Tuesday, December 15, 2015

State of the Race: The Republican Primaries

We are just 49 days away from the Iowa caucuses, if you can believe it, and I'm guessing you can because unlike me you probably haven't spent the past year following the minutia of the Republican primaries.  I have a feeling, though, that this might be my last ranking before the votes are cast (though I'm not guaranteeing that as the race has felt weirdly fluid so often that I think that we could still have another frontrunner before then, though time is clearly running out).  As a result, here are, with Number One being the most likely to emerge victorious, my rankings of the men most probable to win the GOP nomination, possibly the last time I do this before anyone casts a ballot:

Honorable Mention: I moved this list to five a while ago, but I want to make sure you are aware that I kept a few people off of this list on-purpose.  Dr. Ben Carson may still have solid poll numbers, but the attacks in Paris kind of destroyed his momentum and while other candidates without any sort of foreign policy experience somehow gained, Carson's place in the contest appears to be nearly done, and I suspect that he'll bow out sometime around South Carolina when it looks like he won't win any states.  Carly Fiorina and John Kasich both have done what they need to do to get into an administration if the establishment nominee wins, and will also follow similar suit.  Finally, though, there's Gov. Jeb Bush, a candidate whom I spent most of the year assuming that he would make it somehow into the race but appears to have seen his ship pass-he will not be John McCain or John Kerry, sneaking in at the last minute to grab the nomination, as he lacks both his father's raw political ability and his brother's golden gift for retail politicking.  Bush will join the likes of Ted Kennedy, Robert Taft, and William Gibbs McAdoo as a close presidential relative who couldn't translate connections, name, and money into his own term in the White House (we'll see in less than eleven months if Hillary Clinton could also be on that list).

I am mildly obsessed with how good Paul Ryan looks with a beard...
which he will inevitably shave off if he becomes the brokered candidate.
5. A Wild Night at the Convention

Honestly, Bush probably could be here in fifth, as could Carson, but that's just making the small potatoes even smaller, and neither has a serious shot at the nomination.  Instead, though, if enough of the candidates on the edges of the stage score a few delegates, and the Top 3 here all split their counts large enough to not have the necessary delegate count to secure the nomination, almost anything could happen in Cleveland.  If the delegates get crazy enough, political nerds' dreams could be realized where a compromise candidate (someone like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan) could be offered up as a choice against Hillary Clinton.  You may argue it's impossible, but six months ago you would have said the same thing about Paul Ryan being the current Speaker of the House, and look where that would have gotten you.

4. Gov. Chris Christie

No one has had a better past few weeks, save the Number One guy on this list, than Chris Christie.  The guy whom many (myself included) called upon to drop out of the race has staged something of a comeback in New Hampshire, and in some polls is second only to Donald Trump.  Christie's position is tenuous, and he really needs to deliver New Hampshire in a major way (either first or a close second), but it says something that Jeb Bush would gladly trade places with Christie.  It's worth noting that until Bridgegate Christie was the sort of candidate that many in the establishment of the party would have gladly gotten behind, and were he to win there and watch Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush go nowhere, the party elites may rally behind the New Jersey governor, who does retail politicking well and would be practically genteel after the Trump circus.  It remains to be seen whether he could handle the harsh spotlight of a frontrunner spot (after all, Bridgegate and some of his other more questionable behavior isn't being discussed principally because no one thinks he'll be the nominee), but if Trump, Cruz, and Christie emerge the only victors from the first three primary states, what choice will the Chamber of Commerce have?

3. Donald Trump

I'll end with Donald in the place he's been at for months, even if the top candidates seem to be changing every twenty minutes, in the bronze medal position.  Trump may be the best reason we've ever had to not have a National Primary Day (something I've long espoused but may need to reevaluate)-he'd likely win the majority of the nation's Republicans, or at least a certain plurality, but politics is about playing the game you have, not the game you're dealt, and Trump is losing steam in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  It seems increasingly likely that Ted Cruz will best Trump in Iowa, which could hurt Trump's brand by making him the dreaded "loser."  Even if Trump emerges victorious in New Hampshire (certainly a possibility, though no guarantee against Christie and Rubio), he'll have Cruz, arguably the best strategical mind in the race right now, as his main opponent and Cruz knows he can get the establishment in that situation.  Trump has shown a terrifying underbelly of the GOP race, and will be given ample conversation by Cruz or Rubio whether they want him to be there or not, but don't think that he will be the one that will take on Hillary Clinton.

2. Sen. Marco Rubio

I almost put Trump in his place, but I just can't imagine a race where the establishment botches so badly they don't have a candidate.  The problem for Rubio isn't that everyone sees him as the nominee (most people do), it's that he doesn't really have an in at this point.  Waiting until Florida or Super Tuesday may have worked for Bill Clinton two decades ago, but in the age of Twitter and instant recycling of fame he needs one of the IA/NH/SC states to compete, and none of them seem to be budging in his direction.  If Christie, Bush, Kasich, or Fiorina were doing better, I'd surely put them here, but Rubio's still the most-likely candidate for the establishment and it's going to take actual votes to make me think otherwise.  However, he needs to break fast or his once promising career goes down the toilet.

1. Sen. Ted Cruz

The Texas senator tops this list for the first time ever, but can you blame me for thinking this has now become his race?  The guy that almost everyone in Washington seems to hate (but they'll be singing a different tune if he's the nominee), has managed to scoop up all of Ben Carson's support, but also has the money, savvy, and ground game in Iowa to make Trump look the fool-you can imagine that a media desperate to take down the magnate will crow quite loudly about Trump losing the first-in-the-nation, and Cruz has wanted to be the guy against Trump for the entire cycle, because he knows that he can scoop up enough establishment votes in that situation to go with his conservative credentials and win the nomination.  It's not for nothing that Democrats are clearly gearing up to take on the young Texan, and are already road-testing attacks on him as proxies against Trump.  Cruz could falter (Rubio, Carson, and Bush haven't been able to handle the limelight when compared to the impossible force of Donald Trump), but he's running stronger than any of them did at the time, and seems like he could become the next GOP nominee.

Those are my thoughts-what about yours?  Anyone think we're in for a Ted Cruz presidency, or are you still thinking that Donald Trump or Marco Rubio will be taking on Hillary Clinton?  Share your thoughts below!

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