Trumped: How Donald Keeps Republicans in Checkmate

Risk of losing 20 percent of votes to an independent run prevents robust GOP pushback

<> on December 5, 2015 in Davenport, Iowa.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

On December 8, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump informed the Twitterverse of a new poll indicating that 68 percent of his current supporters would stick with him if he ran as an independent—a move he would consider if the Republican party did not treat him fairly.

“Fair treatment” is, of course, a subjective term. Ultimately, how Mr. Trump is being treated by the GOP is a matter Mr. Trump decides as he sees fit.

But the results of that USA Today/Suffolk University poll Mr. Trump gleefully cited go a long way toward understanding why the Republican party is not pushing back more forcefully against his highly controversial statements.

First, let’s do basic arithmetic. According to the Real Clear Politics polling average of December 8, Mr. Trump commands slightly more than 30 percent of the Republican electorate (30.4 percent, to be precise). If we take 68 percent of that total—the percentage of voters currently telling pollsters they will vote for Mr. Trump in the Republican caucuses and primaries—we arrive at 20.672 percent of Republican voters following Mr. Trump out the door if he leaves the GOP for an independent run. That’s slightly more than one of every five potential Republican voters.

What would the loss of nearly 21 percent of Republican voters mean to the GOP in the upcoming election?

Going back over the past five election cycles and taking the best result for the Republican Party in every state for the last 20 years, then subtracting 20.672 percent of the Republican vote, we get the following results: Not only do the Democrats retain every state they took in 2012, but they also add Arizona’s 11 electoral votes, and 10 electoral votes from Missouri, for a total of 353 electoral votes, compared to 185 electoral votes for the Republican nominee. It would mark the first time since 1996 Democrats won either state.

That would very likely be the best case for the GOP if deprived of the voters who say they would support an independent candidacy by Mr. Trump. Looking at the last election, Georgia and North Carolina, and the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska all went Republican by smaller margins than either Arizona or Missouri. Given current political realities in those jurisdictions, any of them would be expected to turn blue before Arizona or Missouri. In fact, North Carolina and Nebraska’s 2nd district did turn blue as recently as 2008.

An independent bid by Mr. Trump could add those 32 additional electoral votes—16 from Georgia, 15 from North Carolina and the single electoral vote from Nebraska’s 2nd district—to the Democratic total, pushing their cushion to a 385-153 Electoral College advantage, which would mark the widest Democratic triumph in a presidential election since 1964. Republicans could also have a fight on their hands—in the event of a Trump independent run—for Indiana, South Carolina, Mississippi, Montana and Alaska. Republicans last lost Indiana in 2008 and Montana in 1992, but Democrats haven’t won South Carolina or Mississippi since 1976, or Alaska since 1964.

The next time you find yourself wondering why the Republican Party isn’t pushing back against Mr. Trump, consider the prospects of a 30-to-35-state Democratic victory in which Team Blue approaches or exceeds 400 electoral votes. There’s your answer.

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.

Cliston Brown is a communications executive and political analyst in the San Francisco Bay Area who previously served as director of communications to a longtime Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/ClistonBrownPolitics, or on Twitter: @ClistonBrown.