The Omnivore recently read a blog post that was extremely interesting (but he can't find it). The premise was this: if you assume for the sake of argument that the pundits are right and Trump won't be our next president (or even the nominee) then what you can do is start with a presumptive nominee and try to work backwards and see if you can lay out a way they actually win.
Let's give it a try!
Jeb BushCurrent State: Jeb is the favorite right now in the betting / prediction markets. He has the most money, the most endorsements--and, probably, the most damage to his presumptive candidacy (his competition in that realm is Scott Walker). Right now Jeb has a miserable 7.6% on Huffington's Poll aggregate and it's generally considered that he didn't score the win he needed at the debate.
The Jeb Wins Scenario: If we look at the polling today, while Jeb is third, ahead of him is Trump and Carson--and that's it. Chasing him is Ted Cruz. So let's start by assuming that Jeb, with his 120+MM can outlast most of the other also-rans and let's give him some quick pick-ups from people who are kinda in his sphere:
- Kasich, Jindal, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul are all semi-moderate along certain axes, anyway. Let's assume they drop and Jeb gets their support. That's 11.8% which puts him up to 18.8%. Today that would be .3% ahead of Carson. Second place!
- Rubio falls. Now, let's assume we're dueling in Florida on March 15 2016. Despite what early polling shows today (Trump?) by the time we're into real voting, Jeb has a lead--and Jeb is popular in Florida. Firstly, Florida is super expensive (big, fractured media markets, etc.) so Jeb has an edge. Secondly, Rubio just looks . . . young. Normally that's good--but his First-Term-Senator thing is catching up to him. Jeb triumphs, Rubio drops and throws his support to Jeb.
- Jeb is now at 23.4% polling (based on today's numbers) and has enough delegates to be a contender at the convention.
- Cruz vs. Trump vs. Carson. In this scenario, Carson doesn't make it much further. He's not viable and most people know it. The person who benefits, however, isn't Trump--it's Cruz. Both Cruz and Carson compete for the evangelical vote and when Carson bows out, Cruz inherits much of his vote and is able to keep Trump from breaking a ceiling of about 35%. This leads to . . .
- A brokered convention. Political writers swoon. The Party Decides: it's Jeb!
Grade: C-. The problem with this scenario is that it's okay until we get to the brokered convention (it assumes both Trump and Carson have a ceiling which may not be true--but if we assume Trump continues rising at his current rate, he wins the nomination with 100% of the voters sometime in late December ...). The winner-take-all nature of the voting means that a brokered convention isn't likely--if someone has a small lead in a state they get all the state. Sorry Jeb.
Current State: Rubio is actually the best positioned guy right now of the non-Trump/Carson set. Yeah, he's pulling 5th place behind Cruz and ahead of Huckabee--and yeah, he only has 4.6%--but for Rubio that's not an insult. He's a young, smart, first-term Senator. Doing 5th in a contest loaded with ex and current governors is pretty darn good. He also had a good debate even if it wasn't an awesome break-out victory.
The Rubio Wins Scenario: This one goes as follows: Jeb is deemed so badly damaged that the party elite starts asking who else can we back--the answer is Rubio. In this case Rubio gets a slew of endorsements in November. This coincides with a Trump-fade due to over-exposure and lack of coherent policy positions. In this scenario, Trump is holding around 25%. Carson and Fiorina are in the high teens--but as Jeb falters and everyone else drops in early voting, Rubio starts winning states.
Essentially in this scenario people decide they like Rubio and he picks up steam as Trump/Carson falter. Rubio breaks away in Florida after a strong showing on Super Tuesday and wraps up the nomination by the convention.
Grade: C+. This doesn't rise to the B level because it has a problem: everyone has to decide they like Rubio. In one sense that's not hard--he's likable (and more than "likable enough") but he's not well positioned to be a choice of the Screw Congress voters who right now see Trump or Carson as the electoral equivalent of a crowbar to take upside Boehner and McConnell's heads. This means that Rubio would have to consolidate voting and actually BEAT Trump and Carson without totally cannibalizing Jeb's support.
This is because Jeb can hang around as long as he wants to--he's very well funded. If he goes lean he can out last anyone. So long as Jeb is running, Rubio is going to be missing a core part of his bloc.
Current State: Right now Walker is hurt worse than anyone. While Jeb didn't have a great debate, Walker, who spoke the least of anyone on stage (and was left off CNN's time-graphic!) virtually didn't have a debate. He's going into a tail-spin of negative stories worse than Clinton and it's safe to say he isn't going to raise much more money unless something changes.
The Walker Wins Scenario: This one's a reach. In this scenario Trump collapses and Carson just doesn't look like a winner. The FU-Voting Bloc has to make a decision: Cruz, Walker, or Jeb. Since it's stop-Jeb-at-all-costs and the government shutdown over Planned Parenthood fails miserably with Cruz's name on it, they go Walker. He surges--and wins.
Grade: D. In this eventuality Ted Cruz would have to be in a body cast for Walker to get his voters. Right now Walker has simply failed to impress everyone. His "I'm-a-fighter" thing isn't selling. If Trump-Force-One went down with all hands lost, it seems Walker would be unlikely to get most of his voters even in the face of Jeb. Sorry Walker.
Current State: Cruz is in here as a long-shot because Kasich is kind of boring right now and Cruz is in 4th place. Cruz's position is pretty good--but he doesn't seem to have a lot of momentum. If the coming PP-battle doesn't elevate his standing it's not clear he has a winning coalition.
The Cruz Wins Scenario: This looks like the above--but without Walker. In this case Cruz manages to get the FU-Vote and rides it to victory over a damaged Bush and a never-caught-fire Rubio.
Grade: C. The problem with this scenario is that Cruz is probably not preferable to the establishment over Jeb, Rubio, or Kasich. Trump can prosper against that force. Cruz probably can't. This would require Trump-level insurrection backing Cruz and that probably won't happen for him. Sorry, Cruz.
Current State: Right now Kasich is doing remarkably well for (a) his super late entry and (b) coming in after the Trumping. He's running an adult-in-the-room campaign and hails from a major must-win swing-state where he is popular (Ohio). If not for Jeb, he would be the establishment choice (so says The Omnivore).
The Kasich Wins Scenario: Easy. Jeb collapses. Kasich picks up his vote and steam-rolls Rubio. At this point he's battling Carson for second and Carson starts a far more "regular" slide/fade. Between Trump and Kasich, it's quite a battle--but Kasich isn't hated as much as Jeb by the base and doesn't have the Bush last name in the general. Essentially lack of visceral hate plus establishment cred give Kasich the leg-up.
Grade: B. This one is actually works pretty well. If there's a problem it's that Kasich is very much lost in the crowd right now and Jeb seems more likely to struggle along wounded than to collapse. As with Rubio, so long as Jeb is in the game, it's going to be hard to consolidate the voting.
Despite what you might think, there isn't a whole lot of reason to do this with Fiorina or Huckabee--or anyone else. The reasons are that no one else (save Jindal) seems likely to have any establishment appeal. Fiorina looks very strong right now--but her polling hasn't reflected that yet. For all of these people that path looks identical: a sudden polling surge followed by Jeb and Trump and Carson fading. If you get rid of those guys and the bottom four kids-table-debate people, yeah: anyone could triumph. The problem is we don't see that yet.