Thursday, August 13, 2015

What if Donald Trump, who... currently leading the Republican race with numbers in the mid- to high-twenties, has a ceiling of around 30 percent? That's fine so long as there are 17 candidates in the race, but what happens when the field winnows down to just two or three? That won't look so good if the candidate the establishment finally coalesces around, say Jeb Bush or John Kasich, has numbers in the fifties, right?

Hang on.

A piece in Politico yesterday, "GOP candidates wobble but don’t fall down: Perry, Paul and Santorum keep going, fueled by super PAC money and a hope for that breakthrough moment," argues that This Time May Be Different. All emphasis mine:

Yet unlike previous cycles, the tiering of the 2016 Republican presidential field appears unlikely to result in the quick exit of the GOP laggards. That’s because each is the beneficiary of super PACs that in many cases have raised orders of magnitude more than the campaigns themselves. The PACs, in effect, become a bridge to viability, sustaining struggling candidates who may genuinely believe they can surge or who simply want to stick around long enough to amass delegates and wield clout with the eventual nominee.

“I don’t think there’s any incentive to drop out as long as you can put gas in the truck and there’s PAC money out there,” said Sam Clovis, an Iowa adviser to the Perry campaign, who said Perry’s as upbeat about his chances as ever. “There will be some adjustments — but again, it’s just a matter of resetting the stride.”

“The super PAC situation is going to keep people in this race longer,” said Karen Fesler, an Iowa activist who recently defected from the Santorum camp to back Perry.

Now, let's assume for the sake of argument that Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum do drop out early in the process. Let's throw in George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, who are all polling at less than five percent. That would still leave seven candidates besides Trump: Jeb, Kasich, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. (I think the GOP bigwigs will want to keep the only African American and woman in the race.)

Suddenly 30 percent looks pretty good again.

But I know what you're thinking: while a plurality is a wonderful thing, the eventual winner needs a majority of delegates. Good point. But that's where this comes in:

The benefit of hanging on to a failed candidacy, Anuzis said, is that even bit players can amass enough delegates help winning candidates clinch the nomination. Those delegates can become trading chips in conversations about Cabinet posts or the vice presidential sweepstakes.

So in the event of a brokered convention the establishment candidate still wins and Trump loses. But ask yourself this: Would you really want to have to negotiate under pressure with Donald Trump? And even if you prevailed, what's to prevent a bitter Trump from running as a third-party candidate or just withholding his support from the GOP standard-bearer? (Or worse -- yikes! -- endorsing Hillary?)

So the bottom line here, I think, is that even if Trump has a low ceiling we may still be in for a wild ride in this Brave New World. Fasten your seat belt.

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