For the last six months, I’ve looked at the Republican presidential primary with one key assumption: Donald Trump will not be the nominee. That assumption no longer holds up. Just after the Paris attacks, with Trump’s rebounding polls, for the first time I could see a viable path Trump had toward the nomination. Since then a couple things have changed that make me think that it’s not just possible but perhaps even likely. I’m not predicting it. I just think it’s a very real possibility.
As I see it you have only five candidates who are even remotely in this race: Bush, Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Trump. Of those, I think Bush and Carson are very unlikely – Bush because he’s so abjectly failed to get any electoral traction whatsover, Carson because of inherent weirdness and his fall in the polls post Pyramids, phony life history controversies.
That leaves us with Cruz, Rubio and Trump. Trump is not just not faltering. In the context of various racist comments, phony memories of cheering Muslims and more, he is not only holding his own but appears to be building his lead only two months before the beginning of the primary season voting. As various polls and focus groups have suggested, there’s seemingly nothing that can come out about Trump’s past and nothing he can say going forward that can shake his hold on his existing constituency. What that doesn’t take into account is that voters can simply shift as it comes time to actually vote. In many ways that’s the Howard Dean story. That is still a possibility. But I don’t think there’s any evidence we have that should lead us to expect it – other than the fact that this sometimes can happen.
Next we have Rubio. As I’ve argued in a number of different posts over the last couple months, I’ve thought for some time that he was the most likely nominee, simply by a process of elimination from the plausible candidates. I still think he has a decent shot. But his path and my thinking have been complicated by the rise in support for Ted Cruz. We have a new CNN poll out today of the national GOP primary race. It shows Donald Trump at 36% support, fully 20 points ahead of the next runner-up. The key is the runner up. That’s Ted Cruz at 16%. Carson is at 14% and Rubio at 12%. Everyone else is in the low single digits.
After the Bush collapse, I figured Rubio would move into the position of establishment hope against Trump. But he seems to be having a difficult time making that move. Meanwhile Cruz is making a big move in Iowa (sort of doesn’t matter – lots of people who lose win Iowa) and more importantly nationwide as well.
Ben Carson will not be the nominee. That leaves us with Trump, Cruz and Rubio. The longer this goes without clarifying as a de facto two person race, the the more likely it is that Trump will win the nomination. For the GOP and GOP congressional candidates Cruz might be almost as bad as Trump. Rubio is the obvious choice as someone who can credible take on Hillary Clinton and, even if he loses, would be a perfectly palatable standard bearer to run with. But he does not seem to be making the move. Could. But hasn’t yet.