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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Three Lanes to the Finish of the 2016 GOP Race

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire—The Republican presidential race was in the process of consolidating when it hit a jarring speed bump in a debate on Saturday night.

After last week’s Iowa caucus, a growing number of Republican strategists had expressed hope that mainstream conservative voters would coalesce behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, allowing him to join Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to form a new top tier in the race. 

But Rubio’s dizzyingly unsteady performance under sharp criticism from Chris Christie in Saturday night’s debate has thrown those hopes into question. With Rubio staggering, and not only Christie but also Jeb Bush and John Kasich delivering strong showings Saturday night, the odds increased that the GOP’s mainstream conservative lane will remain fragmented—providing an edge to Cruz and Trump, the candidates relying most on disaffected and more ideological voters. “The rush to coronate Marco Rubio is off,” Mike DuHaime, Christie’s long-time chief strategist, exulted after the debate. “I think it’s more likely after tonight that more people come out of New Hampshire [as viable] than people anticipated.”

Heading into the debate, many Republicans saw a pathway developing for a...

Why Bernie Sanders Can't Govern

Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz have something in common. Both have an electoral strategy predicated on the ability of a purist candidate to revolutionize the electorate—bringing droves of chronic non-voters to the polls because at last they have a choice, not an echo—and along the way transforming the political system. Sanders can point to his large crowds and impressive, even astonishing, success at tapping into a small-donor base that exceeds, in breadth and depth, the remarkable one built in 2008 by Barack Obama. Cruz points to his extraordinarily sophisticated voter-identification operation, one that certainly seemed to do the trick in Iowa.

But is there any real evidence that there is a hidden “sleeper cell” of potential voters who are waiting for the signal to emerge and transform the electorate? No. Small-donor contributions are meaningful and a sign of underlying enthusiasm among a slice of the electorate, but they represent a tiny sliver even of that slice; Ron Paul’s success at fundraising (and his big crowds at rallies) misled many analysts into believing that he would make a strong showing in Republican primaries when he ran for president. He flopped.

Is there a huge core of committed ideological...

Clinton’s Coronation Becomes a Grind

Bernie Sanders has already giv­en Hil­lary Clin­ton a nasty scare in Iowa, and is likely to hand her a loss next week when New Hamp­shire voters cast their bal­lots.

If that were the only dam­age his in­sur­gent, an­ti­cor­por­ate cam­paign in­flicts on the Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner’s pre­sumed path to the nom­in­a­tion, it prob­ably would mean little to her chances to win the White House this Novem­ber.

Un­for­tu­nately for Clin­ton, though, that’s not the only dam­age she can ex­pect: The lay­out of the primary sched­ule, the pro­por­tion­al man­ner in which del­eg­ates are awar­ded, and Sanders’s sur­pris­ing fun­drais­ing strength all mean that the former sec­ret­ary of State will be forced to ex­pend both money and, even more pre­cious, staff time com­pet­ing in places that al­most cer­tainly will not be in play this Novem­ber.

Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook, in an MS­N­BC ap­pear­ance, ac...

The Frustrations of Divided Government Play Out in Iowa Races

AMES, Iowa—It doesn’t take much time with voters in Iowa to re­cog­nize that the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race is be­ing fought in the chasm between the tower­ing chal­lenges fa­cing the coun­try and the crimped re­sponses that our po­lar­ized and para­lyzed polit­ic­al sys­tem can now pro­duce.

Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic audi­ences here di­verge wildly in their pre­ferred solu­tions for the coun­try’s biggest prob­lems—and even over what is­sues qual­i­fy for that list. But they are united by a com­mon con­vic­tion that Wash­ing­ton is now in­cap­able of mov­ing very far in any dir­ec­tion. As next week’s Iowa caucuses form­ally be­gin the 2016 vot­ing, each party is di­vid­ing over how to break that im­passe—with evol­u­tion­ary change that works with­in today’s lim­its or with the prom­ise of a re­volu­tion that some­how washes those lim­its away?

On both sides, the en­ergy is...

A Time for Culling, Not for Winning

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 ideo...