Democrats generally look at people of a disposition like Justices [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan.”
“Now, y’all have a good chance of winning the White House,” Graham added, referring to the Democrats in the committee.
“Thank you for acknowledging that,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) responded.
“Yeah, I think it’s true,” Graham continued. “I think the public will go into the voting booth, and they’ll say, ‘Okay, I’ve seen the kind of judges Democrats will nominate, I’ve seen the kind of judges Republicans will nominate’ — that will be important to people.”
A number of polls have demonstrated that Trump is trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and by a significant amount. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, for example, finds that just 41 percent of likely voters will back Trump for a second term, while 51 percent say they will cast a ballot (or have already done so) for Biden.
Of course, national polling data does not provide a final picture of the potential election outcome, due to the all-important Electoral College. According to the Constitution, a candidate must win a majority of Electoral College votes from states across the nation in order to become the president (since 1964, that number has been 270).
Trump won the Electoral College in 2016 while at the same time losing the popular vote against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. So how does he fare this time around, at this moment?
On that question, the incumbent president is also seemingly behind. Current projections from NPR find that Biden is likely to win 290 Electoral College votes in this year’s race, while Trump is set to attain 163 votes. Eighty-five Electoral College votes are still a toss-up, according to NPR’s predictions.
The Cook Political Report’s projections are identical to NPR’s — 163 for Trump, 290 for Biden, and 85 toss-up states.
In short, Trump’s path to victory is narrowing. To have a shot at winning reelection, he will have to flip voters in states Biden is projected to win (with at least 21 Electoral College votes among them), plus win all five toss-up states (and one of Maine’s congressional districts), in order to win a second term.
That will be an immensely difficult task to accomplish. Currently, polls in the six battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina are averaging in favor of Biden, by 4.9 points on average according to data from RealClearPolitics.
It’s possible that Trump could turn things around between now and Election Day. Indeed, the gap in polling in battleground states between him and Clinton at this point in the 2016 election season was actually wider, and yet Trump still managed to win the election (by getting more Electoral College votes) less than three weeks later.
For many political pundits that year, it was considered a given that Clinton would cruise to victory. Instead, she narrowly lost in three key states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, securing Trump’s Electoral College win.
Still, the possibility of that happening again is minute, according to FiveThirtyEight, which notes that Trump only has a 13 percent chance of winning this year’s presidential race. Biden, conversely, has an 87 percent chance of winning.
All of these projections, of course, rely on the assumption that Trump will agree to respect the outcome of the election. In fact, Trump has refused to make such concessions, even before votes have been counted, leading many to worry about whether he will leave office if he loses in November.
A number of scenarios in which Trump refuses to accept the results have been considered. He may enlist Republican lawmakers in a number of states to bypass the popular vote completely, for example, granting him their Electoral College votes through state legislatures rather than by actual voters’ preferences.
Trump may also try to delegitimize the results by rejecting voting by absentee ballots. He has for months railed against the idea of mail-in voting, wrongly depicting it as rife with fraud. Millions of voters are voting by mail to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Many of Trump’s supporters have already signaled a willingness to come to the president’s aid, in some deeply disturbing ways. Perhaps anticipating a contentious election outcome, the president is mobilizing an “army for Trump,” asking for “all able-bodied men and women to stop the election from being stolen by Democrats.”
It’s unclear what this “army” is meant to do — if this is a literal call for physical intervention — but the call itself, and the language used by Trump, indicates he may try to hold on to power through questionable and potentially violent means, in spite of how the electorate votes.