Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The State of the Race: The White House

I really, really, really should be sending out more reviews, but, alas, I'm feeling weirdly political for Oscar week.  Maybe it's the fact that this is that rare, once every four years situation where primaries and the Oscars collide (I'm not a fan of Chris Rock, but you know that he's going to excel at some of the political humor people will be expecting on Sunday night).  Also, it feels like the race is starting to settle on both sides of the aisle, and so I figured it was time to do another quick check-in on the state of the race, and who will be your next president.  Here's the list!

Not on This List: I continue to be baffled as to why Ben Carson is still running, or really what his goal is in this race other than to sell his book (maybe he has a contract with his publisher that he stays in until Super Tuesday?).  Either way, his presence here is idiotic.  The same can be said, quite frankly, for John Kasich, but at least there I understand a little bit where he's heading from since he did take second place in New Hampshire and has some upcoming states he might actually win (though every Rubio second place that comes up makes me extremely dubious on Kasich's long-term abilities).  Finally, names like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and Joe Biden aren't quite ready yet, though I can see feasible paths for all three if either A) a contested convention comes up or B) an indictment surfaces against Hillary Clinton.  It's unlikely, but not impossible.

5. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

The State of His Race: Cruz is in dire straits, quite frankly.  The likely back-to-back-to-back third places in the last three contests make Sen. Cruz's victory in Iowa look more and more like a Santorum-adjacent fluke than an Obama-like harbinger for things to come.  The senator still has a loyal group of supporters, and in some ways it's unfair to say that Marco Rubio is technically in second place to him since they're 50/50 in terms of what states they've outperformed each other, but at this point it's hard to imagine a way that Cruz, who doesn't seem to be gaining any traction going after Trump, takes this thing even if it goes to a contested convention.
What He Needs to Win: A miracle, quite frankly.  Either he needs Trump to implode (which feels like something that just won't happen) or he needs Rubio to suddenly have a major blunder like the debate prior to the New Hampshire primaries.  Either of those things seems unlikely, quite frankly, and Cruz's loss in South Carolina may have been the nail in the coffin. (Previous Ranking: 3)

4. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

The State of His Race: Uneasy.  Sanders had an impressive run for a number of weeks there, and let's not forget that he managed to nearly outmaneuver Clinton in Iowa and clobbered her in New Hampshire.  That being said, she's now taken Nevada by a clear margin, and looks like she's going to clobber Sanders in South Carolina.  Sanders has succeeded in moving Clinton to the left on several of his pet position areas, but he needs to start winning states and not just coming close soon, and the map doesn't offer a lot of great opportunities coming up for the junior senator from Vermont (Colorado? Minnesota? Massachusetts?).  Sanders is running a very strong race and has outperformed, but outperforming is not the same thing as winning, and he has to take states coming up in order for Clinton to lose.
What He Needs to Win: He either needs Clinton to implode (the email scandal or perhaps something with the Clinton Foundation are both options here, though I suspect the powers-that-be are not going to let Clinton go quietly into the night in that regard), or to have a bounce of strength in upcoming states that is neither apparent in the polls nor in NV/SC.  If Sanders doesn't start taking some states, he's at risk of becoming Bill Bradley. (Previous Ranking: 4)

3. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

The State of His Race: The only person jumping in our rankings, Marco Rubio has had a superb last few days on the campaign trail.  He scored two second place finishes above Ted Cruz, has scored endorsements from pretty much the entire GOP establishment, and saw one of his chief rivals Jeb Bush get out of the race (with John Kasich indicating he may soon do the same).  All-in-all, there has never been a better time in Rubio's campaign.  He heads into Super Tuesday with a lot of momentum...
What He Needs to Win: ...but not as much as Donald Trump.  That's the thing here, and what the GOP keeps getting wrong about the race.  You frequently see pundits flummoxed over why Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz aren't going after the frontrunner and instead knocking each other.  The reality is that these campaigns are still under the impression that a two-man race against Donald Trump is something they'll obviously win.  That's not the case anymore, though-we spent too much time in the pre-voting period of the primary it seems, and campaigns didn't know how to operate once the winds shifted and time became a valuable resource.  Rubio has to start winning states, and winning a lot of them because Trump is leading in every major Super Tuesday state and as polls have indicated, Jeb dropping out didn't necessarily translate to a loss for Trump.  Rubio is a very strong general election candidate if he wins the nomination, but he has only shown potential, and not results, in the battle for the GOP title so far. (Previous Ranking: 5)

2. Donald Trump (R-NY)

The State of His Race: This contest could not be going better for Donald Trump if he'd planned it all along.  Trump has now won three decisive victories in-a-row, has proven that pretty much nothing he does can relinquish him from his supporters, and heads into Super Tuesday with a major lead nationally and in pretty much every state (including Ohio and Florida, where Kasich and Rubio desperately need to get their house-in-order).  Trump and the GOP would never say this, but their sights have likely started to shift to the general election, where Trump seems increasingly likely to be on the ballot.
What He Needs to Win: For Cruz/Rubio/Kasich to splinter the vote just a little bit longer-if he can keep Rubio in particular at bay as long as March 15th, it will be too late for the establishment to rally and he'll likely score the needed delegates for the convention.  From there he's going to have to find a solid balance of keeping the GOP behind him, finding ways to score votes from at least one traditional Democratic constituency (young voters, maybe?), and absolutely destroy Hillary Clinton's reputation.  Every day, it seems more and more likely that Trump could be #45. (Previous Ranking: 2)

1. Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NV)

The State of Her Race: The last run-up I did of this race Clinton was in first, but quite frankly had seen finer days.  Just two weeks later, Clinton is once again in a commanding position, and is closer to her dream than anyone, including Donald Trump.  She's still got to handle Sanders, and run a race where it's clear she's serious about Democratic voters and not just looking at the general election, but she's doing extremely well in Super Tuesday polling, will have 75% of the state contests in a few days, and she seems likely to get the general election candidate she was hoping to compete against.  All-in-all, Hillary Clinton, who has been one of the most love-her-or-hate-her political figures of the past 25 years, is the person most likely to be president a year from now.
What She Needs to Win: For the momentum she currently has to sustain itself for three more weeks.  At that point it will probably be too late for Bernie Sanders to mount a comeback even if he takes a state like Massachusetts or Vermont along the way.  From there, she needs to find a way for the email scandal (or any new scandals) to die, and finally for her to find a way to turn moderates, independents, Sanders supporters, and perhaps even right-of-center Republicans onto her side if Trump is the nominee (getting Trump as her opponent is probably a need to win at this point as well, but her odds continue to go up in that regard).  Trump has been a wild card this entire election season, but he hasn't had to contend with actual swing voters, and it seems likely that they'll hold their nose for Clinton before they cast their vote for Trump.  And a vote is a vote is a vote when that happens.

There you have it-the rankings for now.  I still think that Rubio has a chance though one that will be greatly tested in the coming weeks, and I can see Trump very much winning in November if he gets the better of Clinton, but as of this moment Hillary Clinton seems most likely of the trio to get "President" in front of her name for the rest of time.

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