Democrats Ignore the Electoral Map to Their Peril

Democrats only need to win back 38 electoral votes (“EVs”) in 2020 to win back the presidency.

Shouldn’t be too hard, right? For years, we were told that Democrats practically owned the presidential electoral map with their daunting “blue wall” of potentially battleground states. The GOP’s only path, we were told, would come through Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and either Virginia or Colorado. Reaching for any of the Rust Belt states after all of their years in the Democratic column was just a delusional pipe dream for the GOP.

Indeed, that logic seemed sound through the first decade and a half of the 21stcentury. Then, the blue wall crumbled nearly as fast as the Berlin Wall did a few decades back. Not just one state, but three—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all improbably went red. While the margin of victory was thin in each of these states, Obama-supporting battleground states like Iowa and Ohio tipped back to the GOP in dramatic fashion. Donald Trump won Ohio by 7 points and Iowa by 10(!).

But Trump lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. He barely won Florida—considered an essential GOP state—by just over a percentage point and Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were all well short of a percentage point. Theoretically, Democrats have several clear paths to victory:

1.Take back the big three Midwest states. Two is not enough (Pennsylvania and Michigan account for 36 EVs). This does not seem particularly implausible considering the incredibly slender margins for Trump in 2016. If rural voters are slightly less enthusiastic to vote, or urban voters are more enthusiastic to vote, this swing could definitely happen.

2.Embrace the trends lines and concede the Midwest while aiming for Florida and North Carolina (which Trump won by 3.5 points). North Carolina went blue in 2008 and barely went red in 2012. Like Virginia, it is clearly trending leftward. A new southern coalition could replace the old Democratic stronghold in the Midwest.

First, let’s take a moment to simply note that the electoral map poses much greater problems for Democrats than it did over the past two decades. They—not the GOP—are the ones trying to patch together a victorious coalition of states after suffering a significant defeat. Due to the shift in the Rust Belt, Democrats could take back Florida and its 29 electoral votes and still lose.

Now, let’s reflect on the efforts that Democrats have made to regain territory in either the South or Midwest. Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio and one of the dwindling number of elected Democrats between the coasts, challenged Nancy Pelosi for the speakership and lost. There is no Democratic leader that hails from anything approximating the heartland of America.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to malign President Trump for the very reasons that rural and blue-collar voters elected him—immigration and Islamic terrorism, in particular. They attack him for routinely criticizing the mainstream media, which has spent years mocking and marginalizing those who just swept President Trump into power.

You don’t have to agree with President Trump to realize that the Democratic strategy of attacking Trump’s character and undermining his credibility is bad politics. It will not work in the parts of the country that Democrats must win in 2020. Perhaps they’ll win 70% of California voters or up their margin of victory in a former battleground like Virginia. They could even win the popular vote by a greater margin.

All of which mean nothing if they can’t retake some of the battleground states they just lost. As it stands, they are more likely to help the GOP solidify its gains in the Midwest and start turning the big three upsets of 2016 into three solidly-red states by 2020.

Pretty soon, we might be talking about a “red wall” when discussing presidential elections.