A Long Slog or a Quick Knockout?
Here are all the ways the 2016 primaries could go once voters start casting ballots.
Ready to really rumble.
By Peter FennJan. 29, 2016, at 3:00 p.m.+ More
I wanted to write this before any votes were cast.
I am not sure that predictions and prognostications do much more than make fools out of a lot of us these days. Lord knows, I have done enough of that in this space. But those of us in politics can’t resist. So here goes.
On the Republican side, polls and reason would dictate that Donald Trump triumphs in Iowa and probably New Hampshire. The angry vote is angrier than ever and folks don’t care much what he says, just how he says it.
This leads many Republicans to the first phase of their hopeful plan: vanquish Ted Cruz. Get him off the stage and out of the race as quickly as possible. We see many senior statesman and wise counselors seeing Trump as the candidate who can initially rid the Republican Party of a dangerous force. Former Sen. Bob Dole has endorsed Jeb Bush but supports Trump right now as the most likely candidate to “repeal and replace” a Cruz candidacy. The hope of many Republicans is that in the course of these early primaries and caucuses, up through March 1 and March 15, we will see a reasonable Republican rise to challenge Trump.
Possible. But let’s look at the likely outcomes.
Out of all these early Trump wins, I see three basic scenarios.
[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the 2016 Presidential Elections]
The first is one that many Republicans clearly fear: We may have gotten rid of Cruz but Trump begins to roll through the February states, goes into March with a big wind at his back and begins to rack up delegates and put himself in a strong position to be victorious in the key winner-take-all states like Florida, Illinois and Ohio. Before any organized establishment candidate can emerge from the pack, Trump becomes nearly unbeatable by simply winning delegates. This is part of his steamroller strategy – a lot of candidates stay in, split the vote and he rolls down the tracks. Result: a fairly early wrapping up of the nomination for Trump.
The second is more complicated. A lot of attention is given to the candidate or candidates who come in right behind the front-runners in the early states – second, third, even fourth place. Close finishers matter. This is much different from previous modern races for president. This allows a candidate to emerge as the alternative to Trump – a Rubio, Kasich, Bush, even Christie. This becomes what analyst Charlie Cook calls the battle between the establishment candidate and the insurgent candidate (or candidates).
The quicker one establishment candidate emerges, the more likely he can stop Trump. Many Republicans tire of his antics, most think he can not win, and congressional Republicans and candidates out on the stump are terrified that he will cost them their elections. He is the political Barry Goldwater of 2016, not the Ronald Reagan. This likely results in a coalescing around a Republican other than Trump.
The third scenario is a bit of a version of the second but is a longer slog, with candidates staying in the race into the spring and even June. In this scenario, Trump is the leader but does not pick up enough delegate support to go over the top and does not have a majority of the delegates going into the July convention. Other candidates win states and the unpledged delegates become more of a factor. Polling begins to show Trump’s weaknesses among independents in the general election and his claims of causing a sea change in turnout begin to look unrealistic. The folks who “are mad as hell and not going to take it any more” appear to be staying home and not voting. The convention turns to a conventional candidate and Trump fades.
Who the likely establishment candidate is may be the hardest prediction of all: I still don’t completely write Bush off; Rubio is possible but my gut tells me he doesn’t have it; Kasich, despite the fact he is not the best debater, has a lot to offer the Republican party in a general election; Christie has an outsider message and a bit of the “in your face” of Trump, but one senses it is forced and his baggage is still rolling off the carousel.
[READ: Editorial Cartoons on Donald Trump]
At the end of the day, I think we either have a fairly quick Trump wrap-up of the nomination or a very long slog. I still can not believe the Republicans will choose a Donald Trump (or a Ted Cruz), but this primary and caucus electorate is as extreme and radical a group as I have ever seen.
Turning to the Democrats, it’s not quite as much of a circus. But a similar scenario could unfold in the sense that it could be quick or turn out to be a long slog. In my view, the same outcome prevails: a Hillary Clinton nomination. If Clinton wins Iowa, I think it is over fairly quickly. Bernie Sanders then wins New Hampshire and some states in March, but the party pulls together and she wins the bulk of the states. There’s no winner–take-all on the Democratic side, so the two split delegates. But it becomes clear that voters are coming together around Clinton. Martin O’Malley is gone by the end of February in any case. And by the end of March Clinton is pulling away.
If Clinton loses Iowa and New Hampshire, doesn’t win South Carolina by as much as pundits believe she should and Nevada is up for grabs, this will go on for a while. But Sanders has had more or less a free ride, at least up until now. His stump speech, his Internet fundraising and his organization have taken him a long way. But now he will be researched, criticized and forced to defend his views and his past actions. Socialist won’t sell despite his efforts to redefine it. Having a hero like Eugene V. Debs won’t fly – heck, I liked him too in college and Herbert Marcuse as well, but I was 20 years old. There is no one better to lead a demonstration on the mall than Sanders, but when it comes to sitting in the Oval Office, Clinton better fits that chair. His message is strong and he has made Clinton a stronger candidate, but at the end of the day as we go to March and April and May and maybe even June, it will be Clinton. She can win and she can govern.
So there you have it – and as I say every election cycle, we come out with our armchair analysis and then the voters vote and nearly every time, surprise us!
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