As the Republican fight for the Presidential nomination goes, we know there will be a winner and that winner is among the group of people already in. That gives us an advantage over the Democrats, who are not sure they have their final list of contestants. It is too late for Romney, Palin or anyone else to jump in.
Inside of the actual campaigns there are plans and maps and personnel. It is a safe bet to write off Graham, Jindal, Pataki, Huckabee, Santorum, Paul and Gilmore. We are left with the “Magnificent” Seven: Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, Bush and Kasich.
Each of the seven has their own sense of position and path. Between now and the first Caucus, they are all working the media and donors. Polls give us a sense of their relative strengths, but points in the polls cost money, for some much more than others. You can sometimes buy an election, so-to-speak, but some of these fighters are good at raising their profile, regardless.
There are two metrics which appear to count in this process. The first is how cheap or expensive it is for a candidate to get media coverage. Trump and Bush are both able to get coverage for relatively little cost for different reasons, the former because he is experienced at it and the latter because of his family name and all the media narratives about him.
The remaining five are reliant upon their performances and their ability to weave a narrative. It would appear that Carson and Rubio have to spend the most money to maintain their coverage and this may affect their long-term viability. Kasich appears not to be investing very much at this point, relying on his current political position to assist him.
The other factor that will play out is enthusiasm. A candidate that leaves you feeling enthusiastic is a candidate that will get lots of free support from volunteers. Trump, Fiorina, and Cruz appear to have the strongest qualities in this regard.
All seven have paths to victory, yet, like a sporting event, in many ways their paths are not under their own control. Trump and Carson appear to be the sole two candidates that control their own destiny at the moment, with the other five needing a stumble or perception change to knock the two top candidates off. This may explain a great deal about the strategies of Rubio, Cruz and Bush at the moment.
In 2012, it appeared that Santorum, Cain and Gingrich all took turns knocking themselves out. Romney did a masterful job of staying above the fray. Scandal usually takes out at least one candidate each cycle, and so someone may have a skeleton appear that ends their run this time around. Opposition research is falling somewhat heavily on identifying Carson’s past mistakes as a doctor.
Trump is thinning the herd. He is well-armed to continue being himself and keeping the contest heavily at play. It says something to me that twice in my lifetime have I seen billionaires bent on killing off the Bush dynasty, with the first being Perot against Bush, Sr. For whatever reason, they draw out opposition.
It appears to me that you remove Trump and Bush would be gliding toward the nomination right now. Instead, he has money but is on life-support, to the point he has to send in plants to Trump’s campaign appearances. He is growing desperate.
In the next three months, lots of bad things are going to come to light about all seven. Opposition hit pieces are going to come in a steady barrage. The question is which candidates will take a hit first and how many will still be standing by the time of the first votes. If history is our teacher, most of them, if not all, will hang in through South Carolina. I would expect donors to put some condition on the next debate outcome.
Ironically, the winner can be the person who stays out of the main event and then wipes up after everyone else implodes or fights. Rubio and Fiorina, at least publicly, appear the most divorced from the Trump/Bush main event and the Bush/Cruz sideshow. Kasich is kind of like the Jim Webb of the seven; he is a Republican, but most of the time you wouldn’t know it by his stated policies. As other writers have mentioned, he is the Huntsman of this cycle.
Historically, only one to five candidates can remain viable by the actual start of the voting season. Over the past 10 nomination cycles, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have only picked a losing candidate eight out of 30 times, with the eventual winner polling at between 13-40 percent. In other words, if your internal polling does not have you in a strong position in all three contests, you are toast.
Iowa, as it turns out, has been wrong 40 percent of the time. This may reflect that sometimes candidates use up their time and expense winning there only to get clobbered in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Whatever it means, the eventual nominee normally does fine, anyway.
Let’s see who can thread the needle.