Has it been a month already? We are just three more away from the Iowa caususes and the official start of the 2016 Republican Primary. How do the candidates stack up 90 days out? How has the last month affected the race? Let’s take a look.
Here are “Power Rankings” of the fifteen remaining candidates as of this morning. It factors polls, past patterns, future projections, and exclusive PPFA hunches. Next to each candidate is their ranking from October 1, followed by their ranking from July.
Tier 5: Still No Shot
15. George Pataki (Oct.: 15, July: 17) — Still pro choice, Governor? Okay, thanks for playing. Oh, and that bit about how “Republicans are afraid of science“? That didn’t help either.
14. James Gilmore (14, 16) — At least Pataki’s trying. Gilmore’s lack of effort leaves him unregistered in polling and not even invited to the last two matinee debates. But if the 13 candidates ahead of him on this list all withdrew tomorrow, he’d win a head to head against the pro-choice Pataki. (Of course, in such a scenario, another dozen more realistic candidates would declare their candidacy, relegating these two back to the bottom.)
13. Lindsey Graham (13, 15) — Like the two candidates before him, he’s moved up two spots since July thanks to Walker and Perry dropping out of the race. I’ve enjoyed his feisty efforts at the last two matinee debates. He’s probably won them both, but it’s hard to resurrect a campaign that was never alive to begin with. His record of working with Democrats made his campaign dead on arrival in this primary cycle.
12. Rand Paul (12, 5) — No change since last month, and he did not deliver in last week’s debate on the economy, a surprise considering it’s the area with which he most fully adopts Republican orthodoxy. Wrong primary, Senator.
Tier 4: Quite Literally Waiting for a Miracle
11. Rick Santorum (11, 13)
10. Mike Huckabee (10, 12)
9. Bobby Jindal (9, 10)
These candidates are counting on their faith, evangelicals, and, most importantly, Iowa. Readers of this blog know that months ago I all but ruled out Santorum and Huckabee on account of Iowa voters having chosen them in the past but now clearly wanting nothing to do with them. Jindal, as a new face, seems like the only candidate who can replicate Huckabee 2008 and Santorum 2012. In fact, Iowa has gone on to rank these candidates exactly as I did. Jindal has a 2.8 Iowa Real Clear Politics average, Huckabee 2.0, and Santorum 1.4.
Tier 3: Carly Fiorina
8. Carly Fiorina (6, 14) — The only woman gets a lonely tier. Two pitch perfect debates earned her short surges. For whatever reason, however, the party bailed. Second surges are rare, and I don’t expect one from Fiorina. For a downfall as rapid as her ascent, her supporters blame the media, but that same media anointed her the winner of those debates. Moreover, the media hasn’t exactly treated Trump and Carson with kid gloves, and their surges have been maintained for quite some time. Regardless, after she was finally overshadowed in the last debate — not just by one candidate, but by three — I fear for her poll numbers moving forward. Plus, as theorized here for a while, I don’t think she’ll ever get too aggressive on the contenders, because she’s in a great spot for the VP nod. That makes a late second surge even less likely.
Tier 2: Speaking of the Contenders
7. John Kasich (5, 6) — In July, I said Kasich’s best shot was through this two-step process: 1) Jeb Bush collapses and the establishment quits on him. 2) The establishment looks around and realizes Kasich is the natural, electable heir to their support. One out of two steps won’t get it done.
6. Donald Trump (7, 11) — Uh oh. He’s even climbing on Presidential Politics for America? The last “Donald Trump has no shot to win this thing” refuge? I was actually (deep breath, I can do this) impressed with his third debate. It was by no means a top performance of the night, but it was the first time I heard him stay calm and bring up specifics. If he shows he can transition from bombastic and controversial to collected and stately, he might be able to convert his name recognition and populism to a run at the nomination. Might. He’s still more likely to withdraw before Iowa than he is to be the nominee.
5. Ben Carson (8, 8) — The man of the hour. Trump seems to have crested, and soon it will be Carson’s turn on top. I have to respect the climb and have moved him up three spots as a result. The question now becomes: can he sustain into February? I’m still guessing no. Maybe we’d all like to think that being a head of state is easy. (As a teacher, I can relate to a lot of people thinking my job can be done by anyone.) But it’s not easy. Just as we wouldn’t want a lawyer operating on our brain despite his intelligence and the able nurses with which he could surround himself, we should not want a medical doctor to be head of the executive branch of government and commander-in-chief. The party will be forced to face this truth. If the biggest Republican criticism of Senator Obama was his lack of political experience (state senator then first term U.S. Senator), I don’t see how that party votes in someone with none at all. I have him ranked ahead of Trump because I trust Carson’s ability and desire to reach Iowa a lot more than Trump’s.
4. Chris Christie (4, 4) — The sleeping giant takes a long time to wake up. Maybe he never will. But if he does — watch out.
3. Jeb Bush (2, 1) — He can’t like this trend. Will he be fourth next month? Will he even be in the race next month? He swears he’s in it for the long haul, but his only advantage on the field is his big donor pool, so if they think he’s cooked and put their checkbooks away, then he is in actuality cooked. The self-fulfilling prophecy could doom his campaign.
2. Ted Cruz (3, 7) — Now this is a trend to like. In the three weeks since I noted how Ted Cruz was a force to be reckoned with and too overlooked as a legitimate threat to win the nomination, his odds have improved by more than 200 percent. He has moved from mostly 25/1 to mostly 10/1. The bookies took notice. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve started to crystallize my narrative prediction of the Republican Primary, and Ted Cruz is shaping up to be the last guy to withdraw, or, with a break, the nominee.
Tier 1: The Favorite
1. Marco Rubio (1, 3) — The most likely nominee, however, is still Marco Rubio. Thanks to excellent debate performances, he’s starting to consolidate broad support. He has great favorables, the establishment likes him, conservatives like him, and he looks great in a general election against Hillary Clinton. If (when?) Bush totally flat-lines, most of his supporters will run to fellow Floridian Rubio. If Trump and/or Carson continue to look strong into January, we can expect the establishment field to thin and the party — not just former candidates but elected officials across the country — to rally around someone it can trust. Rubio looks to be that guy.