Joseph Sohm/

A Time for Culling, Not for Winning

Take a deep breath: Iowa and New Hampshire won’t decide the nominations

It’s now less than a week be­fore the Iowa caucuses, two weeks be­fore the New Hamp­shire primary, and thus time for polit­ic­al afi­cion­ados to whip them­selves in­to frenzy. People of­ten be­come so pre­oc­cu­pied with the two con­tests that they lose sight of the lar­ger pic­ture. So take a deep breath, every­one: Neither party’s nom­in­a­tion is likely to be settled by the out­comes in Iowa or New Hamp­shire, or even the two com­bined. The Re­pub­lic­an race is likely to be de­term­ined much closer to Me­mori­al Day than New Year’s Day, and the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion should be ob­vi­ous by East­er, quite pos­sibly much soon­er, but not likely in Feb­ru­ary.

Iowa should win­now the more con­ser­vat­ive half of the GOP field, likely end­ing the cam­paigns of Mike Hucka­bee, Rand Paul, and Rick San­tor­um and al­low­ing Ted Cruz to con­sol­id­ate the more strongly ideo­lo­gic­al wing of the party. Con­versely, New Hamp­shire is likely to cull the herd of con­ven­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Marco Ru­bio. All are not likely to re­main con­tenders after the Gran­ite State votes.

The only ques­tion is wheth­er New Hamp­shire will push one or two of the con­ven­tion­al can­did­ates from the race, or even three if there is a big gap between the first-place es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ate and the run­ner-up. Thus the res­ults and fal­lout from Iowa and New Hamp­shire should provide a lot more clar­ity to a race in which Re­pub­lic­ans were faced with a dizzy­ing ar­ray of choices, much like a kid walk­ing in­to Baskin-Rob­bins for the first time.

While it is easy to see this GOP race quickly be­com­ing a con­test between pop­u­list Trump, con­ser­vat­ive Cruz, and an es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ate to be de­term­ined by the end of Feb­ru­ary (after South Car­o­lina and Nevada), that three-way race could go deep in­to May or June, or even to the Ju­ly con­ven­tion in Clev­e­land. While I thought I would nev­er live to see a con­tested con­ven­tion, this race has the in­gredi­ents to prove me wrong. (But let’s not use the term “brokered con­ven­tion” be­cause there are no brokers left any­more. Party eld­ers and lead­ers have lost their sway over in­de­pend­ent-minded del­eg­ates.)

With only three Demo­crats run­ning, there is little herd to cull. Suf­fice it to say that Mar­tin O’Mal­ley will be gone be­fore Pres­id­ent’s Day week­end. More telling will be wheth­er Sanders has suc­ceeded in ex­pand­ing his sup­port bey­ond mil­len­ni­als and white lib­er­als. While Sanders seems to be suc­ceed­ing in win­ning over the young­er part of the Obama co­ali­tion, he has not yet made in­roads with Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and Latino voters, who are cru­cial in states more di­verse than Iowa and New Hamp­shire. To break out bey­ond New Eng­land and the caucus states, Sanders has to draw a much wider swath of sup­port.

While Wash­ing­ton was be­ing bur­ied by snow, The New York Times heated up the race with its story re­port­ing that Mi­chael Bloomberg was ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing an in­de­pend­ent bid for pres­id­ent. While it is no secret that Bloomberg has long wanted to run for pres­id­ent and thinks he would be an ef­fect­ive chief ex­ec­ut­ive (as do many oth­ers), he is a prag­mat­ist and has no de­sire to be a spoil­er. He would run only if he saw a real­ist­ic path to win­ning.

The chal­lenge for Bloomberg or any in­de­pend­ent is that there is a struc­tur­al bar­ri­er to win­ning a three-way race. Even as­sum­ing that an in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate had a power­ful mes­sage, a great cam­paign, and plenty of money, win­ning a ma­jor­ity of the Elect­or­al Col­lege votes would be nearly im­possible. As­sum­ing the Elect­or­al Col­lege did not pro­duce a win­ner, the elec­tion would then be thrown in­to the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, with each state get­ting a single vote. Since Re­pub­lic­ans hold a ma­jor­ity of votes in 34 state del­eg­a­tions, how could an in­de­pend­ent, or a Demo­crat for that mat­ter, win? One of the ma­jor-party nom­in­ees would have to com­pletely col­lapse be­fore an in­de­pend­ent could win.

While Bloomberg is a very ser­i­ous guy, don’t hold your breath for him to ac­tu­ally get in­to the race un­less one party nom­in­ates someone so weak that he or she can­not even carry the states that rep­res­ent the party’s base, a highly un­likely even­tu­al­ity. If Bloomberg gets in­to the race, look care­fully to see how cir­cum­stances have changed. They would have had to change a lot be­fore he or any oth­er in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate could real­ist­ic­ally hit 270 Elect­or­al Col­lege votes.

(Image via Joseph Sohm / )