CLEVELAND — The most interesting window into how rank-and-file Republicans see their prospects in November comes in the form of a booth filled with giant touchscreens a few steps from the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena. Here, delegates and guests can predict with a few taps which states will go red or blue on Election Day.
The booth was a clever marketing ploy from Microsoft, and I spent a couple of hours Wednesday night lurking there, hoping delegates might be more honest about their election predictions to a touchscreen than they would in interviews.
With few exceptions, wild optimism reigned. Playing with the touchscreens, Trump supporters talked themselves into believing Trump would win in a landslide, carrying states that haven’t voted for a Republican president in this century — like New York.
Many Republican delegates are predicting a Trump landslide
"I’ll predict the winner," Mike Halleck, president of a board of county commissioners in Ohio, said confidently. As he poked at a tablet, the map of the United States turned into a sea of bright red, a Trump landslide of 378 electoral votes to Clinton’s 160.
Halleck was confident Trump would carry not just the swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia but also Michigan and Pennsylvania, which last voted for a Republican in 1988.
He paused for a moment before turning Nevada, which voted for Barack Obama twice, red: The "Hispanic issue" was a problem for Trump, Halleck conceded, but it might not be "as bad as people think." And, like many others, he turned New Hampshire into a tiny pocket of red in the deep blue Northeast.
"Donald Trump has a personality perfect for New Hampshire," he said. Plus, Halleck, who supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, pointed out that Trump "spent about three months up there last February."
Several other delegates had the same basic idea as Halleck. Trump would win every state Mitt Romney won in 2012, plus every state where the polls had ever so much as wiggled toward a Republican. Robin Armstrong, a Texas delegate who filled out the map with his 11-year-old son, Gabriel, foresaw victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, and Florida on top of Romney’s 2012 map:
Others made still bolder guesses. Mindy McAlindon, an Arkansas alternate delegate, and her husband guessed Ohio would stay blue — too many unionized workers — but that New Jersey, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida would all tip to Trump, as would his home state of New York. Trump would lose "inner-city Manhattan," Lance McAlindon conceded, but he’d surely make up his losses in the rest of the state.
Some of the maps made by delegates seemed like dispatches from a universe where old trends and demographic tendencies no longer applied — a place where Trump won New Jersey and Wisconsin, which haven’t voted Republican since the 1980s, yet lost Virginia. One self-described political strategist created the single most puzzling electoral map I had ever seen, envisioning an Election Day where Trump won California but lost Kansas and Alabama.
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These maps were really more of a fun party trick than a scientific survey. But they did illustrate a trend that’s been on display throughout the four-day convention — the Republican Party’s faithful are divided between those who think Trump is a savior and those who think he is more likely a disaster.
I saw both sides at the map stand. One Republican candidate for elected office predicted a devastating Trump loss, laying out a scenario in which Clinton took Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, and even Missouri. (He did have a Trump win in New Hampshire, the candidate’s home state.)
That candidate wasn’t the only one. A Ted Cruz supporter tapped around and gleefully predicted Trump would lose Utah, the Dakotas, and Nebraska. Others were Republicans who took a hard look at the electoral map and couldn’t see Trump doing as well as Romney in 2012.
Still, the pessimists seemed to be the outliers. Other more sanguine delegates assured me that Trump would turn out voters who haven’t typically shown up in the past, a conviction bolstered by anecdotes that almost seemed like urban legends — as when a Long Island Republican told me about a 91-year-old man who had never voted before but has already registered to cast a ballot for Trump this year.
Those anecdotes seemed to be dominating the mood at the stand. A Microsoft representative told me that the map had been trending redder as the day went on, making her job a little easier: On Tuesday, a passing Trump supporter had become enraged that the screen predicted a Clinton win.