LAS VEGAS – Donald Trump went into his third and final debate on the defensive, with Hillary Clinton threatening to poach a string of once loyally Republican states from a man who says he hates losers.
Trump is in danger of being one of his party’s biggest losers – and, as President Barack Obama pointed out on Tuesday, a whiny one at that.
The states on Clinton’s new target list include Arizona and, of all places, Texas. In Nevada, the polling is mixed, though Clinton seems to have gained ground. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead of Trump here by seven points. Trump was up by two points last month. But a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, which showed her in a commanding position nationally, had her still down here by four.
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All these states have something important in common: They include large numbers of Latino voters, who are clearly mobilizing to defeat Trump. He is also suffering from profound weaknesses among African-Americans, college educated voters of all backgrounds, and the young.
Much has been written about whether Clinton will be able to bring enough young voters to the polls on Nov. 8 and also not lose too many of them to third-party candidates.
But notice this: Nobody is saying that she will hemorrhage younger Americans to Trump, because she won’t. “For millennials, the choice is Clinton, third party or the couch,” said John Della Volpe, who has long overseen Harvard’s Institute of Politics polling of young people. Yes, “the couch,” meaning abstention, is a far bigger threat to Clinton among younger voters than the Republican nominee.
There is a lot of speculation about lower turnout overall – I am not persuaded by this, given the stakes in the election – but there is not much doubt about the engagement of Latinos, as Aaron Zitner reported this week in The Wall Street Journal. And a Journal/NBC News/Telemundo survey, which had a larger-than-usual sample of Latinos to get a better fix on their preferences, found Clinton leading Trump among them 67 percent to 17 percent.
Trump is thus on track to run behind Mitt Romney’s already anemic 27 percent tally among Latinos against President Obama in 2012. Romney’s Hispanic showing was, in turn, worse than John McCain’s in 2008 and much worse than George W. Bush’s in 2004 and 2000.
Now it would be one thing if no one had anticipated what a Trump-like candidate would do to the party’s chances, or if the GOP had been united around a go-for-broke strategy among white voters. But some of the most intelligent analysis of why Trumpism would be a disaster for Republicans came from inside the GOP itself.
The March 2013 report for the party’s Growth & Opportunity Project (widely known as “the autopsy” of Romney’s 2012 defeat) deserves revisiting at this moment. It was unflinching in offering words that – unless Trump has a miraculous recovery by Election Day – will merely have to be cut and pasted into a post-2016 autopsy.
“The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become,” its authors wrote. “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity.”
They went on: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States … they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
As for young voters, the report noted the party did not have to share their views “on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. … If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”
In the long history of advice-giving, it’s hard to think of a case where good counsel was so resolutely rejected. And what’s important is that large chunks of the Republican Party’s primary electorate did the rejecting. All the reports in the world won’t change the party if its own members are determined to stay a doomed course.
This is why some Republicans may be hoping privately that Clinton’s effort to expand the Democrats’ map actually succeeds. It may take a true party-wide catastrophe for the GOP rank-and-file to come to terms with the United States that exists, not the one they wish they could call back into being.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.