Without question, the state Trump is most worried about next week is Florida. Having Bill Nelson fend off Rick Scott in the Senate and Andrew Gillum top mini-MAGA Ron DeSantis for governor would be a double blow to POTUS’s own chances of holding the state in 2020, especially if Gillum lands on the national ticket. He would have won the presidency in 2016 even without Florida but that would have been a very tight election. He would have needed every last one of his Rust Belt upsets to pull it off — and many of those upsets were themselves very tight.
Which raises a question. Where do things stand in 2020 if the GOP is wiped out in Florida next week and gets pulverized in Rust Belt states? Because that’s what’s shaping up right now in the biggest Rust-y prize of all, Pennsylvania. The last four polls of the governor’s race between incumbent Tom Wolf and challenger Scott Wagner:
The last four of the Senate race between incumbent Bob Casey and Trumpy challenger Lou Barletta:
“Hey, it’s just one state.” No, it’s not just one state. It’s farking Pennsylvania. Twenty electoral votes. Trump could duplicate every one of his state wins in 2020 with the exceptions of Pennsylvania and Florida and that would be enough to make him an ex-president. The former is about to stay blue at the state level, quite comfortably, and the latter might be about to go blue at the gubernatorial level. Not great.
You can spin that various ways. Wolf and Casey are incumbents, and Casey is part of a family political dynasty. They’re tough to beat under the best circumstances, let alone in a Democratic-friendly climate. All true, but Trump has made numerous trips to Pennsylvania and Barletta in particular is every inch a working-class populist like Trump’s biggest fans. He’s still getting run off the field. And if the excuse here is that Wolf and Casey are strong candidates, that invites an obvious Democratic counterargument: Maybe Hillary Clinton was just an unusually weak candidate. Maybe Pennsylvania won’t be as Trump-friendly in 2020 if Democrats nominate someone who can drive minority turnout in Pennsylvania cities or siphon off some working-class white votes from Trump like native son Joe Biden.
It’s not “just one state,” either. Races in the midwest look pretty grim across the map. Wisconsin Senate:
These are all tough elections, all with Democratic incumbents, but Trump won the first two in 2016, finished a point and a half behind in supposedly deep blue Minnesota, and romped in Ohio. They were all cracked up to be “purple states” now (or red, in Ohio’s case). And here are the Democrats winning comfortably in each, and not with any national rising stars either.
You want governor’s races? Okay, here’s Michigan:
The lone exceptions to the Democratic trend are in the gubernatorial races in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker is in a dead heat, and in Ohio, where Democrat Rob Cordray is up by less than three. But those two races have quirks to them that the others doesn’t. Walker is a household name after two terms as governor and a failed presidential run; it’s easy to believe that his incumbency and his own political celebrity have given him an advantage that other Trump-approved midwestern candidates lack. Cordray, meanwhile, was Obama’s first nominee to head the CFPB and acquired enemy status among Republicans nationally because of it. But still: Even with that baggage, in a rare Rust Belt state that Trump won easily, pitted against former Republican senator Mike DeWine, he’s still up in most polls. Where’s the MAGA magic to prevent a sweep in a state that Trump took by eight points?
You could say at this point, “Well, Trump is a special talent. He’s a celebrity and he connects with the average person in a way that most other politicians don’t.” That’s fine, but that sounds eerily like the joke Republicans have spent the last few years making about Obama after his party cratered in federal and state races. Barack Obama was really good at getting Barack Obama elected and terrible at getting anyone else elected. And bear in mind, to greater or lesser degrees, all of the Republican candidates named above are running as Trump-friendly populists or quasi-populists. You have no choice but to do so as a GOPer if you want POTUS’s base to turn out. If Trump can win Rust Belt states but no other Republican can, then we didn’t really experience a “populist revolution” or whatever in 2016. We experienced a nationalist version of Hopenchange, an allegedly sweeping phenomenon that turns out to have been limited to pretty much one guy due to his own unique charisma.