Donald Trump, left, speaks with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani on Sunday as he visits Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Sunday was, for any reasonably objective Republican, a scary polling day. A new ABC News tracking poll had Donald Trump down by 12 points. CBS/YouGov’s poll had Trump up by only 3 points in Texas. (No public poll in October has shown him up by more than 4 points in a state that Mitt Romney won in 2012 by nearly 16 points.) In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) — just a week or so ago considered safe — has seen his lead shrink to 2 points or less in the past three polls.
This is the landslide scenario that Republicans fear: The bottom drops out of Trump’s numbers, fueled by disgust over his refusal to acknowledge the election results’ legitimacy and by a tidal wave of college-educated women infuriated with his continued attacks on women. Trump’s lack of a ground game also comes back to haunt him. Hillary Clinton can turn out unenthusiastic Democrats; Trump cannot. The actual vote count therefore turns out to be worse for the GOP than current polling.
If Clinton winds up winning by large margins in states with contested Senate seats (e.g. New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada), the Republicans’ chances of holding on to the Senate majority drop precipitously. And if we are talking about, say, a 10-point Clinton win nationally (based in part on low GOP turnout), then the House also comes into play. Red states such as Ohio, Texas, Arizona and Georgia fall her way; she winds up with more than 400 electoral votes. Trump, in other words, drags the entire GOP under. It would not be a shocker at this stage considering what a miserable race Trump has run. (At this point in 2012, the polls underestimated President Obama’s lead, showing a virtual dead heat. He won by 4 points.)
If that occurs, many Republicans — especially House and Senate leaders and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — who stick with Trump will be found guilty of egregious political malpractice. Rather than starting the “no blank check for Clinton” message in October, the critics will say, the GOP should have started in September, if not earlier. When the “Access Hollywood” tape was released, the GOP leadership should have renounced Trump and called for Republicans to turn out en masse to save down-ticket candidates.
That is only one way this race plays out. The alternative (a Trump victory, we think, is out of the question) is a race that looks like the current RealClearPolitics averages. Clinton wins by 5 to 7 points. The toss-up states fall along more traditional lines. (Ohio, Arizona and Texas go for Trump; Clinton sweeps in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Florida.) Clinton wins with 313 to 328 electoral votes (depending on how North Carolina goes). The GOP manages to eke out 50 Senate seats (giving Vice President Tim Kaine the tie-breaking vote), or maybe even 51. The House majority remains in GOP hands.
That’s still a bone-crushing defeat, considering that several of the other GOP presidential contenders in all likelihood could have won and thereby kept GOP majorities in both houses. But now, that is the best scenario one can reasonably imagine for Republicans. (This, by the way, is why GOP turnout may falter: If the options are a) lose or b) lose in a landslide, many will stay home.)
And if that wasn’t enough to turn Republicans’ stomachs, consider that Trump does not care whether Republicans all go down in flames. That’s why he is ranting about his women accusers and refusing to say that he will concede if he loses. If he cared one iota about the party, he’d be staying on message and trying to maximize GOP turnout.
You have to think the danger of a blowout in this situation is at least 50-50, right?