With the results of the Iowa Caucuses in, I figured it was time for me to chip in with my thoughts and predictions on this year's election cycle. (If you don't want to read all this, you can skip to the "TO SUM UP" section below.)
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I've been thinking a lot about this since the campaign began in earnest last year. This is definitely shaping up to be an election unlike any we've seen in a long time, and I'm not just saying that because it happens to be the election we're in right now. Most of you know I dabble in history, and have even written a book about the history of American political parties, so I know my stuff here. 2016 is unique in a lot of ways.
Two things are pretty clear in this election cycle, and have been written about a lot, so I'll just mention them here. 1) The GOP is fractured and being dominated by its anti-establishment right wing. 2) Both parties are tired of politics-as-usual and are therefore seeing a lot of success from non-traditional candidates.
So how is all this going to play out?
Glad you asked. I'll tell you.
First of all, I wrote about Donald Trump once already - all the way back in July of last year, in a post entitled Why Donald is So Popular and So Totally Not Going to Win His Party's Nomination.
In that post, not only did I say that by the time the campaign started in earnest Trump would be a footnote, but I also said that we were going to have a Bush-Clinton race to the White House.
Most everything I said in that blog post has proven wrong.
Like I said, this is a unique election and past trends have been trampled upon. What I failed to remember when writing that post is an old adage that I ALWAYS live by: Never underestimate what the right wing is capable of.
At this point, only three candidates in the GOP primary really have a shot at winning the nomination: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.
All three are fairly far to the right of the political spectrum, though Rubio is more polished and sophisticated than the other two. To use a religious analogy, Trump and Cruz are hell-fire and damnation bible-beating fundamentalists, while Rubio is well-educated and has an air of respectability, but still basically believes all the same stuff.
I'd be mortified with my options if I were a Republican. The moderate Republicans have been shunted completely out of the picture in this election cycle. They're literally just a side-show.
It's not a whole lot different on the Democratic side. Bernie Sanders - who openly admits to being a Democratic Socialist - in other words, a true liberal - has performed much better than I expected him to, virtually tying the more moderate Hillary Clinton in Iowa.
Don't be fooled, however, by those hypothetical polls that show Bernie Sanders doing better in head-to-head match-ups with Trump, Cruz, et al., than Clinton. Those kinds of hypothetical polls are virtually useless for predicting anything, and when regular voters, who don't pay attention to primaries, figure out the kinds of things Bernie Sanders stands for, they will flock away from him like gazelles fleeing a lion.
I plan on voting for Bernie in the Kentucky primary, if he's still in the race then, but I don't believe he can legitimately beat any of the Republican candidates. I'm not saying it's impossible, I just wouldn't bet on it.
Again - never underestimate what the right wing is capable of, and I believe they would make an absolute art-form out of dismantling his socialist policies and convincing people he was a threat to American capitalist values.
America may be ready for a black president, a Latino president, or a woman president, but we're not ready for a European-style Democratic Socialist president. Also, if you think he could pass even 1% of the legislation he says he's going to pass, you're crazy. Short of a Democratic sweep of Congress (which isn't going to happen), a President Sanders would get nothing of value accomplished, although it would be interesting to see if he could work better with a hostile Congress than Obama has. Somehow I doubt it, because Congress, like the GOP as a whole, is being dominated by the right wing, and right wingers don't compromise, even within their own party, much less with a socialist.
If Hillary Clinton gets the nomination - and I believe she will - then I believe the only Republican who can beat her is Marco Rubio. The GOP will be making a big mistake if they nominate either Trump or Cruz to run against Clinton. I think Clinton will not only win, but win easily. A Clinton-Rubio match-up, however, would be a toss-up and would ultimately come down to whoever campaigned better.
I'm going to make two predictions for the outcome of the primaries, which may seem like stacking the deck, but my caveat is the old adage I repeated above: never underestimate what the right wing is capable of.
My gut feeling (which is based on Republican voters being sensible) is that we will end up with a Clinton-Rubio general campaign. Certainly, in any election year prior to 2016, this would be the obvious prediction at this point in time.
My second prediction, however, takes my adage into account. With the knowledge that right-wingers are capable of anything, then I think it's entirely possible we could end up with a Trump-Clinton general campaign. I never would have thought that was possible, but I do believe now that it could happen. I don't believe Ted Cruz will win the GOP nomination. He's too unlikable, even among significant numbers of Republicans. I think his win in Iowa is simply a reflection of the power of that state's evangelical establishment - the same evangelical establishment that gave victories to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in 2008 and 2012. We saw how much good those victories did for them. It won't do any better for Ted Cruz.
If Rubio and Clinton win, expect a typical general campaign, with Rubio pandering to right wingers and Hillary playing her game of identity politics.
If Trump and Clinton win, however, expect a circus. I predict that, if Trump wins, you will see at least one, and maybe more than one, major third party candidate enter the fray. Think of someone like Rand Paul or Chris Christie or Ben Carson or, possibly, even Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Despite recent rumblings from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg about an independent run, I don't think he will do it if Clinton wins the nomination. But I do think you might see one or more of the losing GOP nominees running for president as an independent. And that could cause all kinds of problems, although mostly just for Donald Trump. This is one of the reasons I don't think Trump has a prayer against Hillary. Even without a third party run by someone, I don't think Trump can beat Hillary, but with a third party candidate to siphon even more votes away from him, Trump loses and loses big.
If there are no major runs by third party candidates in a Trump-Clinton scenario, then expect voter turn-out to be low, and expect traditional third parties (Libertarian, Green, etc) to get higher than average vote totals. Also, expect your first woman president.
In my opinion, if Trump wins the nomination, the GOP has only one chance for winning the general election - and that's to get as many third party candidates as possible into the fray. Obviously, the party will openly support Trump if he wins the nomination, but that doesn't mean Republican operatives behind the scenes can't be encouraging the likes of Paul and Rubio and others to enter the race. If several candidates run in the general election, they could potentially garner enough electoral votes to keep Hillary from being able to get a majority. If that happened, a run-off would be held in the House of Representatives, which, of course, is held by Republicans. They could then vote for their candidate of choice (such as Rubio or Paul, or whatever third party guy they liked best). That would be the best way for the establishment to get around a Trump victory in the primaries.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time a political party has tried to win a presidency like that, although it's never worked in the past. There was one election that was sent to the House of Representatives (1824), but that was before the days of well-established, well-financed political parties. There were simply several guys who all ran and all won electoral votes and nobody got a majority. The Whigs attempted to stack the deck in 1836 by running three candidates against the Democrat, and the Democrats and their allies did it again in 1860 by running three against the Republican, but both efforts failed and the other party won a clear majority of electoral votes.
TO SUM UP:
Bernie can't win in the general election. Neither can Cruz or Trump. Neither Bernie nor Cruz are going to win their party's nomination. A Rubio-Clinton match-up would return this insane campaign to normalcy, while a Trump-Clinton match-up would almost certainly ratchet the insanity up by bringing in third party candidates. Clinton wins a Trump-Clinton match-up, while a Rubio-Clinton match-up will require further analysis down the road.
Check with me again this fall and we'll see if I'm right.