November 18, 2015
It’s no secret the road for a more moderate/mainstream conservative governor goes through New Hampshire. Chris Christie and John Kasich committed to the Granite State months ago. Jeb Bush 2.0 is focusing his efforts there too.
If you assume these candidates are relatively interchangeable, that their supporters prefer someone with executive experience and are not looking for a spotless, apostasy-free conservative record (New Hampshire Republicans are significantly less conservative than the average GOP voter), the person who consolidates their combined support has a chance.
In the most recent three polls taken in New Hampshire, the Tottering Trio combined for between 20 and 23 percent, within range of Donald Trump’s leading numbers (he’s averaging 26%), and ahead of anyone else (Carson, and Cruz intermittently reached the 12-13% range, Rubio was there each time.)
One poll was taken before the most recent GOP debate, one right after, the third after Paris. The trio moved from 23% to 21% to 20%, so they were neither helped by the last debate nor concerns outsider candidates can’t handle national security.
With Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz consistently scoring debate points and making consistent polling progress everywhere (including New Hampshire), it’s unreasonable to expect the combined trio vote to grow noticeably before the primary.
Outside of New England (the new Emerson College poll in Connecticut has them at 22%), the trio is completely uncompetitive. Florida, Jeb’s home: 12% (3/4 of which is Jeb). Colorado, key must-win swing state: 4% COMBINED.
The race is very close to settling on a final four. Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz are accounting for 75-85% of total support in most states. The others are fighting over scraps. Of the four, only Rubio is thought of as acceptable by the type of people who would fund Christie, Bush or Kasich.
For anyone dreading Nominee Trump/Carson/Cruz, putting everything on the relatively untested Rubio is a little scary. Based on funding, polling and on-the-ground organization, the insiders haven’t rallied to the freshman senator just yet, even if he’s currently the clear leader among non-outsiders.
The only way one of the trio serves as a backup is if they win New Hampshire. Iowa will not provide positive momentum. South Carolina and Nevada do not appear particularly promising. Many of the March 1 states are not very favorable.
Things shift on March 15, and as a Five Thirty Eight piece pointed out several days ago, delegate allocation potentially favors a more moderate candidate (places like New York assign delegates based on congressional districts. These districts often have very few Republicans, those who exist are relatively moderate).
So, if Rubio falters (as well as he’s doing in favorability measures, he still isn’t leading in any one state), a governor who won New Hampshire could become the Great Establishment Hope.
In a delegate gathering race, where two or three of Carson, Trump and Cruz are still contending, one of these guys could pull a solid plurality in many states. But that still requires a New Hampshire win.
At the moment, each of the three has relatively even support there. At one time, Kasich had an advantage, but it’s gone now. As awful as his Huntsman 2.0 strategy is nationally, the original Huntsman did finish third in 2012. There is room for someone like this in New Hampshire.
Bush still has the most resources of the three, has probably bottomed out, at least message-wise, and has a plan in place to compete on March 15 and afterward.
Christie is the best debater (by far), has the best tone of the trio for convincing regular conservatives to jump on board and is presently the easiest to picture as a real contender.
They each have their case for sticking around, though Kasich’s is the weakest. All three have reason to believe they are qualified to serve as president and could defeat Hillary Clinton next fall.
If two of the three were to exit the race by Thanksgiving and endorse the survivor, that remaining candidate is suddenly viable, though still an underdog. Bobby Jindal bounced yesterday, so it’s possible another governor could bail, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Jindal was boxed out by Cruz. He had virtually no chance of getting past him in Iowa and wasn’t anywhere close further down the line.
Politicians at this level have very healthy egos. Kasich waited almost two decades to take another shot at the presidency (his 2000 run ended in 1999). The Bush family doesn’t quit in primaries. Christie has nothing to go back to in New Jersey.
We’ve heard the “establishment” is petrified the GOP will nominate an outsider. There are real questions whether said establishment has any remaining clout. If there is anything resembling an effective Eastern Establishment (many outside the Acela corridor are just fine with Fiorina or Cruz as a Rubio alternative), they will have to force two of the three out.
One (Kasich) in the next couple weeks, giving the other two a podium in the December main debate. Then they need to decide between Jeb and Christie by early January, giving the survivor a full month of attention.
While I think Christie is the stronger candidate of the two, as long as Jeb exists, he won’t get enough oxygen. If Jeb can improve his message in the next 6-8 weeks, they can justify taking a chance on him instead. If not, all in on Christie.
This should happen, but it probably won’t. Unless somebody drops out fairly soon, we’re still looking at Mutual Assured Destruction in February as each is just strong enough to eliminate the others. Barring any major structural change, none will make it to South Carolina.