U.S. Election 2020: Can Trump Hold the Rust Belt?

2016 Electoral College vote results (Wikimedia Commons, File:2016 Electoral Vote-Cartogram.png, check for applicable use requirements)

by Kyle K. Mann

Gonzo Today Editor-in-Chief

Electoral College for Dropouts

The cartogram map shown above Is distorted to show the relative numerical values of the 2016 Electoral College votes, the only votes that ultimately matter in a U.S. presidential election. 

The operational details of the Electoral College are poorly understood, if at all, by a large percentage of U.S. residents. In essence, it’s a state-oriented vestige from the 1700s that gives small and rural states power out of proportion to their populations. A state like California can vote with a plurality of millions, but that big majority still gives California the same amount of votes in the Electoral College as if the statewide popular vote is decided by a single vote. In 48 states, the Electoral College is winner-take-all.

As I have indicated elsewhere, I will not vote for either Biden or Trump, making me about as neutral an observer and commentator as is possible in the Twilight Zone political world in the U.S.A. of 2020. As this is written, the Democratic Convention is in the rearview and the Republican Convention has one day left. No, I could not watch any of the nauseating pablum.

At this point in late August it’s the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Trump won in 2016 that are the big 3 swing states. Assuming other states don’t flip, Trump can afford to lose one, maybe two of the big 3. Losing two, if it’s Michigan and Pennsylvania, that puts him below the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. If Trump keeps Pennsylvania, he can lose Michigan and Wisconsin, states he barely won in 2016. Again, this assumes no other states flip to Biden. So, what about the South?

Look Away, Dixieland

Florida seems likely to stay a red state. Trump resides there part-time in his infamous resort complex, and won the state by a reasonably large enough margin in 2016. The other many red states of the South, likewise. The polls as of mid-August are quite possibly inaccurate due to the “hidden Trump voter” syndrome, people who don’t admit to being Trump voters in public, and some of whom won’t admit it to anyone, even their spouses.

I’m assuming that in the South, white Republican partisans will be turning out for Trump in bigger numbers than in 2016. Virginia will likely stay blue, and a few other states may be close, but there are a lot of grumpy Caucasian voters in the south who are riled up by the clumsy attempt at impeachment, the ongoing controversy over the removal of Confederate statues, the ongoing riots in various American cities, and Christian and other cultural beliefs, some patently racist. 

From Florida to Texas, from Kentucky to the Gulf, the South appears solid for Trump.

Tighten Your Rust Belt

Ohio is also unlikely to flip from Trump. One can make a case for Arizona switching to Biden and indeed it might be close there, but in the end AZ seems most likely to stay red. And I don’t see Trump flipping New England. That brings us back to the Rust Belt, the former Blue Wall that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats took for granted in 2016, an act of supreme folly that cost them the Presidency and turned HRC into a scary has-been.

These are states that once had viable, thriving manufacturing economies, good-paying unionized jobs, and a decent standard of living. Much of that is gone now.

Rightly or wrongly, many Rust Belt workers blame the loss of their jobs to NAFTA, enacted under Bill Clinton. Many of these workers felt abandoned by the Democrats in 2016, and Hillary Clinton failed to make a single presidential campaign appearance in Wisconsin. In hindsight, that looks astonishingly foolish, but hindsight is, uh, 2020.

Do Trump voters in the Rust Belt now feel that Biden and the Democrats are now offering them policies that will improve their lives? I doubt it.

Known Unknowns

As of late August, other factors have yet to be determined. Unemployment, and unemployment benefits, remain a major issue, and it appears Trump has enhanced by executive action unemployment benefits to the tune of 300 bucks a week. As of now it appears Trump has outflanked the Democrats. For millions of potential voters, this will be a huge factor. It is also difficult to establish how alienated the progressive voters in the swing states will be, but some will vote third party as usual and many will refuse to vote at all, given that Biden is against Medicare for all and comically, against legalizing pot.

There is also the possibility of a hot war starting up in Venezuela or elsewhere. Or perhaps dramatically ramped up tensions in the New Cold War with Russia and/or China. Vote fraud by either party seems quite possible, either marginally legal, like throwing eligible voters off the registration rolls, or computerized flipping via the flip of a switch. Mail voting in the COVID-19 era also could be a factor in the outcome, and in fact COVID-19 itself, as a political football, is yet another unknown on the fast-changing political landscape.

The physical and mental health of either of these elderly candidates is a still-further wild card in the 2020 race. Biden, in particular, appears to be unable to complete a single unscripted sentence. Looking at that makes the Vice President position glaringly important. Both Pence and Harris have their own strong and weak points, to be brief. I’ll add that for me, both veep candidates scare me silly.

Keystone State the Key?

Rust Belt, Rust Belt. Will both campaigns focus substantial resources there? I certainly expect so, but a lot can still change. As I write, riots and deaths continue in Wisconsin, site of yet another controversy over police use of force. Michigan is right next door, a sprawling farming landscape with the “Sacrifice Zone” city of Detroit tacked on. The state was barely won by Trump in 2016, and could well be extremely close this time as well.

But looking at Pennsylvania is daunting. The state has a proud heritage. Site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the pivotal Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania’s borders hold an amazing mix of highly partisan urban and rural voters. From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and all the small towns in between, Pennsylvania is crucial to both campaigns, so much so that I’d go so far as to call Pennsylvania the new Florida on the 2020 Electoral College map. It’s going to be an incredibly tight race in PA: the Keystone State, indeed.

As a resident of the U.S.A., I can only hope that whoever wins, they win big enough to make the outcome of the 2020 election essentially undisputed. A disputed election in terms of Electoral College votes, with widespread and possibly well-documented charges of voter fraud, and even possible Supreme Court involvement, is going to make 2021 even more of a mess than 2020 has been.

And that, dear readers, has to be a deeply frightening prospect for all of us.

Kyle K. Mann

August 27, 2020


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About Kyle K. Mann 89 Articles
Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a contributor to, and publisher of, Gonzo Today. He lives high atop Topanga, California, where owls hoot and coyotes howl. A recording musician since the 70s and radio broadcaster in multiple fields in the '80s and '90s, Kyle sometimes supports himself part time as a Union film crew member in Hollywood. His articles and interviews first appeared in Gonzo Today in early 2015, and some of them are fairly good.