The Road to 2016: The GOP’s February 10th Problem
FEBRUARY 10, 2016– The cold, crisp morning breeze blows across the hardened snow along the streets of Manchester as the first rays of the New Hampshire sunrise break a new day.
The careless sunbeams find their way in through a window to the unblinking, bleary, sleepless eyes of a man sitting, dejected, at a small table at a deserted bar. Around him is scattered political paraphernalia; gaudy red, white, and blue ribbons and confetti are scattered around a sticky wooden floor.
Staleness hangs in the air of the bar and the smell of spilled beer mingles with the taint of regret. Unopened bottles of now-warm champagne buoy in buckets of water. A long-since-muted television above the bar has been showing the same news since just past 7 pm the evening before.
The man sighs deeply as the morning breeze forces its way in through a loose window and lifts a piece of paper up off of the floor. Floating lazily into the air, the slogan “Jeb Can Fix It!” emblazoned across its front, now seems a mockery as the sign floats through the air and out into the cold New Hampshire morning. Was that a faint cheer on the wind? The echo of something that never was? Or was it the awkward cheer that accompanied the vow to fight on?
In four or five other bars and halls across New Hampshire, the same scene plays out the morning of February 10th…
* * *
The people who tell you “don’t believe the polls” are either one of two types of person. Either they are remarkably smart and know a lot of things that you don’t know, or they are blindly partisan and refuse to see reality. From experience, it seems that the latter always believe themselves the former while true persons who are the former are very few and very far between. You are under no obligation to believe any poll that’s released by any institution. You can believe whatever you’d like about sample size, methodology, technology, or bias. All of these are valid concerns.
We are also 42 days away from February 9, 2016 (the New Hampshire primary) and just over 30 from the Iowa Caucuses.
From a GOP standpoint, Iowa has been less predictive of the eventual GOP nominee in the past two elections than New Hampshire (Huckabee, Santorum versus McCain, Romney)(To be fair, McCain won NH in 2000 and went on to lost to Bush who won IA).
There are two GOP debates (1/14 FoxBusiness in SC and 1/28 FoxNews in IA) remaining before Iowa and then one more (2/6 in NH) before New Hampshire.
Polls are showing that Ted Cruz will likely win the Iowa Caucuses by edging out Donald Trump. Cruz’s apparent momentum in Iowa was fueled by the decline of Ben Carson and also prominent Iowa endorsements for the Texas Senator. Polls certainly don’t show Cruz running away with the state, but it’s fair to think that he may edge Trump out for the plurality.
It’s a safe prediction to think that an Iowa loss will be the end of the never-were campaigns of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. It could also be the end for Ben Carson. Carson’s departure from the race would free up an additional 10% of support in South Carolina which could benefit Cruz’s long-term strategy.
However, the point of the way we started this article was to address the proverbial elephant in the room. Actually, to be more on-point, the overwhelming number of identical elephants in the room. So many elephants, in fact, that none of the elephants can breathe. The point of the extended metaphor? There are too many “establishment” candidates in New Hampshire.
At the moment, Donald Trump is outpacing the Establishment Herd (Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush) in the New Hampshire race. A fair reading of the polls gives Trump between 25 and 30%. Rubio is next around 15% and then Cruz, Kasich, Christie, and Bush are all somewhere in the vicinity of 5-10%. Frankly, depending on the poll, we can say that the “Non-Trump Candidates” are all within the margin of error with one another.
Current modeling in New Hampshire has Ben Carson drawing about 6% and Undecided drawing about 6%. Let’s work under the assumption that Cruz wins Iowa and gets a little bump from that win (Carson drops out, etc.) and gets something in the vicinity of 10%. A safe assumption then, is that Trump will be hovering at 25-30%, Cruz will be around 20-25% and then Jeb-Marco-John-Chris will all be within 3% of each other at ~10%. If that model holds through election day, not only will no establishment candidate win New Hampshire, but 3 of the top 4 establishment options won’t even finish in the top three.
So, if you’re an establishment person, what’s your solution? Well, the ones I’ve talked to just tell me, with a wry smile and a wink “don’t believe the polls.” To which I nod thoughtfully and then proceed to look at the numbers.
Frankly, Jeb Bush and John Kasich should drop out of the race for the White House (there, I said it) as soon as is practicable. Kasich as a decent shot at getting on Rubio’s shortlist for Vice President so it wouldn’t be a bad career move for him to shove his 10% towards the establishment choice in New Hampshire then gracefully pull a Scott Walker and encourage his fellow candidates to clear the field with him. Jeb’s campaign has been a disaster for months. It’s time for him to get out of the race. His national numbers show no sign of life and his 10% is best used elsewhere in New Hampshire.
With both Jeb and Kasich out of the race, the numbers look far more interesting. The “establishment fight” between Christie and Rubio will be taking place around 20% instead of around 10% (I’m trying to be realistic, I can’t imagine Christie getting the Union Leader endorsement then dropping out, even if it is in the interest of Party unity).
Even a second, third, or fourth place finish with 20% is not a campaign-shatteringly bad New Hampshire and the right political spin could actually get some play on Super Tuesday. A fourth or fifth place finish in New Hampshire, especially for a candidate like Rubio who is showing strong national viability, would be devastating at 10%.
So, why won’t the campaigns get together and make this happen? Probably something to do with ego and the goal of the Presidency. Beating out the other establishment candidates, even if it means losing to Trump in New Hampshire means that the “establishment winner” will try to form a coalition among the moderate-establishment wing of the Party to be the alternative to the Trump-Cruz insurgency. Because each of the men (Rubio, Bush, Kasich, and Christie) are in a statistical dead-heat in New Hampshire and they realize that a good day in New Hampshire could mean their besting the other establishment candidates, none of them are deciding to fall on proverbial swords for the interest of being anti-Trump.
Could this entire characterization change within the next 40 days? Of course. With three debates and fundraising disclosures pending, there is a lot that could tip the balance of power in the GOP race. However, when you have four candidates vying for 40% of the vote and all starting at 10%, it would require quite a bit of shifting to make the math work where one of them can get over 30%.
Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. This article does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, but in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates in this article. Any policy statements made herein are not made in furtherance of his campaign. His campaign website can be found here.