Two months until Iowa! We’re at the exact midpoint between the October Power Rankings and the Iowa caususes. Time is flying faster than insults out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
Let’s see how the rankings have evolved. Next to each candidate’s ranking will be their November rank, followed by their October rank and then their July rank from the old blog. In other words, the rankings go back in time as you read them. Here we go:
Tier 5: Moving on Up! (Thanks to Tier 6)
14. George Pataki (15, 15, 17)
13. James Gilmore (14, 14, 16)
They’ve come such a long way! If ten more people drop out, they have a chance. Actually, make that twelve more. Actually, make that twelve more and no savior candidate. Actually, they don’t have a chance.
Tier 4: Still Basically No Shot
12. Rick Santorum (11, 11, 13)
11. Mike Huckabee (10, 10, 12)
10. Rand Paul (12, 12, 5)
9. Lindsey Graham (13, 13, 15)
Lindsey Graham is the biggest mover of these Power Rankings. His polling doesn’t reflect such a climb, but his relentless hawkishness has a better chance of catching on in this primary, thanks to increasing unease over ISIS and Islamic extremism, than does Santorum and Huckabee’s social conservatism or Rand Paul’s wonky libertarianism. In fact, polls since the Paris attacks say that terrorism has become the number one issue for voters. Logic dictates that Graham should ascend as a result. Graham’s rise knocks Santorum and Huckabee down a spot. That being said, the difference between these no-shot candidates is negligible.
Tier 3: Long Shots With Awful Trends
8. Carly Fiorina (8, 6, 14): She probably wishes there was a debate every week, because that’s the only time she ever resonates in polling. The problem is that resonance doesn’t last. Thanks to the early debates, she peaked in early autumn with some double-digit polling, but she has since steadily fallen. She now polls 3s and 4s nationally and not much better in Iowa and New Hampshire. As I said last month, “Second surges are rare, and I don’t expect one from Fiorina.” Her October ranking of 6 will remain her high water mark.
7. Ben Carson (5, 8, 8): Last week I showed how his numbers crested and are now falling. It seems his aloofness on the issues — and his embrace of his amateurishness — has finally caught up to him. Conventional wisdom says that the Paris attacks caused Republicans to re-evaluate Carson’s lack of experience (though that alone does not explain why they gravitated toward Trump instead). Despite his loss of momentum, his most ardent evangelical supporters will dig in and see his campaign through Iowa, but if he doesn’t win it, he’s through. And he won’t win it.
6. John Kasich (7, 5, 6): Really, he’s ranked sixth by default. Fiorina and Carson’s surges are behind them; I don’t like their chances to surge again. As much of a long shot as Kasich is, he might yet win New Hampshire, where he’s spending most of his time, if the establishment doesn’t rally around Bush or Rubio. If he does, he could still emerge as the establishment candidate. But that’s all pie-in-the-sky-best-case-scenario-on-the-edge-of-realistic. He’s been stuck at around three percent nationally for months. His New Hampshire average is a solid 7.2, but that still puts him out of the top five. His most relevant role in this primary might be his Super-PAC firing the establishment’s opening salvo against Trump. I expect that to be a harbinger.
Tier 2: The Contenders
5. Jeb Bush (3, 2, 1): The slow slide of the Bush Campaign continues. He still has the money and establishment support to win this thing if he can catch a break, but the likelihood that he drops out to make way for Rubio, and redirect funding and supporters to him, increases with each underwhelming poll and debate. He also needs to consider folding up shop just to save face if he wants to run again in four to eight years as “Jeb! 2.0” (TM). He’s both a top five contender for the nomination and a top five drop-out candidate.
4. Chris Christie (4, 4, 4): I don’t think any candidate before him on this list can catch fire on the campaign trail down the stretch. Christie can. A key newspaper endorsement over the weekend gives his campaign some badly needed oxygen. Its publisher went on Meet the Press to explain his reasoning, saying Christie was the most qualified to take on “Trump, Hillary, and ISIS.” New Hampshire loves to vet candidates, and they have not made up their collective mind yet. Christie has a puncher’s chance, and his ceiling with a win is sky high. That being said, Christie’s positives are nothing new, yet he hasn’t been able to make a run yet. I couldn’t in good conscience continue to keep him ranked better than Trump and his consistent poll numbers. My gut says Christie is going to make a big January run, but I’m sick of being wrong predicting Trump’s collapse.
3. Donald Trump (6, 7, 11): This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. (At this point, I don’t know if I’m telling you or reassuring me.)
The argument for it happening: RCP averages have him up 8 nationally, 5 in Iowa, 15 in New Hampshire, and 6 in South Carolina. In other words, he’s up everywhere it matters. His supporters don’t seem to care what he says, so the imminent implosion of the last four months continues to be imminent only.
The argument against: It seems impossible for Trump to grow support beyond 30 percent, Cruz is coming on strong in Iowa, the establishment will martial its support behind one candidate in New Hampshire, and if Trump loses both states his campaign will melt like the Nazis’ faces at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Plus, he matches up poorly against Hillary Clinton in general election polls, and many Republicans seem worried that Trump could tarnish the Republican brand. It will be all hands on deck to defeat him, which will make room for two other candidates to rise to the top.
Readers of this blog (and first time readers with deductive skills) know who the candidates are, but which one is on top, and how will things play out between them? Tune in tomorrow to find out.