Joe Biden won three states by less than 1 point in 2020: Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.
If Donald Trump can flip them in November — he took all three in 2016 — he’ll be back in the White House this time next year.
Can he do it?
First he has to hold every state he won last time.
Trump’s narrowest victory was in North Carolina, where his margin was a little more than 1.3%.
His home state of Florida was his next-closest win, with a margin around 3.4%.
Biden, by contrast, has six states to defend where he prevailed by less than 3 points, including Pennsylvania, which he won by not even 1.2%.
The Keystone State’s Sen. John Fetterman might be saving Biden’s re-election: By condemning the Hamas-sympathizing left and corruption in the Democratic Party — at least where his colleague from New Jersey, Sen. Bob Menendez, is concerned — Fetterman has reminded Pennsylvanians of Democrats’ claims to the political center.
But Trump can get the Electoral College votes he needs even without Pennsylvania.
One potentially decisive question is whether Biden has lost the momentum that carried him to his narrowest victories in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.
In 2020, the sitting president got the blame for COVID, the recession it caused and the George Floyd crisis in our cities.
The buck stopped with Trump.
Today it’s Biden who can’t evade responsibility for everything going wrong, from the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East to Americans’ continuing dissatisfaction with the economy.
Yet to capitalize on this, Trump’s team must run a more disciplined campaign than the disastrous one Brad Parscale led in 2020.
As irritating as he might find the irony, Trump stands to benefit from the primary challenges Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley mounted.
DeSantis forced Trump to get serious about mobilizing to win — and win big — in Iowa.
By drawing more independent voters into the New Hampshire GOP primary, Haley gave Trump a taste of the difficulty he’ll face with such voters in November.
And by staying in the race, even when her odds are bleak, Haley spurs Trump’s campaign to work harder than it otherwise would.
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The campaign resents the expense, naturally, but the practice it gets turning out the base to beat Haley by the widest possible margins is valuable training for the general election.
It’s precisely the kind of experience the Trump campaign needs to keep North Carolina in the red column and maximize turnout to win back Georgia.
That Haley, like DeSantis before her, has no path to the nomination is an indication of how unified the GOP is — voters are conclusively committed to Trump.
Yet the fact there are challenges at all is a reminder the party does still contain other personalities and centers of power, and in several critical states, Trump needs the full cooperation of Republican leaders with whom he has frosty (or worse) relations.
Alienating DeSantis in Florida or prolonging a feud with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp risks courting defeat in November.
So does writing off those in the Arizona GOP who still revere John McCain.
Political differences are one thing, but where disagreements on substance are most intense, reconciliation on a personal level — or, at a minimum, avoidance of gratuitous offense — is absolutely necessary for party unity.
People who agree with you might vote for you even if they don’t like you; people who don’t won’t, unless they feel honored even in dissent.
There was no love lost between George W. Bush and Pat Buchanan in 2000, but Bush pleaded with Buchanan to stay in the GOP — and Buchanan has said that when his Reform Party candidacy looked like it might cost Bush the votes he needed to win Palm Beach County (and hence Florida and the general election), he got on his knees and prayed for Bush to prevail.
Trump needs his rivals on their knees, too — not in submission but in prayer for his success.
Even so, geography, rather than generosity, is the principle that should guide his vice presidential pick; he can handle conciliation personally.
What Trump needs most is a running mate who can put into play states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, at least one of which Trump must win even if he gets Georgia and Arizona.
Is Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio the populist pick to rouse these Rust Belt states hit hard by globalization?
Or does Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York give Trump a much-needed boost with women?
Can South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem combine Midwestern appeal and the women’s vote?
A strategic choice for VP and a party unified in the battleground states, plus Biden’s dismal record, might be all it takes to turn the 2020 map back into Trump’s winning 2016 map.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.