The Democrat debate on October 13th proved that their whole process is simply a Hillary Clinton coronation. If any of the other candidates had been truly seeking the nomination, they would have attacked the front-runner vigorously. That’s what you do to win. Instead, the candidate in second place, Bernie Sanders, deliberately gave the leading candidate a pass on her email scandal and they shook hands over it. That was a stage with one candidate for president and four other people looking for jobs in her administration (Jim Webb for Secretary Defense it seemed).
The GOP Primary is more interesting. In a typical election, everyone would be concentrating on who finishes top three in the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary. So any candidate who doesn’t think they will finish in one of those six places would normally be looking to exit soon.
However, this race has developed two tracks, the “outsider” contest among Trump, Carson, Fiorina and Cruz, and the “insider” contest among everyone else. The big donor money will be looking to coalesce around one insider, so these candidates are competing only against each at this point. Here is where we believe every campaign stands today:
The Candidates Who Were Never Really Running for President:
A number of people entered the race: with the hope of being selected by the eventual nominee as the vice president; to increase their chances of receiving a cabinet post; or to simply raise their profile and perhaps their speaking fees. These candidates include George Pataki, Lindsey Graham (SecDef), Bobby Jindal (VP or SecEd), Mike Huckabee, Jim Gilmore, John Kasich (VP) and Rick Santorum. They’ll drop out when the money dries up and/or when they’ve made their strongest showing.
Carly Fiorina: This has always been a VP play as well, but for an Establishment candidate only. Her entire campaign has been an audition to be the dutiful VP who attacks the Democratic candidate–something Fiorina, as an accomplished woman, can do with impunity to Hillary. Ironically, her fortunes are tied to Hillary’s for as Clinton’s numbers drop, so does the case for Fiorina being on the ticket.
Rand Paul: Too many outsiders got into the race and wrecked Rand’s nomination strategy. He bet his candidacy on foreign policy being the number one issue in 2016, not immigration, and his positions on both are out-of-step with GOP voters. He’ll exit before Iowa if that looks like a rout; after if they’re holding onto hope.
Chris Christie: The plan here was to be an alternative to Bush. Again, the team misjudged the public mood. GOP donors will try to force him out early but as long as his team believes they can beat Bush and Rubio in New Hampshire, they will stay in.
Jeb Bush: This campaign was a miscalculation from the start. The idea was that overwhelming donor money and Establishment support could overcome “Bush Fatigue.” Not only do they have the public sentiment entirely wrong, they also have a lackluster candidate. Because Bush has so much big donor money, he’s making it harder for an alternative Establishment candidate to rise. The longer he stays in, the better Trump’s chances.
Marco Rubio: The strategy here was to play hard for the top spot, but at the very least end up on the ticket. The team probably envisioned a Walker/Rubio nomination early on. Trump changed all that. We still believe Rubio is angling for the VP position, but circumstances have increased his chances to become the Establishment candidate. Bush and Rubio cannot exist on the same ticket (they’re both from Florida) so neither team is rooting for the other.
Ben Carson: This was likely always a quixotic campaign, designed to establish Carson as a conservative player. However, the very real possibility of a Trump/Carson ticket has suddenly made the impossible possible. Trump likes Carson and the neurosurgeon provides incredible balance to a Trump nomination (i.e. race, temperament, etc.). We’ll make a stronger case for this pairing in the near future.
Donald Trump: This is what it looks like–the first populist Republican campaign ever. Trump has connected with the Zeitgeist and has the money to compete. Eventually the race will come down to Trump and one Establishment candidate–and if the big donors keep resisting, a convention fight.
Ted Cruz: This campaign has quietly and consistently rolled with the political waves better than any other. Cruz has a number of plays here. He could end up being the Establishment compromise candidate if they are smart enough to take the least objectionable (to them) outsider candidate. History has not shown the big donors to be this clever. More likely they’d look at him for the VP slot to balance the ticket ideologically and sooth conservative anger if they secure the nomination. Trump would also consider Cruz for VP because a Hispanic nominee balances his tough stand on immigration.
Trump must look at Rubio as well, for the same reasons the Establishment would choose Cruz as VP. With an inter-party election fight this intense, the race for the bottom of the ticket takes on more importance.