In lieu of a fully-formed article, I will be commemorating shopping period with a series of disconnected lines of thought, some of which will never be continued.
I don’t buy that being Ted Cruz is the way to beat Ted Cruz, but that seems to be the strategy Rubio is pursuing. Refusing to repeat past criticism of Cruz’s shutdown tactics in 2013 and instead attacking Cruz as an “inauthentic, calculating” conservative, Rubio is going for an outflanking strategy. This leaves a gaping hole in New Hampshire on the “establishment” side, and could prevent voters from bolting Bush and Kasich at the last minute. On the contrary, Kasich seems to be winning modest victories in the Granite State, including newspaper endorsements in Portsmouth and Nashua.
On the Last Debate
Trump is getting better at handling the debate stage, and the attacks from Cruz seem less effective as a result. We are also seeing a definite split where Christie and Rubio are running as fast as they can to emulate Trump and Cruz, respectively, while Bush and (especially) Kasich are playing hard for the New Hampshire moderate voters. This can’t help the problem of a split field. I have long felt that the strongest of the four in Iowa (probably Rubio, maybe Christie, with the tacit support of Gov. Terry Branstad) would get a major boost in New Hampshire and help break the “establishment” deadlock. But if those candidates have thoroughly alienated the 17% of Granite State voters who backed Jon Huntsman in 2012, that dog won’t hunt.
The faux frontrunner is now the real frontrunner, and I couldn’t have been more wrong over the last six months on the subject. With 60 percent of Republican primary voters stating that they would consider voting for Trump, he leads Rubio in head-to-head national polls. So, he can no longer be pigeonholed as a candidate of a passionate minority. Trump can win. The only question is will he? Ted Cruz has long seemed to think that the Republican establishment will come to his side in a Cruz-Trump showdown. But with major actors like Iowa Governor Terry Branstad denouncing Cruz and staying mum on Trump, this seems misguided. If Trump wins Iowa, it’s hard to see him not picking up a head of steam through New Hampshire and South Carolina… and from there, he looks awfully hard to stop.
I think I short-sold Bernie in my December power rankings by dropping him to 5%. He’s doing remarkably well for a candidate in a Democratic primary whose support is so trapped in the silo of white liberals. On the other hand, he runs into a brick wall after New Hampshire if he can’t change that, and Hillary Clinton is effectively (see last weekend’s debate) cloaking herself in President Obama. If Bernie wins Iowa, that gives him some legs. But if he only takes New Hampshire, it’s tough to see him pulling through the gauntlet of South Carolina, Nevada, and the ‘SEC primary.’
On a Contested Convention
I think the odds of a contested convention have decreased dramatically now that Trump is regularly sitting in the mid-to-high 30s. In a true three-candidate race, a still-strong Trump is going to be winning primaries left and right with 40% of the vote. Either he sweeps up the winner-take-all states and wins or the opposition coalesces in a hurry. Back when it seemed like Trump, Cruz, and Rubio would all around 30%, I could see a convention battle. Now, it doesn’t seem likely at all that that sort of three-way split would materialize.
On Sarah Palin
I’m not getting paid enough (or anything, for that matter) to talk about Sarah Palin, beyond noting the irony of a vice-presidential candidate-turned-reality star endorsing a reality star-turned-presidential candidate.
Prepare for some fireworks, people. The next few weeks are gonna be crazy, and I’m not going to try to predict elections that can (see Santorum, Rick in Iowa, 2012 and Clinton, Hillary in NH, 2008) turn on a dime in a matter of days.