Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Fight For The White House: What Now?

Rubio: The Little Warrior

So - what now?

Cruz narrowly won Iowa. Trump easily secured New Hampshire.

And behind them, the rest of the Republican field kept struggling, without any real breakthroughs (or definitive break-downs, I would suspect*).

Yes, Rubio briefly surged in Iowa, but was then brought back to earth in New Hampshire. Yes, Kasich asserted himself  in New Hampshire, but only to the extent that he managed to lift himself a few points clear of the other establishment candidates.

After two states,  there will also no doubt be a couple of candidates who will step down  (Christie and Fiorina spring to mind), but even so, six or so contenders will be left in the race.

So going into South Carolina, then Nevada, and then, of course, Super Tuesday (March 1st), it seems to fair to assume the middle will still be muddled for a while yet.

As a result, now might be the time to make a few comments about the nomination process that's unfolding. Who knows, it might even allow one to make a guess as to what's coming.


First, let me backtrack a little.

By early February 2012, it seemed clear that Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination. He had just won Florida and, in doing so, had given himself a practically unassailable lead in the delegate count. He still had Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to contend with, but for all practical purposes, the race was done and dusted.

Nevertheless, it took till April for Santorum to fold up shop, and Newt Gingrich didn't call it quits till May. That's a period of some three months where Republicans were still battling Republicans for no good reason whatsoever.

Given this, it's no surprise that the GOP decided to amend the process for the 2016 cycle by incorporating a few changes. It shortened the nomination calendar, and agreed to a smaller number of debates. It also allowed, in the first weeks of the nomination process, only proportional results, and then compensated this by setting the bar high from March 15th onwards (on which day Florida votes): from that moment on, it would be winner take all.

There were two ideas behind this. The first one was to allow Republicans to choose their nominee earlier rather than later. The secondary was to favour the establishment candidate of the day, that candidate in all likelihood being Jeb Bush.


Back to the present.

The nomination process, as it currently stands, may well determine an early nominee. But if that were to be the case, it now seems clear that the nominee will not be Jeb Bush, or any other establishment candidate. Instead, it will be Donald Trump, or conceivably Ted Cruz. In this sense, the RNC may simply have failed.

An alternative - and perhaps more likely - scenario is that the nomination battle will continue on well past the March 15 deadline. If that happens, however, it will not be a couple of upstarts trying to take down the establishment leader. It will, on the contrary, be a desperate establishment trying to subjugate Trump and Cruz.

The first option means a quick and convincing defeat for the establishment GOP. The second option may lead to a similar outcome, even if it isn't quick at all. However, it might - just might - lead to the coronation of a candidate who actually is acceptable to the GOP establishment. 

The question then rises: who would that be? There are realistically only three options left: Bush, Kasich and Rubio. And of these three, at present only Rubio seems more or less viable. And that is, believe it or not, in spite of his now obvious penchant for shutting down his brain just when it's supposed to be firing on all cylinders.

Why do I think Bush and Kasich have no real shot at the presidency? Well, when it comes to Bush, I have had to alter my mindset. When the race started, it seemed to me that it would, after a while, settle down in much the manner that the RNC had in mind. I, too, imagined a few initial upsets, but then envisioned Bush to emerge from the ashes and stride off to be anointed.

I no longer believe that's going to happen. I now believe that voters simply will not settle for Bush. Their anger at the GOP establishment (well, their anger at just about everything, really), is too deep, and in the end, Bush is just another Bush. And let's face the facts: Bush might still be alive, but he spent millions in New Hampshire, and still ended up behind Ted Cruz, who effectively skipped campaigning in the state altogether.

As for Kasich, well, I rather suspect that he's in many ways the best of the bushel. But he is very establishment, he's really quite boring, and to be honest, in the eyes of many Republican voters today, he's just too darn nice. Besides this, it is very difficult to see how Kasich stays afloat in the next few contests. South Carolina, for example, is hardly likely to embrace him with open arms.

And so, crazy as that seems, all that leaves is Rubio. Rubio, the little warrior armed with a bottle of water and a brain that goes fuzzily pop when things get tough.

You know, I don't think the RNC saw this coming.


* A brief comment on Rubio's melt-down during the most recent Republican debate. It was without doubt quite spectacular, turning him, for a moment, into something eerily akin to a Stepford wife starting to malfunction. But it was just a moment; damaging as it was, it is not enough to scupper his entire campaign. Of course, if it were to happen again, that would be a different matter.

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