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“A Long Slog Or A Quick Knockout?”: All The Ways The 2016 Primaries Could Go Once Voters Start Casting Ballots

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.

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.

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!


By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications, U. S. News and World Report, January 29, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Democratic Presidential Primaries, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“And They Can’t Seem To Shake It”: The GOP’s Conception Of The Republican Primary Is Laughably Wrong

Ever since Donald Trump vaulted to the top of Republican presidential primary polls, GOP strategists have clung to the view that he could be defeated the same way so many other insurgent candidates have: First, party actors would settle on a single candidate to represent the party’s institutional wing; then, slowly, that candidate would consolidate institutional and stakeholder support, until, by late January or some time in February, he would enjoy plurality support, if not majority support, of primary voters and eventually clinch the nomination.

This is how Mitt Romney fended off late favorites like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in 2012, and how, in slightly more chaotic fashion, John McCain climbed out of purgatory to win in 2008.

Two things changed in the 2016 cycle. First, Trump established dominance like no other insurgent candidate ever has. Though dark horse after dark horse charged into the race, none of them were able to truly split the reactionary vote with him. Second, no Romney or McCain-like figure ever emerged. Jeb Bush, who was tailored for that role, faltered almost immediately, paralyzing the establishment and fracturing its support among several (currently four) candidates with whom party leaders would be satisfied.

Nevertheless, the smartest minds in the GOP have maintained their faith in the old model. So committed to it are they that they’ve devoted a great deal of effort in recent days to damaging the first plausible competitor to Trump—Ted Cruz—because Cruz, equally detested and unelectable, also spoils their strategic analysis.

Nearly all available public evidence suggests this conception of the race isn’t just wrong, but laughably simplistic and far from representative of GOP voters’ preferences. The tragic thing for Republican leaders is that as poor as this strategic analysis seems to be, the other approaches available to them are just as bad or worse.

The fatal conceit of establishment Republicans’ strategy is its belief in a zero-sum relationship between the candidates that would satisfy them and the amount of support those candidates have within the GOP electorate. That a fixed segment of voters will behave in a way that perfectly mirrors the establishment’s political strategy. That if Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich enjoy a combined 25 percent support of Republican voters, then winnowing that “lane” down to one will yield a single candidate with 25 percent support.

If this were true, you’d expect any one of those candidates’ misfortunes to redound to the benefit of one or more of the others. Instead, poll after poll suggests that as other candidates falter, it redounds more to Trump and/or Cruz’s benefit than to anyone in the not-quite-hermetically sealed establishment cocoon.

Perhaps there are no “lanes” at all, or perhaps the lanes function very literally in that changing from one to another is easy and appealing when the one you’re in is backed up. The widely expected consolidation we were all promised is playing out more like a defection to leading, insurgent candidates. It may just be the case that voters whose first choice is a brash executive like Chris Christie, or a Cuban-descended avatar of the Tea Party like Marco Rubio, might see Trump or Cruz as a more natural second choice than another candidate with establishment backing.

Under the circumstances, you might have expected mainline Republican operatives to remain neutral in the Trump-Cruz feud, reflecting a last-best hope that the two would damage each other, or at least prevent one another from running away with the race.

Instead, terrified by the possibility that their theory of consolidation would work on behalf of a candidate (Cruz) whom they despise, many of these operatives have forged alliances of convenience with Trump, in order to arrest Cruz’s popularity before Monday’s Iowa caucuses. The problem is that this, too, is redounding to Trump’s benefit, rather than to the benefit of anyone else running.

If Cruz were to win in Iowa, where he was leading until this week, he would at least buy the establishment time to regroup after New Hampshire, where Trump leads mightily. Instead, the party’s faith in its own power to defeat Trump, mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano, has increased the chances that he will sweep the first three contests and never look back.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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