The State of the Race: Hillary the Inevitable, Rubio the Illusory, and a Nevada Prediction
1. Hillary Has Always Been Inevitable
Overexcited journalists have for months been desperately trying to turn the Clinton-Sanders contest into a real race, but when all is said and done, the Democratic primary map is likely to resemble the 2000 Republican one: a blowout victory by a challenger in New Hamsphire fueled by independent voters is quickly snuffed out in South Carolina, after which point the candidate with near-unanimous ‘establishment’ backing cruises to the nomination, losing a few demographically-unfriendly states here and there.
A year ago, I said that Hillary’s unprecedented strengths in the ‘invisible primary,’ unlike in 2008, rendered her the inevitable nominee, and that she would be able to hold off a challenge from Elizabeth Warren (or, as it turned out, someone like her) by holding onto the black vote, not letting her challenger catch her asleep at the wheel in caucus states, and appealing to Democrats’ sense of pragmatism as they try to retain the White House for a third term. This is exactly what she’s done.
The primaries to this point have revealed a not-insignificant challenge facing Clinton in the general election, though: the ‘generation gap’ in the Democratic Party is a veritable chasm, and her surrogates have often acted dismissively and condescendingly toward Sanders supporters. If there’s anything the Clintons can always count on, though, it’s Republican overreach, and Hillary is always at her rhetorical best when taking on Republicans. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, which looks likely right now, Clinton will be able to reach out not only to Sanders supporters but to ‘establishment’-oriented Republicans who just cannot bring themselves to vote for him. And lest we forget about the fundamentals: the electoral college math still favors Democrats.
2. Here We Go With Another Fake Rubio Surge
If Jeb Bush came in a relatively close 2nd in Iowa, 1st in New Hampshire by 20 points, and 1st in South Carolina by 10 points, nobody would question whether the race was basically over. Marco Rubio probably has Nikki Haley to thank for pulling him back from the abyss, but winning a fifth of the vote for a distant second place tie at this stage in the race — and no delegates! — is not impressive. There isn’t one state among the next dozen or so that’s a likely win for Rubio, even in a three-man race with Trump and Ted Cruz — and eventually, if Rubio wants to be a contender for the nomination, he needs to start actually winning states.
3. Ted Cruz Will Continue to Behave Like Other Iowa ‘Winners’
Ted Cruz’s disappointing third-place finish — and moderately-surprising loss to Trump among Evangelical voters — revealed that he has no path to the nomination. What he does have is a path to possibly win enough delegates in a three-man race to force a brokered convention, at which point he could instruct his delegates to vote for Trump on the condition that Trump selects Cruz as his VP candidate. This is a longshot scenario, but Cruz has plenty of money and organization, plenty of ambition, and plenty of loyal supporters who can’t stomach Trump but find Rubio too unseasoned and ideologically suspect.
In 2008 and 2012 respectively, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, high off of their unlikely come-from-behind wins in Iowa, stayed in the race long beyond the point of viability. Cruz will do the same, and he will lose, too. But in the meantime, his presence makes life easier for Trump. The center-right ‘establishment’ loathes both Trump and Cruz, but for the Republican rank-and-file, Cruz and Rubio are more similar, insofar as they are both Reagan Republicans with relatively conventional political resumes and loyalties that don’t extend very far beyond the traditional GOP nexus. You won’t see Cruz picking any fights with the Pope, George W. Bush, or Fox News.
4. My Nevada Prediction
Predicting caucuses is always a tricky business, and there’s been minimal polling out of Nevada, but here’s my best guess: