Sunday, March 06, 2016

The State of the White House

Yesterday we chronicled where the current state of the Senate is in the United States, with the Democrats seeming to be in a strong position to take advantage of a Donald Trump nomination (or, potentially almost any nominee in the Republican race at this point), but with Super Tuesday and Super Saturday now on the books, I figured it was time to look at the Top 5 names that are most likely to become president.  It's worth noting that no one, not even our number one candidate on this list, has had a flawless week-very few candidates won states they weren't expected to take (sure, Clinton took Massachusetts and Cruz took Maine, but those are pretty small victories, and the delegate math still remains soupy for pretty much every candidate save one).  That being said, it's still pretty clear which candidates have gained and lost.

Not on the List: I've decided for the first time ever this cycle to take Sen. Marco Rubio off the list entirely.  Rubio has been the promise candidate for months now, the guy who seemed tailor-made for the general election.  He makes sense on paper (swing state, handsome, charismatic, an up-and-comer who can appeal to general election voters who might otherwise be leery of going to the Republican Party right now), and yet he's never connected.  Every move on the campaign trail feels scripted and over-analyzed.  In many ways Rubio has Chris Christie to blame here, who gave Trump and the media a Rubio-bot narrative that he hasn't been able to shake, but he hasn't won a single state, and the only state that's on the horizon he has a shot at is his home state and there he's down by double-digits to Donald Trump in a winner-take-all situation.  This is not the makings of a man who is going to be elected the nominee or president-at this point he seems to be battered more than Jeb Bush was when he was forced out of the race.  Rubio probably should stay in if only to redeem himself by winning his home state (or from a strategic standpoint, to theoretically deny Trump his nomination), but if I were him I'd probably be courting Cruz or Kasich to run as their veep since that's the best that he could do at this point since he can't run for the Senate again (and considering his anemic attendance record, it's questionable whether he'd even win at this point).

Secondly, I don't see how Bernie Sanders can get the nomination at this point.  Despite having a pretty lengthy list of states that he's won so far (Marco Rubio would kill to have that list), Sanders is down by a significant amount of states with high populations and minority voters, and doesn't seem like he has a way to connect with African-Americans that hasn't already been tested on the campaign trail.  He's running a campaign that will continue to get press (he's won too many contests for that not to be the case), but he's in a worse position than even Hillary Clinton was in 2008, and we all know how that turned out.  Sanders best hope is to get a moment, like Clinton's in 2008, where he gets to cast the decisive vote to make her the nominee, creating a bridge between the two and therefore getting to look the hero.  I suspect he's already resigned himself to that, and it's not the worst place his campaign could have gone.  When all is said and done, he'll emerge a winner even if he's a loser, which is more than most of the candidates in this blistering contest can boast.

Finally, Michael Bloomberg.  The former NYC mayor is looking more-and-more likely to jump into the race, but I don't see him ever being president or anything other than a spoiler for a few reasons.  One, he's aloof and seems so very awkward once you shine the light on him a little harder.  Two, his manipulations of his own media empire to help himself out is going to look very distasteful on the campaign trail, bordering on the unethical.  And third, are conservatives who can't stand Trump going to go to someone as liberal as Bloomberg, and why would Democrats abandon Clinton in favor of a man who has such robust ties to Wall Street?  There's no place for Bloomberg other than to potentially tip the race (still not sure what direction), so he stays off the list of people who could actually become #45.

5. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)

"Kasich has won no states," Rubio supporters protest, but there's two big differences between Kasich and Rubio.  One is that Kasich has the potential to win future states, namely Michigan and Ohio, and the latter is a winner-take-all pot that will give him some leverage at the convention.  The second, and far more important, factor is that Kasich hasn't got dozens of ugly clips of him now from a misguided attempt to emulate Donald Trump on the campaign trail.  Kasich has remained the grown-up in the room, not sinking to the Trump/Cruz/Rubio level on the campaign trail and during debates.  That may not matter that much on the campaign trail this season, but when you get the grown-ups of the party into the same room, you're going to have a situation where they're looking for a viable option that isn't tainted and could actually beat Hillary Clinton.  In that situation, Kasich is a helluva lot more attractive than Rubio and I could see him taking the nomination, and thus having a shot at the White House. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

4. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)

I've resisted it for months, but I'm finally going to put the brokered convention on the list, because if Rubio and Kasich stay in the race any longer (and they will), this is looking harder and harder for Donald Trump to tie down prior to the convention, and in that case anything can happen.  It's hard to imagine Cruz or Trump not getting the top spot, admittedly, and even harder to figure out a way that they are able to convince their delegates that their guy should relinquish it to someone not in the race, but in a party that has no one else to rally around, everyone loves Paul Ryan.  Handsome, smart, and politically-principled, he's the only candidate who has mainstream appeal while no one can argue he's not a true-conservative.  It would be a major moment of grace for Cruz (who would surely negotiate at least VP), Rubio, and Kasich, but Ryan is probably the only candidate in the race that they could all settle around at this point, and is evidenced when he became Speaker, he's not above being wooed. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

3. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cruz moves up the list primarily because he did something John Kasich and Marco Rubio haven't been able to do: win multiple states.  While they all fit a profile of closed primaries and caucuses (or his home state), it's still a set of wins that his non-Trump competitors haven't been able to come to the table with, and I think that's worth noting.  Cruz needs to remain in front of both Kasich and Rubio for the next few weeks until they aren't totally viable, and I think he sees that his path is a contested convention where he and Trump have too many delegates for the establishment not to be able to bring a Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio to the table as a compromise.  Cruz is doing that, however, while going after Rubio in Florida, a ruthless and risky move in the state as it likely won't benefit the Texas senator, but instead simply hand the state to Trump.  However, Cruz needs to pull an inside straight at this point to become the nominee, and that involves him being the only true option against Trump, while still holding the New York businessman down enough for there to be an actual option between the two at the convention.  I can actually see that happening even if it's a tough scenario to achieve, unlike any scenario with Rubio, hence why Cruz is on this list and Rubio isn't. (Previous Ranking: 5)

2. Donald Trump (R-NY)

The New York businessman's chances in the primary are hard to gage.  At this point, there is still a feasible way that he could win the nomination before the convention, though he'll have to perform well enough in Florida, Ohio, and Michigan to do so and it's worth noting that he saw a major drop-off in support yesterday compared to even Super Tuesday.  It's possible that Trump's all-press-is-good-press strategy hit a wall with the media and GOP ravaging him, not to mention the KKK/David Duke thing finally being an opaque enough controversy that Trump himself can't even overcome it.  We'll see in the next week if Cruz starts to take Trump supporters instead of just Rubio supporters.  Still, it's worth noting that he's probably the only candidate left in the race who can make it to the convention without it being contested, and he only gains if Rubio is out of the race after Florida because he'll pick up a chunk of those supporters in addition to Cruz.  Plus, even if he's a bit short it's going to be a rough sell for the Republicans to not give Trump the nomination if he heads into the convention with the most delegates/states, which seems quite likely at this juncture.  His general election chances are dicey, of course (there are large pockets of Americans who wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton if Lucifer himself were against her), but it's hard to imagine that the Trump we see on the campaign trail, even transformed, would be able to pick off enough general election voters in states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania to actually win the White House.  That being said, he's still the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee and with that comes at least a 47% chance at the White House. (Previous Ranking: 2)

1. Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

Clinton, alongside Cruz, is the only candidate in my estimation to have gained since we last did a run-up of the race a few weeks ago.  It seems near certain that Clinton will win the nomination, and probably by a larger margin than Barack Obama did in 2008.  She has the advantages in the electoral college, is going to be seen as the grown-up in the room to independents and moderate-leaning Republicans come November, especially compared to the ridiculous Trump and the extremely conservative Cruz, and thanks to Barack Obama she has an electoral map and coalition that already leans in her favor.  In some ways it feels almost as if Hillary Clinton is George HW Bush in 1988, the heir to a relatively popular president who has the advantage of a splintered primary where a non-politician (in that case, Jesse Jackson) nearly toppled a rather uninspired frontrunner (Dukakis), and the party never could get it together after that.  Clinton has disadvantages (there are voters who would rather jump off a bridge than vote for her, and she's not one that will inspire a huge number of younger Democrats to get out and vote-plus the email and the Clinton foundation scandals hang large), but these disadvantages are hardly comparable to what Cruz and Trump bring to the table.  As a result, her shot at history has never looked this solid. (Previous Ranking: 1)

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