Why you should care
Because everyone likes a good political fistfight.
Although the Empire State is preparing for the Republican and Democratic primaries on Tuesday, it might not crown a true winner until November. Indeed, a showdown between front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would make their home state ground zero in a general election — and there’s still a chance the Queens-born real estate mogul could pull a few tricks from his sleeve to paint New York red.
Sure, it’s less likely today given recent hits the Donald has taken in primary races, and with his mixed messages on women and abortion rights. Yet political scientists, strategists and pollsters say there are ways he could conceivably beat Clinton and become the first Republican to win New York since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Here’s how he’d have to do it.
Embrace the Reagan Revolution.
Reagan’s victory in New York was also the last time the GOP had a candidate quite as polarizing as Trump. If the billionaire can rally those same blue-collar workers who fueled the Reagan Revolution — the same farm and factory types he’s attracted from South Carolina to Illinois and Arizona — he may have a crack to combat Clinton’s New York firewall. “There are a lot of upstate counties in economic decline,” says Jeffrey Segal, a political scientist at Stony Brook University, and Trump may very well carry the majority of counties.
But here’s the rub: Trump would still lose the state if he couldn’t woo the more moderate hubs of Long Island and Westchester. Which means he can’t just cater to the poorest voters and may need to harness the hopeful presidential air that Reagan adopted with his promise of a “Morning in America.” As Bob Bellafiore, the strategist and former press secretary for ex-Gov. George Pataki, notes, “He has to show he’s not just angry, but smart.”
Take a page from the book of Bernie.
In many ways, a similar upswell has given rise to both Trump and Bernie Sanders, who shares a message of worker protection over free trade and engages in a grassroots populism. Both men have tapped into people who feel like the system has been rigged against them, Bellafiore says. “Hillary’s main problem will be whether people can successfully define her as one of the riggers.”
So far, Sanders’ most effective weapon has been his accusation that Clinton, with deep Wall Street ties and a long history of fundraising from high-profile bundlers, represents special interests over the everyday American. Despite being a high-rolling member of the good old boys’ club himself, Trump may have an even better line of attack than the Vermont socialist if he continues to push with his persona. “He would say it in a Trumpian way: ‘Hillary, don’t tell me you can’t be bought. I bought you,’” Bellafiore says.
Count on an act of God.
There are three long-shot possibilities for a Trump victory, according to Segal. The most plausible situation is a nationwide recession, which Trump recently predicted in a Washington Post exclusive. While unemployment remains low, a dip in temporary workers in March had some financial forecasters saying an economic slowdown was possible. “Obama’s approval ratings would go down, maybe pulling Clinton down, too,” Segal says.
Another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil could drive New Yorkers to a Trump presidency as well, experts say. Some also continue to say there’s a possibility of an indictment over the email server at Clinton’s Chappaqua home. Even then, that might not be enough to hand Trump a win. “New York is a very forgiving state; it’s elected indicted and convicted people,” says Bellafiore.
Win the home-field advantage — through the element of surprise.
While Trump may have lived here his entire life, Clinton’s won here. It’s the former secretary of state, already elected statewide, who ultimately has the head start, experts say. Yes, Clinton still isn’t well liked by many — a CBS News/New York Times poll listed her national unfavorability as the second-worst of a presidential front-runner since 1984. But Trump topped that list, with 57 percent of Americans saying they viewed him unfavorably.
Clinton does hold the advantage today. Yet it wasn’t long ago when the New York Post boldly put it out there: “Hillary could lose to Trump in Democratic New York,” citing internal campaign polling. And Bellafiore notes Trump’s surprise factor might just shore up additional support: “[With] things that you shouldn’t say, that were suicide comments, his numbers only go up,” he says. “My kids used to call it backwards day.”