The top of the list of Trump 2016 states that Democrats hope (and need) to win in 2020 is pretty easy to compile: It’s the three Rust Belt states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, that shockingly fell to the mogul by less than one percent at the end of that infamous evening. The first two had not gone Republican since 1988, and Wisconsin had voted Democratic since 1984.
Other obvious 2020 Democratic targets are Florida, the perennial battleground that Trump won by just over a percentage point, and perhaps North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008. Demographic trends have convinced some Democrats that Arizona and Georgia — and perhaps, in a really good year, even Texas — are turning purple. Democrats definitely disagree about where their 2020 emphasis should be placed, but it’s not as though there’s a shortage of targets, particularly in the Midwest and Farm Belt, where Trump’s approval ratings are sagging (viz., his current 42/54 approval ratio in Iowa, a state he won by nine points in 2016).
It’s far less evident where Trump’s reelection campaign might look to flip states won by Hillary Clinton, if only to offset 2020 losses in states he carried the first time around. New Hampshire, with its paltry four electoral votes, is the only state he lost by under one percent in 2016. The landscape gets dicier after that.
Periodically, the Keep America Great team lets it be known where it thinks Trump can flip new states. When Virginia’s Democratic-elected-official leadership melted down under multiple scandals earlier this year, we were told that the Commonwealth was on the Great Helmsman’s radar screen. Last month, the Trump campaign added to that target list:
The Trump campaign believes it can flip several states in 2020, including Minnesota, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, according to senior Trump campaign officials who spoke with the Washington Examiner.
And now there’s this:
Now it’s incredibly cheap and easy to “consider” targeting a state this far out from the 2020 general election. It gives hope to the local MAGA tribes in the states being “considered,” while keeping Democrats on their toes. But it’s worth a bit of research to see which states actually make sense for Trump to make an effort to flip. It’s a pretty daunting map for the candidate who got all the breaks in 2016 and lost the national popular vote by over 2 percent.
Here are the states mentioned in one indicator or another as Trump 2020 flip targets, ranked by his margin of defeat in 2016:
New Hampshire (0.63 percent)
Minnesota (1.46 percent)
Nevada (2.92 percent)
Maine (2.96 percent)
Colorado (4.91 percent)
Virginia (5.32 percent)
New Mexico (8.22 percent)
Oregon (10.98 percent)
I’d guess that if Trump’s people decide they have to announce an even ten flip targets, they’ll go to No. 9, Delaware, which Trump lost by 11.37 percent, and No. 10, New Jersey, which he lost by 13.99 percent. Neither of these is a plausible Trump 2020 state, and neither are Oregon and New Mexico. Trump’s current approval ratio in Oregon is a dreadful 37/59, and in New Mexico, it’s better, but at 41/56, it’s still way underwater. Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman agrees:
Of the six more-plausible targets, the first variables to look at are trends, with the most relevant being the states where Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012 (relative to his opponent). Unsurprisingly, those are the top four states on the list above, the ones Trump lost most narrowly (New Hampshire, Minnesota, Nevada, and Maine).
Unfortunately for the president, though, his current approval numbers are terrible in Minnesota (40/56) and New Hampshire (39/58). He’s doing a bit better, though hardly well, in Nevada (42/53) and Maine (44/53). Of all the potential target states, the one in which he’s doing best in terms of current popularity is Virginia, where he’s at 45/51. His campaign might actually target Virginia, since it’s pretty convenient to the White House.
All in all, though, Trump’s best bet may be to try to hang onto the states he carried last time around. There really doesn’t seem to be any ripe fruit ready to drop into his column.