The FBI letter is probably too little too late

The presidential race will likely tighten as we approach Election Day. Trump is coming out of a terrible stretch of losing debates and the release of rapey videos, so a natural regression back to the pre-debates state of the race was inevitable. The FBI letter to Congress reopening an investigation into State Department emails handled through Hillary Clinton’s private server will definitely expedite that regression.

It’s really hard to know what is happening when polls predictably fluctuate depending on the daily news cycle, but most likely these differences represent long-time Republican and Democratic voters being more or less enthusiastic about voting depending on how embarrassing Donald Trump’s behavior is or how untrustworthy Clinton appears to be. Pollsters try to gauge likelihood of voting along with candidate support, and enthusiasm is known to fluctuate more easily than the voter’s party ID.

It’s been clear for some time that Trump cannot win as many votes as Romney or McCain (~60 million votes each). There are simply too many Republicans with college degrees to earn all of their support again, and too few Democrats without college degrees that he hasn’t racially or sexually offended. The Trump Gambit is to reduce turnout across the board, and hope his hardcore supporters carry him over the top with something closer to 55 million votes.

If that sounds like a Hail Mary, that’s because it is, and the FBI letter won’t fundamentally change the state of the race. Clinton’s emails have become a post-cognitive battle cry like the word Benghazi, which holds more emotion than reasoned criticism. Ask Trump supporters what Clinton actually did with her email account while head of the State Department, and why it was careless. Most have no idea, or at least have no ability to articulate their concerns. Unfortunately for Trump and for anyone else who is legitimately concerned about handling of classified information, his own over-the-top rhetoric about the emails has inoculated the electorate from any news regarding Clinton’s emails.

However, the coverage will affect the race. This week was going to be the Feel Good First Woman President Week for the Clinton Campaign. There has been surprisingly little emphasis, especially in comparison to Obama 8 years ago, to the historic nature of this campaign in the context of women’s rights. Most women couldn’t even vote 100 years ago. Clinton was prepared to ignore Trump for the next week and a half, and focus on the feel goods, try and build a mandate to govern, and turn the country blue.

Not anymore. Now she’s back in the trenches deflecting and counter attacking. Whatever ammo they have left on Trump will come Tuesday, just in time to fill the rest of the week’s coverage with a Trumped-up scandal, which Donald will make even worse as he always manages to do. Or there’s nothing left in Clinton’s arsenal, in which case it’s going to be a long 10 days for Democrats, watching the polls.

So, Trump is losing big league (bigly?), but what would a Trump comeback look like?

Trump hasn’t led a single day in our Election Model, so it’s not even clear in which states he has the most elasticity. In fact, a lack of elasticity is Trump’s central problem; he’s never had a campaign that appealed to a majority of voters. Trump has been trailing badly since the conventions, which became the turning point in the election as he insulted a Gold Star family and seemed to attack their faith. Since then, Trump has not risen above a 12% chance of winning, and has spent most of the last few months in the single digits. SAD!

If Trump goes into Election Day with a 1 or 2 % chance of victory, it will likely be an early night, but of course that does mean there is a way, albeit tight, that he could squeeze out an electoral win. Here is his path:

Trump has to win all the Romney States.

It’s actually hard to believe that this is going to be difficult for Trump, but it is. He’s currently losing in North Carolina and Arizona, and he might lose Utah to a third party candidate. These states probably won’t determine the winner of the election, but not having them locked up months ago means Trump has to play defense and spend resources outside of the “tipping point” states.

Trump has to hold his small leads in Iowa and Ohio without significant campaigning.

He simply doesn’t have time to camp out in the states; he has other problems to worry about. What makes life even worse for Trump is that forces are conspiring against him in Ohio. There’s a senate race in Ohio this year that Democrats at one point thought they might compete for, but soon after the conventions it became clear that Rob Portman would likely win reelection. The Democrats saw an opportunity to pull out of Ohio, so that the RNC wouldn’t have to get out the vote for Portman. Of course, they’ll have to get out the vote for Trump, right? Well, several RNC officials have hinted that may or may not happen, and there was an open revolt with the Ohio GOP after the “Grab them by the P*ssy” video came out. If Trump is stabbed in the back on Election Day, it will happen in Ohio as red doors across the southern plains of the Buckeye State go conspicuously unknocked.

Finally, he has to steal Florida, Nevada, and a state to be named later.

Ok, despite the significant increase in registered Bad Hombres in both Florida and Nevada since 2012, let’s just say Trump wins both of the states. He still has to win somewhere else, and there are no good options. Maybe New Hampshire? That would lock the Electoral College at 269 a piece, and likely send the election to the House of Representatives and the country into something not unlike a civil war. Pennsylvania? Colorado? It’s pretty remarkable how much Virginia swinging blue over the last decade has completely changed the map for Republicans. Winning the Medicare vote in Ohio and Florida just isn’t enough anymore. Don’t get me wrong, those states are still important and competitive, but now they’re must win states for only Republicans, not Democrats.

Will he do it? Unlikely, but possible. It would require a host of things going wrong for Clinton between now and Election Day, as well as a systematic error in polling across a panoply of firms with extremely diverse polling methods. But possible.

From the day Donald Trump announced he was running for President I’ve wondered how he would try and wiggle out of being labeled a loser when the day came that he lost. He’s not one to walk away with his tail between his legs. He’s the kind of person that if thrown to the dungeons would conspire with the mice against the cat rather than not conspire at all. So, pre-arguments of a rigged election, while asking his supporters to poll watch and perform their own unscientific exit polls (those are almost guaranteed to make my election night) are not surprising, but have made the end of the election an unrecognizable spectacle. Elections are usually about two or more different but positive visions for the country. They’re supposed to appeal to the better angels of our nature, inspire us to work together to improve our society. To ask what we together can do, not what everyone else can do for you. To prove to the world that men and women are capable of governing themselves.

Not T-shirts that say “Trump That Bitch.” Or a candidate that threatens to jail his opponent when he wins. Maybe that’s all this ever was, Trump’s greatest reality TV show, where all of us were forced to wake up to his self-absorbed narci-cast every single morning. I don’t think he knows; I certainly never will. I don’t know anyone who loves politics more than I do, and this election will be written about for as long as the country survives, but I for one am ready to forget it forever.