Trump enters the contest with poor approval ratings, particularly with women and Hispanic voters. He’s facing a battle-tested candidate in Clinton who will have no qualms about running a scorched-earth campaign to defeat him.
His party is divided, with a number of Republicans saying they will never vote for the real estate mogul. These GOP officials say Trump faces a mission impossible and are already focusing on 2020.
Democrats have a multitude of routes to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to take the White House, while the loss of either Florida or Ohio would be devastating for the presumptive GOP standard-bearer.
Many Democrats think Trump is dead on arrival, but others on the left, including CNN commentator Van Jones, believe it is quite possible that Trump could triumph over Clinton.
While it will be challenging for Trump to win 270 electoral votes — especially with the nation's changing demographics — a contest against Clinton is winnable.
Here’s how it could happen.
Change the electoral map
Trump needs to shake up the electoral map by winning states that Republicans have lost for decades.
He intends to do this chiefly by winning Pennsylvania and Michigan, two states Trump won in the GOP primary season.
“We’ll win places that a lot of people say you’re not going to win, that as a Republican you can’t win,” Trump said at a rally in Illinois late last month. “Michigan is a great example; nobody else will go to Michigan. We’re going to be encamped in Michigan because I think I can win it.”
No Republican has won Michigan since 1988, and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the state and Oakland County, a GOP-friendly area where he grew up.
“We’re a pretty reliable blue state,” said Inside Michigan Politics editor and publisher Susan Demas. She said Trump’s primary victory in the state was impressive and that he could be a stronger GOP candidate in Michigan than Romney or 2008 GOP nominee John McCain.
Yet she doubts his chances.
“I’ve spent a lot of time going over numbers and looking at counties, and I’m still having trouble seeing how he’ll come up with that many votes,” she said.
In the Keystone State, Trump's challenge will be a deep registration gap of about 1 million voters between Democrats and Republicans.
Making up that difference by winning independents will be tough for Trump, since only 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters, or about 1.1 million, are independents.
Sarah Diebler, an assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College, said Trump faces long odds and will need to register new voters. Even then, she notes he’ll likely have to contend with a Clinton operation with a long, successful history in Pennsylvania.
Larry Ceisler, a longtime Democratic operative in Pennsylvania and principal at Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy, said, “Right now, I think Pennsylvania's obviously Clinton country. The Clintons have never lost in Pennsylvania. At the same time, I could see Trump being competitive here.
“I just think there is something about him and the way he positions himself that could make him competitive in the state. ... He won every county in the [Pennsylvania Republican primary].”
Get into the Clintons' heads
Trump will be running against a candidate with deep vulnerabilities in Clinton, who like Trump suffers from weak approval ratings. In early March, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found only 37 percent saw her as honest and trustworthy.
Trump is already seizing on those figures by describing Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” a nickname he hopes will be as successful as his primary attacks on “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.”
Like Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Trump will paint Clinton as tied to Wall Street and other special interests. He’s likely to build on the Sanders case, but make it more forcefully.
Trump is also seizing on several areas where he is to the left of Clinton.
The night Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) dropped out of the race, Trump hammered Clinton over former President Bill Clinton’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the celebrity businessman said was the worst trade agreement in history.
He’s also routinely noted that he opposed the Iraq War early on, while Clinton backed it. Clinton has called that vote a mistake.
The key for Trump is to push the Clintons' buttons, as he did to Cruz this spring. Trump got in many of his rivals' heads, frustrating them and putting them on the defensive. The Clintons, particularly Bill Clinton, must refrain from taking the bait.
Unify the GOP
In a stunning development on Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he wasn’t ready to endorse Trump for president.
A house divided falls part, and neither Clinton nor Trump can go into the fall without a unified party.
Both likely nominees face challenges here, but Trump’s is the biggest.
He leads a party that saw some members burn their party identification cards the night he all but clinched the nomination.
Ryan’s decision gave air to those looking for a third-party candidate against Trump. But Ryan also faced a fierce backlash over his decision, and he left the door open to moving behind Trump eventually.
Picking the right vice presidential candidate is vital for Trump.
He needs a running mate who can reassure Republicans that he really is one of them given doubts about his policy positions and party loyalties.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two of Trump’s vanquished foes, could both offer a reassuring presence for Republicans on the fence over whether to support their nominee. Trump has said he’d consider both men, though he’s also said observers shouldn’t expect a name until July.
The fact that former rivals such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. John McCain are now backing Trump is a hopeful sign. At the same time, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) is the only former GOP presidential nominee planning to attend the Trump convention.
That hints at the work Trump needs to do.
Reduce his weakness with Hispanics
President Obama won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and 2012. If Trump fails to bring that number down, chances are he’ll lose in November.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at Pew Research Center, said it’s difficult to say what percentage a GOP candidate needs to win of the Hispanic vote to win the presidency given all the variables, including turnout.
At the same time, it’s clear that 27 percent of that Hispanic vote that Mitt Romney won in 2012, and the 31 percent that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, were not nearly enough. President George W. Bush won 44 percent of the vote in 2004 and was reelected.
Trump’s vice presidential pick is a key here, too.
Among the names he’s likely considering are Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
Both could help Trump reach out to a constituency he has alienated from his entry to the race, when he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border that would keep “rapists” and “criminals” from coming to the United States.
A Latino Decisions poll on behalf of America’s Voice found 87 percent of Hispanics held an unfavorable view of Trump, and that he’d lose to Clinton among those surveyed by 76 percent to 11 percent.
It’s a long way until November, however, giving Trump time to improve those paltry numbers.
Trump won the GOP primary saying he would “make America great again.”
It is an effective slogan, and Trump used it to market himself as a businessman and outsider to the political system who is only interested in making America a winner.
Trump presents himself as the ultimate winner — and a dealmaker who can negotiate good terms for the U.S.
He’s said he would negotiate better trade deals and stronger agreements that would force U.S. allies to pay for their own defense. He’s said Mexico will pay for the wall built on its border, and that he’d look forward to trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
Author: Ian Swanson and Bob Cusack