During the long year of a presidential campaign it’s pretty much obligatory for a political blogger to offer an assessment from time to time of where the horserace stands. So, for what they’re worth, here are my thoughts and predictions as of now.
There’s not much to say about the Democratic race. Bernie Sanders seems likely to win in New Hampshire and give Hillary Clinton a good run in Iowa, but the outcome remains a foregone conclusion: HRC will be the Democratic nominee.
The Republican horserace is more fun to watch, grotesque as it is. The two current front-running candidates are both manifestly unfit for the US presidency. Donald Trump is a loud-mouthed narcissist, a shameless hatemongering demagogue, and a chronic casual liar. He makes up for his ignorance of public policy—foreign and domestic–by bombastically assuring his credulous audiences that he will hire “the very best people” to advise him, and, besides, trust him: he’s very, very smart. Ben Carson is a more subdued narcissist who is even more ignorant of public policy than Trump, but makes up for it by…well, he doesn’t make up for it. It’s hard to know which of the two would be more dangerous in the White House, but I would say Carson: both men have a vastly inflated sense of their own capabilities, but Trump at least knows what he doesn’t know. Carson seems blissfully unaware of or at least indifferent to his detachment from reality. His serenity in ignorance may reflect his faith that God will show him the way.
That leaves only two other candidates with some chance of winning the nomination: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. * I agree with Election.com as well as the current betting that Rubio is the likeliest of the contenders to come out on top. Rubio is also the only one of the four leaders who is credible as a POTUS.
I see the likeliest end-game scenario pitting Rubio as the party “establishment” choice against Trump, with Rubio the eventual winner. Although Carson briefly leapt ahead of Trump in the polls, Trump has bounced back and I think will maintain his lead as Carson’s unfitness becomes increasingly, painfully obvious even to Republican voters. That will leave Trump as the dominant anti-establishment candidate, but he will still have to split the support of the craziest Republicans with Carson and Cruz. Trump, Carson, and Cruz together have been getting more than 50% support in the polls of Republican voters: if all three candidates’ supporters could coalesce behind Trump, he would get the nomination. But I don’t think that is likely to happen. In the end, enough Carson-Cruz supporters will decide that if they can’t have their man, they want a winner against Hillary, tipping the balance to Rubio.
Cruz is more consistently extreme ideologically than Trump and Carson. He’s not as obviously unfit as they are, but his considerable demagogic skills pale next to Trump’s, and he lacks the personal qualities that explain Carson’s particular appeal. (Many of Cruz’s own party colleagues in the Senate see him a self-serving, grandstanding asshole.) His best chance for the nomination is for both the Carson and Trump campaigns to implode, in which case he would be able to command the undivided support of the most crazed elements of his crazy party. Then he would be the one to beat Rubio. His strategy seems to be predicated on just such a scenario, but it’s a relative long-shot.
As I’ve said before, I think Rubio would be the Republicans’ strongest opponent for Hillary Clinton. The likelihood that Rubio will be the Republican nominee doesn’t make me happy. Like all the other Republican contenders, he would be a terrible president, but he is the GOP’s best chance to re-take the White House.
* We can already consign Jeb Bush’s campaign to the trash heap of history. I am happy to point out that in my first musings on the 2016 horserace, back in May, I prognosticated that “frontrunner” Bush’s campaign would come to an unexpectedly early end. Events are bearing me out. I also foresaw that Marco Rubio would be one of the final leading contenders, and he is indeed now the favorite. And, while I’m tooting my horn, I will mention that I also dismissed Rand Paul’s chances. On the other hand—full disclosure—I also thought that Scott Walker would be Rubio’s main competitor in the home-stretch. You can’t always be right.