To win the presidency, Donald Trump will need to win every state Mitt Romney carried four years ago, while also flipping 62 electoral votes that President Obama won. If recent polling is accurate, the Republican candidate has very few options to make that happen.
Almost any plausible scenario for Trump includes the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a battleground state with 20 electoral votes, which has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. Recent polling shows Hillary Clinton with a fairly comfortable lead in the Keystone State this year, further undermining the GOP candidate’s odds of success.
Trump, however, believes the commonwealth is in his corner. Consider what he told a Pennsylvania audience on Friday night:
“We’re gonna watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times…. The only way we can lose, in my opinion – and I really mean this, Pennsylvania – is if cheating goes on. I really believe it. Because I looked at Erie and it was the same thing as this….“[L]et me just tell you, I looked over Pennsylvania. And I’m studying it. And we have some great people here. Some great leaders here of the Republican Party, and they’re very concerned about that. And that’s the way we can lose the state. And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. Because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania, which is such a vital state, especially when I know what’s happening here, folks. I know. She can’t beat what’s happening here.“The only way they can beat it in my opinion – and I mean this 100 percent – if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK? So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine.”
There’s quite a bit to this. At face value, for example, it’s striking when a presidential candidate speaks publicly about anticipating a loss in a key state, and begins making excuses for failure long before Election Day.
It’s also worth noting that Trump’s rhetoric about voter fraud in Pennsylvania – an issue the candidate claims to have “studied” – is plainly at odds with the facts.
But perhaps the most striking part of the Republican’s comments was his call for supporters to not only vote, but also to “watch other polling places.”
The Washington Post reported over the weekend on the multi-pronged effort on the part of Team Trump to recruit “poll watchers” for the fall, including a form on the campaign’s website that asks allies to sign up for election-related duties.
Anyone who fills out the form is added to a list of people who will be used to staff as many polling places as possible. Monitors will report any irregularities they observe to the strike force of lawyers, who, according to [Randy Evans, the chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association], would be able to judge what was and was not a problem. […]The effort reflects a key tension point between the parties, with Republicans warning of voter fraud designed to help Democrats, such as ineligible people casting ballots, and Democrats accusing GOP officials of exaggerating the dangers of voter fraud to justify new laws that Democrats say are designed to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic voters. It has become commonplace for presidential campaigns to amass legal teams steeped in the intricacies of election law – but it is unusual for a candidate to so directly predict wrongdoing by an opponent.
Rick Hasen, an election-law expert at UC Irvine, told the Post, “It’s very common to have people at the polls. What’s different is that he is couching it in an incendiary way by saying ‘crooked Hillary’ wants to steal the election. That seems to be an invitation to go and make trouble.”
Watch this space.