Trump vs Clinton: five ways the US election could play out

America is voting after a star-studded climax to an election campaign that could elect either the first female president of the United States or a celebrity billionaire who threatens to rewrite the rules of politics forever. The drama begins at 8am Hong Kong time Wednesday when the first US east coast polling stations close. But, after all of the tumult and tedium of a long, ugly presidential campaign, Election Day is all about which candidate can win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes. Here’s the five scenarios:

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 8:54pm

The Clinton crush

In which Donald Trump loses every state with even a hint of Democratic flavour and drops a few big Republican ones too – the fantasy scenario for every American who yearns for his/her sense of shock and offence at Trump’s candidacy to be reflected in the electoral result.

Trump not only loses the big battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, he haemorrhages support everywhere, losing Iowa, losing Colorado, and then – in the stroke that places the election among the all-time routs – losing in states where Republicans have simply never lost in the modern era. African American voters in Georgia turn out in Obama-era numbers to defeat him; Hispanic voters do the same in Arizona. In Texas, second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants unite with educated white voters, including a lot of moderate Republicans, to deliver the first Democratic presidential victory in the Lone Star state since Watergate.

Clinton even beats Trump in Utah, where pious Mormon voters decide at the moment of truth that no, they cannot vote for a candidate who wants to “grab them by the p***y”. Republican leaders get on TV the day after the election and declare that the nomination of Trump was a historic mistake. Thousands of words are spilled haranguing Republicans for nominating a candidate whose appeal to the base may have been strong but who obviously was not a serious contender to lead so great and diverse a nation.

The Trump bank shot

In which Trump wins the 270 electoral college votes he needs to grab the keys to the White House with a surprise victory in the upper Midwest, despite failing to convert in the more familiar battleground states of Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In this squeaker scenario, Trump owes his electoral life to white voters – especially rural white voters. As the night grows late, Trump realises that he has lost Nevada and Colorado, owing to a strong Hispanic vote against him both places. He has lost Virginia because there are too many people in the DC suburbs who have some actual experience of the federal government and who are horrified to their teeth at the idea of his taking the White House. Surprisingly strong turnout among Trump supporters in the white working-class communities of Pennsylvania has failed to push Trump over the Democratic wall of Philadelphia and its suburbs. But Trump has performed strongly all night in the battleground states that count, winning Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa.

And then, luck strikes: Trump picks up a single electoral vote in northern, rural Maine, one of two states that split their electoral votes. Finally, against all odds and the predictions of most polls, he pulls off an upset win in Wisconsin, which has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988, but which is more homogeneously white than its neighbouring states, where Hillary Clinton ends up having failed to inspire African American voters in Milwaukee to turn up on election day, and where Republican governor Scott Walker’s political machine has once again succeeded.

The Clinton cliffhanger

In which Democrats’ blood pressure climbs to 220/140 before Florida finally reports a conclusive win for Clinton at 3am, handing her 29 electoral votes and the White House.

This one won’t be pleasant. Clinton has had some nice, expected victories over the course of the evening, bagging Pennsylvania and Virginia and the states she was supposed to win in the upper Midwest, and seeing all the talk of a strong early vote for Democrats in Nevada come true. The people who were supposed to vote for her are voting for her – women, non-white voters, educated white voters – and there’s no reason she won’t win. But the night has been interrupted, over and over, by signals that have made Democratic eyes twitch. First, the independent voters of New Hampshire have responded to Trump’s late-race momentum, and concluded that no, they’d really rather not have a Clinton dynasty in American politics. They give Trump four electoral votes. Then Trump wins North Carolina, where there admittedly are plenty of white Republican voters, where Republican efforts to quash voting have succeeded and, let’s be honest, if Barack Obama lost it in 2012, how was Hillary Clinton supposed to win it?

It gets really white-knuckle, however, when the Colorado result comes in. A large share of voters in Denver’s suburbs are registered independents, and maybe they’ve had the same kind of feeling New Hampshirites have had: enough with the Clintons. So Clinton stalls out at 266 electoral votes. Trump gets to 243. And all eyes are on Florida. Non-white voters in Miami haven’t turned up at the polls as they might have. Meanwhile, turnout among white voters in retirement communities has proven absolutely crushing. The Puerto Rican vote around Orlando seems to have failed to materialise. And they’re still counting Tampa and St Petersburg. Then final results in Broward County, where Obama won by more than 260,000 votes in 2012, come in, and the state is clearly Clinton’s. Trump cries foul but nobody can hear him through the cacophony of popping corks.

The Al Gore

In which America gets the constitutional crisis implicitly promised the moment Donald Trump, who has been involved in more than 4,095 lawsuits, according to one analysis, set foot on his golden escalator. The election turns out to be close – closer than anyone would have thought. Maybe Trump wins New Hampshire and makes a sweep of the other battleground states, save Colorado, to produce a 269-269 electoral vote tie. Or maybe Florida, which even in the relatively placid year of 2012 took four days to report its election result, comes down to a razor-thin margin like the one that separated Al Gore and George Bush in 2000, resulting in recounts, fights over absentee ballot postmarks, a refusal to concede on either side and, ultimately, the mother of all legal battles.

The 2016 election cycle has proven its ability to soar beyond the human imagination, and surely no mere mortal can comprehend how hairy things could get. The most horrible scenarios appear to lie down the path of an electoral tie. What happens then? Nobody really knows. While the constitution prescribes that Congress shall step in to resolve such a tie, and while a couple of early 19th-century elections were close enough for Congress to get involved, there really are no applicable precedents. Since presidents are technically chosen by electors who meet to cast formal votes in December, it is conceivable that a so-called “faithless elector” might break a tie in favour of, say, Clinton, by going against the will of his or her state’s voters. But then Congress must formally count the ballots in January, and if but one senator and one representative disagree with the result, each chamber must vote on the validity of the count. You see where this is going. This is a Congress that cannot so much as tie its shoes, much less leap constitutional hurdles.

Would a result ever emerge on the other side? Would the supreme court get involved, again? (When they’re still one justice down? What if they tied, too?) Who would ultimately prove more litigious, Trump or the Clintons?

The Make America Great Again

Britain Brexited. The Cubs won the World Series. And guess what? These things happen in threes. It’s 2016. The age you thought you were living in is yesterday. This is the age of reality television, the time of Trump. And any fool not foolishly attached to her or his notions of the false-glorious yesterday could see it coming. American voters unbothered by the worst of what Trump had to say simply voted for him. But millions of additional voters – suburban moms, second-generation immigrants who have already paid their dues, Republicans who came to their senses, and men everywhere – found that when they stepped into the polling booth, they either couldn’t check the box for a relic of America’s political past – a woman, no less – or they weren’t as bothered by Trump’s words, and by the actions of his supporters, as they thought. After all, he’s not serious about wanting to deport millions of American residents, just as he wasn’t serious when he said what he did about women, wasn’t serious when he impugned American democracy, wasn’t serious when he said Mexicans were rapists and Muslims were terrorists, wasn’t serious when he called for a nuclear Saudi Arabia and wasn’t serious when he said journalists should be silenced and when he said, over and over, that Hillary Clinton should be in prison.

Trump’s big night begins in New Hampshire, continues shortly thereafter in Virginia and North Carolina, rolls through Iowa and Ohio and then – earlier than anyone could have thought – through Florida, where he maintains a second home. Nobody can believe it when Trump wins Pennsylvania – it turns out that African American voters in Philadelphia stayed home, and a surprising number of centrists in the Philly suburbs decided that no candidate who loved golf so much could be so bad. Trump wins Colorado, maybe misses in Nevada and misses in the upper midwest – but by then he’s over 300 electoral votes, so who cares? Hang the White House with a big gold T, and brace yourselves for whatever may be.