Don’t look now but the election of the next president is just one year and a few days away. A year from now the final polls will be taken, and the results will soon thereafter be announced. Prognosticating in politics is always the task of a fool, but I’ve been called that and worse any number of times, so here are my thoughts and half-hearted predictions.
First of all, the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary Clinton. Yes, she’ll be flawed as a candidate for reasons that are all too obvious: the email scandal that doesn’t deserve so much attention, but is going to continue to get it anyway, partly because she keeps stumbling around her explanations and apologies; the Benghazi non-scandal that Fox News and the nut-jobs in Congress think can sink her candidacy and therefore will keep alive at all costs; her public persona, which despite her winning appearance on Saturday Night Live, is still too removed and distant from the average voter; and her relationship with her husband, which brings a whole separate set of issues into play. But she is also the most qualified by experience and talent in the field from either party and has the financial backing to run a take-no-prisoners campaign once the primaries and caucuses start.
Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for the fringe of the party who want to move the country decidedly to the left. But he has burdened himself unnecessarily with the socialist label (democratic socialist, to be specific, as if that makes it okay), which in some parts of America is akin to calling yourself a communist and in the rest of the country announces that you are a dangerous radical.
So Sanders will make some noise in the early state votes and then fade once the rest of the country gets involved. By February he’ll be done and Hillary will be looking at VP choices.
The Republicans are another story entirely. To this point, they are on track to destroy the party, let alone elect one of their candidates. Political pundits keep saying that it’s early, and it is. But the problem the GOP is facing might be more than meets the eye. Let’s look at the dynamics.
First of all, the field is too big. Even with the early dropouts of Scott Walker and Rick Perry, there are still over a dozen candidates vying for the nomination. The early debates have been a joke (and not just because Donald Trump has dominated them). Not being able (or willing) to put all of them on the stage, the networks have established “tiers,” and being in the second tier (Pataki, Gilmore, Jindal, Santorum) is a kiss of death for most.
Not that any of them were likely to get very far in the process anyway, but a few of them might have broken through to at least get some serious media attention. (Carly Fiorina actually did, but now she is descending back to second tier status, as her background and persona become more evident.) Doing so would then have potentially put more pressure on those in the first tier, perhaps causing a couple of them, at least, to say something unique or distinctive. To this point, other than the outrages from Trump and the head-scratchers from Ben Carson, that hasn’t happened.
It has long been anticipated that Trump will find any number of reasons to discontinue his campaign (business ventures, loss of interest, maybe a new TV show) once he dropped in the polls to also-running status. He may be on that trajectory now. I’m still betting that he is out by the time the first real votes are cast in January.
But in the meantime, he has really muddied the field. By being such a dominant figure, he has made the mainstream candidates (Bush, Kasich, Rubio) look boring and unimpressive. And he has effectively made Bush uncomfortably defensive by attacking his brother’s handling of the terrorist threat and the Iraq invasion. With Bush, the presumed front runner at the start of the process, now wallowing in the middle of the pack, the door would be open for another mainstream candidate to emerge, but only Rubio has shown even a modicum of movement in that direction.
And then we have the good Dr. Carson, who is a puzzle that only the most astute political science guru can hope to explain. I don’t claim to be one of those, so I’ll just say that it is inconceivable to me that the Republican Party would nominate a black man who has never held any elective office and believes the earth is 5,000 years old. Carson is the 2015 anti-candidate. He doesn’t say nasty things about his rivals, doesn’t give rousing speeches, doesn’t cater to big money donors, and doesn’t issue serious policy statements. He also has virtually no mainstream support and sounds remarkably ignorant for a man who is a retired neurosurgeon.
So, maybe he’s this year’s Herman Cain, albeit Cain, if it’s possible, was even more ridiculous. In any event, the Christian evangelicals love the guy, partly because most of them also believe the planet is 5,000 years old, partly because he loves guns more than patients with gun wounds, and fetuses more than dying women who are bearing them, and a country that would never elect a Muslim more than religious freedom. That core group might keep Carson in the race through the first few months of the primaries and caucuses. Then he’ll be gone.
And then someone closer to the mainstream will emerge as the nominee. I keep thinking it will be Kasich, the Ohio governor, who is actually a fairly decent public servant as conservatives go. But he hasn’t made much of a mark yet. Maybe Bush will ultimately get it together. Maybe Rubio will stop looking so sophomoric.
Someone will ultimately be the nominee, and a year from now he (not she) will be looking up at Hillary, who despite all the negatives, will ride the Electoral College advantage she’ll have to the White House.