Bet on a brokered GOP convention
So, sure, a brokered convention — in either party — is the political nerd fantasy of all times. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen; in fact, if we are ever to see another brokered convention in modern politics, this year and this Republican Party may be our best bet.
Start with the fact that, even with the departure of George Pataki last week, there are still a dozen serious candidates running for the Republican nomination. It takes time for a field that large to sort itself out and thin down to one or two candidates. That’s before you consider that one of the dozen candidates is named Donald Trump — a man who is, without question, the least predictable politician ever to lead a major party’s nomination contest this late in the calendar. Trump has repeatedly pledged to carry the fight all the way to the convention, although it remains to be seen how he will cope with losing — if and when that happens.
Now consider the way that the Republican Party will allocate its delegates from the various primaries and caucuses next year. If your state holds a primary or caucus before March 15, you have to allocate the delegates won by candidates proportionally — meaning that the candidate who wins the state doesn’t get all of them (or even close). By my count, 26 states will vote before March 15 in 2016. That means that it’s very likely that come mid-March you will have three or four candidates with a creditable amount of delegates. There’s likely to be a leader. But he (or she) isn’t likely to be able to run away with it. And, if there are four viable options on March 1, then that quartet can cherry-pick states here and there over the next few months in which they can win and continue to accrue delegates. All the way to the convention floor.
Arguing against the brokered convention is the Republican establishment’s fervent desire to take back the White House and beat expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That’s a very real emotion within the GOP establishment, no question. But if this past year has proved anything, it’s how little power the establishment has to enforce its will on the broader party.
In short: Circle July 18-21 in Cleveland. It could be the most interesting political convention in decades.
President Obama won’t exit quietly
Politicians get frustrated when they don’t get what they want. President Obama gets flabbergasted.
Obama often seems bemused that the things he’s proposed aren’t universally accepted as good ideas. Republicans who stand in his way are seen as obstructers, standing in his way just because they want to — not for any real policy or ideological reason. When Obama has failed, he has often blamed his inability to sell the idea to the American people. The subtext of that is this: I’m right, and people just haven’t been made to understand that yet.
We’ve seen Obama publicly vent about this, most often when it comes to passing new gun control legislation. It clearly bothers him that he can’t break through the gridlock — that the strength of his own good ideas aren’t accepted wholeheartedly across the political spectrum. He knows he’s right.
But while Obama has vented, he hasn’t truly seethed — truly emoted and laid his feelings bare. That’s not really his style; he was, after all, a law professor.
And yet, here we are with just more than a year left in his presidency. And I believe that, at some point over the final year, we’ll see Obama truly lose his cool at last — or at least be a much more in-your-face Obama.
It might or might not be totally spontaneous (perhaps he’ll do it to make sure his point is made loud and clear), but Obama will become so exasperated by the political debate and lack of progress in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail that he’ll make a scene.
I’m not talking about a Howard Beale-style public breakdown, mind you. I’m not saying Obama is going to start publicly ridiculing his opponents and cursing — although the latter can’t be ruled out, given Obama’s recent comments to Jerry Seinfeld. I’m just saying that he’ll do something with a little more oomph behind it, something perhaps uncharacteristic for a president.
This is a guy whose political rise, after all, was tied to breaking down the wall between red and blue. His soaring rhetoric was supposed to bring about “hope” and “change.” He hasn’t been able to do that, and it’s possible Obama might feel the need to do more than just vent a little.
Trump will roll the dice, join the media
Mark it down: In 2016, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who “hates” — but notably would stop short of killing — journalists will become part of the political media machine he claims to loathe so much.
Embedded in this prediction is a more basic one: Despite leading the GOP field for months, Trump will ultimately fail to win the party’s presidential nomination.
That’s not a terribly original or bold prediction, and it leaves me to wonder what he will do next. In an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in November, he said “if I lose … I go into the sunset, and I go to Turnberry, and I go to Doral, and I build buildings.”
That’s probably true in the long run, but expect Trump to finish the 2016 election cycle as a political commentator. Maybe it’ll be on talk radio (isn’t Rush Limbaugh’s contract up next year?), but it’ll most likely be on television with one of the cable news networks.
No way, you say. Trump despises the media. Puh-lease. Remember how much Charles Barkley hated the media’s persistent criticism of his bad behavior when he was playing in the NBA? He even used a memorable Nike commercial to tell the world, “I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model,” which didn’t exactly help relations.
Guess who’s now a leading TV commentator on basketball — and occasionally media and politics — during coverage of the NBA and NCAA March Madness? That’s right, Sir Charles. And just like Chuck, Trump is a loose cannon that some network will decide is worth the risk because he’s a big name, he’s entertaining and, most importantly, he gets ratings.
For a guy who can’t stand the media, Trump sure does a lot of it. He craves attention and — this is one of his real virtues — he doesn’t seem to hold grudges for very long. NBC dropped his beauty pageants in June, after he made derogatory remarks about undocumented Mexican immigrants, yet he agreed to host “Saturday Night Live” in November. He said in September that he was boycotting Fox News Channel because they were treating him “very unfairly,” but he was back on “The O’Reilly Factor” just six days later.
Trump is a businessman, a pragmatist. If a network approaches him with a good offer, he won’t be able to say no.
And here’s the thing: He’ll be good as an analyst. He knows the race from the inside, knows the candidates and — better than anyone else in the field — knows what frustrates many Americans about the current state of politics. His ability to channel that frustration is why he’s done so well so far.
Put money on Cruz as the GOP nominee
The presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2016 will be Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz.
Yes. I said it. And yes, time and unforeseeable developments might prove me wrong. But I’m making this prediction now because, well, I was asked to offer an idea. Here’s how I arrived at this prediction:
Data tell us that much of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s support comes from adults who are not reliable voters. This means that whatever Trump is or is not doing to get out the vote matters a great deal. Now, every campaign claims they are running the biggest, baddest — or in Trump’s case, classiest — ground game of all time. But it’s no cinch that Trump supporters will actually turn out.
So why does that make Cruz the likely nominee?
Well, Cruz is currently in second. He’s now as strong as or stronger than Trump with several key groups of reliable Republican voters.
On top of that, with Trump in the race, Cruz — a man with a bit of an ‘I don’t mind being disliked’ reputation — suddenly looks a lot more like the rational and experienced candidate on which lots of Republican factions could settle.
In a Dec. 14 Quinnipiac poll of the Iowa caucuses, Cruz was just one point behind Trump. Cruz’s positions on abortion, religious liberty, Obamacare, gay marriage and other issues make him a natural fit with evangelical voters. And these voters are valuable not only because of their large presence in Iowa, but because they’re accustomed to operating with political discipline. This is a group whose members vote. That means Iowa really and truly could go to Cruz.
After a tougher state for Cruz in New Hampshire, it’s on to South Carolina, where evangelicals, Tea Party types and big business interests reign. Cruz’s ideas about climate change and related regulation, federal spending and social issues appeal there.
By this point in the primary season, voters in the next state, Nevada, will likely begin to factor into their votes who looks like a winner. If Cruz arrives in the state with one or two victories, well, it could be game over.
These predictions will all be wrong
The safest prediction one can make about the 2016 election, of course, is that everyone’s predictions will be wrong, except those predictions that are squishy enough to be corralled into something resembling accuracy.
Predictions are an offshoot of the instinctual human tendency toward spotting patterns. We see 1 happen, and then 2, and so we proclaim with confidence that over the next 12 months, 3. Political pundits are just people who have been watching the thing longer, and so they rush ahead of themselves sooner. Three!, they shout with authority. And, inevitably: 4. Or, if this year is any guide, what actually happens is crying emoji.
That’s actually a made-up biological reason we do predictions. Maybe it’s correct; I don’t know. I’m doing what a pundit does: using the information at hand to generalize about something with which I’m loosely familiar. It sounds right, doesn’t it — this idea that pattern-seeking is why we make predictions? That’s what makes me a professional, sounding right.
The non-made-up reasons we do predictions, particularly in politics, are twofold. (Again, setting aside this maybe-real, maybe-not uncontrollable desire to make predictions.) Media folk do predictions because it is fun, and to share some broader insights. This list you are currently reading is an example of the first sort of prediction-making. It’s the beginning of the year, and what the heck, and so on.
Most predictions are of the second sort. By way of explaining what is happening in politics (or anything else) we step through what we have seen and what we have heard. Donald Trump has repeatedly said he’ll run for president, and we can explain how and why that happened. Therefore, it’s unlikely he’ll run in 2016. There was a pattern to the poll numbers of outsider Republican candidates in 2012; they went up, hung out for a second, and collapsed. Therefore, it’s safe to assume the same will happen to Trump. The prediction is part of the explanation.
But I was asked for a prediction, not some meta-nonsense about predictions. So here is my prediction: Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson will all be out of the race by March 1.
I’m extrapolating outward from what I know now, and I predict that this prediction is wrong.