Finley: Despite surge, Trump a longshot

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Donald Trump’s surging poll numbers coming into Cleveland put an end to what little hope the “Dump Trump” movement had of denying him the nomination.

Thanks largely to the damning assessment by FBI Director James Comey of Hillary Clinton’s recklessness in using a private email server as secretary of state, and an overwhelming sense by Americans that she escaped prosecution only because of who she is, Trump comes to the the Republican National Convention with some momentum, having pulled even with Clinton.

The surprisingly favorable poll numbers will fuel Republican delusions that they can actually win the White House with Trump. Like always-hopeful Detroit Lions fans, they’ll spend the next five days cheering themselves hoarse at the prospect of the glorious season ahead.

But the odds of Republicans capturing the presidency remain about as long as those of the Lions winning the Super Bowl. The Las Vegas book on the Lions is 70-to-1; the British betting site OddsChecker puts Trump’s chances of victory at 25 percent, compared to 78 percent for presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Those aren’t the only numbers working against the GOP.

Start with the Electoral College map. Even with a candidate with broad appeal, Republicans face a monumental obstacle in securing the necessary 270 electoral votes.

Since 1992, according to the Hill political report, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in every presidential election, delivering to the Democrats 242 electoral votes. That basically means they start the race from the home stretch, needing just 28 additional electoral votes to cross the finish line.

Republicans during that same period could count on 13 states to be in their column every time. Except for Texas, they are all smaller states, offering a combined 102 electoral votes. So the GOP has to either convert some of the big, solid blue states, or win nearly every up-for-grab state to reach 270.

Donald Trump will have to keep climbing, and Clinton’s descent will have to get much steeper, for that to happen.

The problem is that Trump can exploit the mistrust voters have of Clinton. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll has Trump’s negative numbers hitting 70 percent. Among Republicans, 34 percent have a negative view of Trump. His challenge in Cleveland is to get his own party feeling better about him, and about itself.

In a recent Bloomberg poll, 28 percent of Republicans say they have unfavorable views of their party; the comparative number for Democrats is 4 percent.

And then there’s the money. Hillary Clinton is expected to raise and spend at least $1 billion. Normally, Republicans could match that dollar for dollar. But the GOP’s super donors are sitting on their wallets. The Wall Street Journal reports, for example, that members of the Republican Jewish Committee, who in 2012 gave Mitt Romney $16.5 million, had coughed up just $5,400 for Trump through May.

Instead, Republican mega-givers are writing checks to the national party to help U.S. Senate candidates at risk of being washed out by a Trump rout.

It’s a numbers game, and right now they don’t favor Trump. Maybe in five days things will look different, but heading into Cleveland the GOP seems like a long bet.