Now that we have said goodbye to 2015, Donald Trump still continues to lead the 2016 Republican presidential race with a Real Clear Politics average of 35.6%, a 17.6% spread over his nearest competitor, Texas Senator Ted Cruz who is currently polling at 18.6%. However, in the critical Iowa Republican Caucus, Cruz is leading with a Real Clear Politics average of 30.3% vs. Trump at 27.5%. Of course, the campaign strategists say that the GOP race will ultimately come down to which candidate has the greatest likelihood of defeating Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton in the national election. And that candidate is currently Trump who at 41.3% is still five points behind Clinton at 46.3%. However, the gap between Trump and Clinton appears to be narrowing with a recent Rasmussen Poll which has Trump at 36% versus Clinton at 37%.
Despite the fact that Trump is now gaining on Hillary, there are many individuals who believe that Trump will not ultimately become the candidate because the Republican conservative establishment will never fully support his candidacy as Trump is viewed as an outsider to conservative values. But on the other hand, the rise of Trump coupled with the strong poll performance of Dr. Ben Carson and the early popularity of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina have indicated that the public is clamoring for an outsider game changer candidate.
The 2016 election is now only ten months away. I anticipate that there will be a lot of movement on the candidate landscape in the next three months. Here are my predictions for Q1.
1. The Undercard Debate will be eliminated.
The undercard debate will be eliminated as the pool of candidates starts winnowing down. In order to qualify for the January14 main stage debate in North Charleston, South Carolina, the candidates must be one of the top six candidates based on the five most recent national polls along with the five most recent New Hampshire state polls and the five most recent Iowa state polls. The aforementioned polls would have to have been released before January11 at 6 p.m. eastern time. Based on this criteria, the anticipated participants will be Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio (Florida), Dr. Ben Carson, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The January 14 debate will have an undercard debate. In order to qualify for the early stage, candidates must be polling at least 1%, which as of this writing would include Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky) Carly Fiorina, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
I predict that by March, the “B Team Debate” will be eliminated for a number of reasons. Candidates do not want to be there. Rand Paul has already stated that he does not want to participate in the debate if he is going to be relegated to the earlier event. Secondly, the viewership of the undercard debate is substantially lower than that of the main stage. After all, even political junkies only have so many hours per night that they want to dedicate towards watching a debate. And most importantly, now that we will have had six debates, we know that the individuals who are presently at the “Kid’s Table” really don’t have statistical chance of becoming president. Therefore, someone will ultimately wise up and pull the plug on the early debate. And when that happens, the undercard debate participants will start to suspend their campaigns.
2. Donald Trump will continue to dominate the news cycle.
Despite all the early comments that Donald Trump’s candidacy was not a serious campaign, that the real estate magnate and reality star was only running to build his brand, he has shown incredible resiliency on the campaign trail. While there are many individuals from both the right and the left who think that a Trump presidency will never happen or that if it does happen, it will be disastrous, the polls don’t lie. Obviously, Trump has struck a nerve with over a third of likely Republican voters. Furthermore, every time he makes a blunt comment which people find to be shocking and offensive, it bounces off of him. He has an ability to spin every scandal into gold and priceless free publicity. Having said that, there are still inherent problems with his candidacy. True conservatives think he is just a Democrat in Republican clothing. Furthermore, while Trump recently pledged that he would only run as a Republican, he has also intimated that his keeping this pledge is contingent on the party “treating him right”. Given that the definition of appropriate treatment is somewhat subject to interpretation, Trump is ostensibly still keeping the door open for a third party run. Moreover, the perception that the Republican Party cannot fully trust Trump is not helping him.
3. Ben Carson will drop out after Iowa.
Ben Carson who up until recently was #2 in the national polls has fallen to fourth place at 9.4%. With regard to the fall in the polls, Carson has stated in recent interviews that his campaign would be undertaking a major review of everything including finances. That being said, Carson proved to be “no slouch” in the fundraising arena. According to his Campaign Manager, Barry Bennett, in September, the Carson campaign brought in $32 million through the end of September and an additional $20 million between October and December 26th. In addition, since he declared his candidacy in May, Carson has also delivered seven paid speaking engagements generating between $210,000 and $500,000. Apparently Carson was not required to be more specific about the fees to the Federal Election Commission because the speeches hadn’t taken place at the time of reporting (“Ben Carson Gives Paid Speeches as He Campaigns for Presidency”, Talking Points Memo News, December 26, 2015). Furthermore, more than 52,000 copies of Carson’s book Gifted Hands have sold since he launched his candidacy.
While Carson’s fundraising prowess is laudable, his dip in the polls may be revealing that while he was initially perceived as an exciting outsider candidate, the public may now be viewing him as out of his depth when it comes to national security issues which are more and more at the forefront of the campaign. Recently, there has been some speculation that Carson, “like Trump”, was never pursuing the presidency in earnest. Rather, he was using the race to build his reputation and increase the revenue of Carson Enterprises.
4. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will continue to be juxtaposed against each other.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are now #2 and #3 in the national polls. They are both close in age with Cruz at 45 and Rubio at 44 and of course they share a Cuban heritage. Their biggest area of confrontation concerns who will be the new crown prince of the Republican Party. Cruz, the Tea Party candidate who is well liked by the Evangelicals is trying to differentiate himself as the outsider who will reshape Washington. But of course, when he goes up against the ultimate outsider Donald Trump, Cruz is nuancing his platform by positioning himself as an outsider who has an understanding of the inner workings of Washington but is also a true conservative. Rubio is endeavoring to steal the mantle of the establishment candidate away from his onetime mentor and current competitor Jeb Bush, whose campaign is clearly struggling. Yet Rubio has received some guidance that, perhaps, in order to win he needs to shift his message away from being the establishment candidate to that of an outsider candidate. In other words, he should return to positioning himself as the non-elitist candidate who emerged from a working class background to the Senate to the 2016 GOP Primary.
5. Debate moderators will continue to push the envelope.
Despite the negative blowback from the blatantly biased CNBC Republican Debate, the Republican debate moderators are going to continue to be very aggressive in terms of the phrasing and delivery of questions. More “gotcha” questions should be expected because, at the end of the day, debates are a ratings generator for the networks. People will tune in, if they think that they are going to see a real war of words.
Well, 2016 certainly promises to be an exciting year. Let the fireworks begin! Happy New Year!