With all the focus on national polling, it seems that many are forgetting the lessons of 2000. The best case scenario at this point for Trump, from a popular vote perspective, seems to be a narrow popular vote victory, but even if that happens he faces an electoral college map that is hostile to his potential victory.
Assume that Trump is able to erase his current 7 point national deficit on a more or less uniform basis. In so doing, he would put all the 2000 George W. Bush states (the minimum possible collection of states for a victory) back into the GOP column… except for Virginia and Colorado, where he is now trailing by double digits in polls and falling further behind. Since 2000, these states have lurched toward the Democratic column more than the rest of the country, so this is not surprising. It looks at this point that Trump would need to at least score a clear 2-3 point victory a la Bush in 2004 to put Virginia and Colorado in play, and such a scenario appears increasingly unlikely.
So assume that Trump loses at least 21 electoral votes that GWB won in 200. He needs to get at least 20 of those back in order to win. Is there a way that can happen? Yes, but it’s not an easy or enviable path. The simplest way for Trump to make up the deficit would be to win Pennsylvania, making up all his lost votes in one fell swoop. But the Pennsylvania polling has also been moving in the wrong direction for Trump relative to national polling, and Pennsylvania has long been fool’s gold for Republican Presidential candidates, who almost always underperform their late polling there. Assume that Clinton probably has a 95% chance or better of carrying Pennsylvania in a race that is otherwise a tie.
The most plausible path for Trump would be to win Michigan (18) plus one other state carried by Gore – either Iowa or Wisconsin being the likeliest possibilities. These three states have had slight Trumpward shifts relative to the rest of the country – while Trump trails nationally by 7, his RCP average in Michigan shows him behind 6.6, and behind in Iowa by a mere 0.5, and in Wisconsin by 5.6.
Of course, Wisconsin and Iowa’s polling may yet be skewed by the fact that no polls have been taken since the conventions. Even in Michigan, where Trump was long competitive, the two polls taken after the Dem convention show Clinton leading by 9 and 10, respectively. However, if Trump can right the ship nationally, he may continue to overperform in Michigan, which becomes a must-win state for him if Virginia and Colorado go the wrong way.
If Trump can pick up Michigan and either Iowa or Wisconsin, he can afford the losses of Virginia and Colorado, and even the possible loss of New Hampshire. It’s not an extremely likely scenario, but it’s at least a plausible one, and if you’re a Trump supporter, “plausible” is really the best you can hope for at this point.