It’s been a while since I’ve written about politics, but I thought I would throw my two cents on this circus of an election cycle.
The Republican Primary, as usual, is a total freak show. But Donald Trump adds a fun twist to watch. He represents the right wing’s dissatisfaction with the Republican Party establishment. His supporters eat up his ability to say whatever he wants without any regard for consequences, and his ego and self financing assure that the Party and donor class has limited ability to knock him down right away. Trump’s endurance is due to his anti-status quo nature against convential Party picks like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
But I am incredibly skeptical of the hype that Trump will be the eventual nominee for the Party. For one, it is still very early in a long season of primaries. Polls will swing and the GOP field will shrink, allowing blocks of supporters to switch camps and revolt. And second, the Party knows Trump will alienate far too much of a national electorate to have a chance of reaching the presidency. Even in a Bernie Sanders v. Trump hypothetical, I would still place odds on Bernie. Trump’s over the top rhetoric, archaic focus on issues like illegal immigration, and bafflingly unintellectual gut reaction ideas to every issue might be pure heroin to the rigid Republican primary voter, but will scare the living hell out of any general electorate. The Party establishment hates him for that, and they think that if he is their nominee, the Party’s credibility would be shattered, and worse, him on the ballot might wane their majorities in Congress and state legislatures.
And so I think a more likely scenario is that eventually, the Party pushback against Trump will keep him from being the nominee one way or another during primary elections. I think they would rather risk him establishing a third party candidacy than having Trump the face of the Party in a national election (though that is their worst nightmare). But he will be a thorn in the race until the very end, undoubtedly, given his frontrunner status and constant media spotlight.
Which brings us to the tortoises. There are three candidates who would be able to be competitive in a national election, and which party players might slowly coalesce behind as the primaries go on: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. Other once formidable players like Chris Christie or Ben Carson are too far behind in support, polling, and money, to catch up. They had their moment of spotlight. And guys like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, while garnering a zealous support from libertarian and hardline voting types, aren’t in line with the establishment enough nor populist enough to break the mold for a nomination.
Jeb Bush, even with nearly 100 million raised for his campaign, is lagging in the polls, and taking heat for running a terrible campaign. He’s not as exciting as Trump, and shares the name of a certain deeply unpopular former Republican. But he represents the establishment which can appeal to a broader base of people, his rhetoric hasn’t been over the top enough to hurt him down the road, and to repeat, he has that pile of 100 million in cash to carry him through what will be an early drought in the primaries for him. So long as he puts up a decent showing in the early states, and not something like 5th place, he should be able to hold on and make his appeal to voters who feel that Trump is not electable when the field narrows.
Marco Rubio has charisma and an ability to bridge support from both establishment and tea party types. Not to mention he would help broaden appeal to Latinos for the party. He isn’t a perfect candidate, but he isn’t on the fringe and looks like he will have a decent showing across the primaries as a fresher face on the national scene that is more exciting and inspiring than another Bush.
I list John Kasich because he is the most centrist and practical Republican in the race. In an ideal world, if Kasich were given the full support of the party, he would have a decent chance at winning the presidency in a general electorate. But he’s a fairly typical player who doesn’t generate the excitement of any other candidate despite his Party pedigree. And so out of the three I think would be best for the GOP, he is the least likely to go anywhere.
Given all of that, I think Rubio or Bush (though maybe Rubio a bit more) are the most likely to be nominated, and the most likely to perform well in a national election. Republicans fall in line behind their eventual nominee, as the saying goes, and despite the current mediocre standing of both of them, they will be able to outlast Trump who will fall from his pedestal eventually. The early stage of GOP primaries usually looks favorable for the exciting and wackier candidates, but it has always swung back to the more moderate voices in the field.
The Democratic race is a much easier story.
Martin O’Malley, while likeable and a solid Democrat to stand on the debate stage, does not have the hype or momentum to catch up to either Bernie or Hillary. His third place performance in every primary election will have him dropping out mid way through cycle.
Bernie at first seemed like a protest candidate for the Democrats. I think his goal in entering the race was to add his voice to the conversation of a race that had the boring air of inevitability for Hillary Clinton, and to bring more attention to populist issues like income inequality and campaign finance, as well as to push Clinton farther to the left on all the issues. His impressive campaign buildup and massive amounts of low money donors has made the race closer. But Clinton has the superior fundraising, campaign infrastructure, party support, and quite frankly is a much better campaigner and politician than Sanders is on the public stage. She is a juggernaut who wants what she lost in 2008. The competitiveness of that fight will be better for the Democrats to generate headline and excitement than a one candidate race, but eventually Clinton will probably be the nominee.
It’s a pretty unexciting beltway prediction, but I would predict a Rubio or Bush v. Clinton matchup for the general election. I don’t think the Republicans have much hope against a Clinton candidacy either way, which is why they are rooting for Bernie. The Democrats simply have the advantage currently for the White House in demographic and voting patterns, just as the Republicans do in the states and in Congress. And whether Bernie or Clinton were to be elected, they would not be able to push much of an agenda because of the pure opposition that would continue on from the Republican congress.
A Clinton presidency would largely be a status quo preserver of the Obama administration, largely relying on executive orders because it is unlikely the Democrats will take either chamber of Congress back. A Sanders administration would probably be less likely to pull the sorts of coalitions to get the marginal things that Clinton would get done. In my view, both are still better than a total rollback of the Obama administration that would come from a Republican presidency with both houses of Congress.
Unless the Republicans go into all out civil war over the issue of Trump as a nominee, this seems to be the most likely election day outcome based on where the race stands now. But of course, there are still 10 months of non stop campaigning until I’m proven either way. By no means is this your average cycle.