We’re far enough along in the Republican primary process that we can begin to project how the top three might be able to win the nomination.
I see this is as three-man race right now: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.
Why? Because for everyone else, the path to the nomination begins with “and then a miracle occurs.” Well, maybe not a miracle. But they’re basically waiting for some spectacular and unexpected change of events that will break their way and suddenly everyone will discover, or rediscover, a candidate currently languishing at 5 percent or below in the polls. Maybe they’re hoping for something like the last Republican primary. In the 2012 cycle, it seemed like every candidate got his shot at being a front-runner. Just about everybody got to be the leading alternative to Mitt Romney for at least three weeks, even Rick Santorum, which might explain what he’s doing in the race this time around. (Yeah, he’s still officially running. I’ll understand if you didn’t notice.)
This is true even of poor Jeb Bush, who was supposed to be the “establishment” front-runner but just couldn’t get traction. Jeb’s only chance, and his actual strategy, is that somehow every other alternative to Trump will implode, leaving Jeb as the only sane choice. This, again, is hoping for a replay of 2012, because that’s basically how Mitt Romney won: by watching a series of challengers implode. But this time around, Jeb isn’t waiting for guys like Herman Cain to flame out. He needs two or three seasoned, successful, fairly well-tested national-level politicians to implode. And that’s really unlikely to happen.
So that leaves us with three candidates right now who have a plausible path to the nomination.
Donald Trump: This Time Is Different
The path to the nomination is not just about leading in the polls. It’s about winning primaries, winning delegates, and consolidating support.
Trump has the highest poll numbers, albeit in a very fragmented field, but it’s not as clear what his path is to the nomination. Specifically, it is currently looking like he won’t win the Iowa Caucus, where he is neck-and-neck with Cruz but has virtually no campaign organization, which is crucial in Iowa. He’s leading in New Hampshire and may win there, but he faces a tougher test in South Carolina.
His big advantage in the race all along has been the Trump Media Death Star — the use of his reality TV celebrity to suck away all the energy from everybody else’s campaign. His problem is that this is pretty much his entire campaign. Being on TV and getting attention for being on TV is what he’s good at, it’s what he’s been rewarded for over the decades, and he’s betting that the brute force of television celebrity will carry all before it.
But he doesn’t have the local campaign organization and “get out the vote” effort that a real campaign would have. And that matters a lot in the early primary states.
Some polls indicate that a lot of Trump supporters are independents or old-fashioned, disgruntled, blue-collar Democrats crossing over to the Republican Party to support him. But a lot of them are people who don’t normally vote, especially in the primaries. And when people don’t usually vote in the primaries, there’s an inertia you have to overcome. They may not know how the Iowa caucuses work, for example, or the date of the primary. So you need a really good “get out the vote” operation to mobilize them. You need lists of who your supporters are, a system for sending them reminders, and local organizers who can call them up and make sure they go to the polls.
Otherwise, you end up having what looks like really big support in the public opinion polls, but it melts away when the actual voting happens.
Continue reading for analysis of Cruz and Rubio…