I like Brian Beutler’s pre-game analysis of tonight’s Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.
I think he has a good formulation in carving out four candidates who are broadly acceptable to the Republican establishment. These would be Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich and, of course, Jeb! Bush of Terri Schiavo fame.
If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could someone right his ship and stage a political comeback, he could be added to this list, but he’s an afterthought at the moment.
So, if one of those four candidates is going to be the nominee (eventually), we really need to figure out how it is going to happen.
Starting with Marco Rubio, he’s an actual bona fide Latino. Sure, he’s Cuban-American, but the entire tide and momentum of the nomination contest right now is with people who are using Press ‘1’ for English as their rallying cry. It’s kind of hard to see how that all gets transferred to the “hey, we’re a new kind of inclusive party that is led by a bona fide Latino!” I mean, it could happen, and that would be interesting and positive in its own way, I guess, but are you putting money on it happening?
As for Scott Walker, it’s hard to see any pulse to his campaign at all. This is one of the most surprising develops of the campaign so far. Maybe, if he can reverse course and move up as quickly as he’s moved down, he can reemerge as a hybrid option that excites the base and doesn’t freak out the suits. I guess a strong debate performance would be the best way to begin that resurrection. But are you putting money on the charisma-challenged Walker having a strong debate performance?
Then there’s Jeb! Bush. Pretty much all the chaos and havoc and angst we’re witnessing is a direct result of the fact that Jeb! sucks as a candidate and is being rejected like generic dog food. If he sticks around long enough and lets the inherent flaws of his competitors become evident enough, he could win like McCain and Romney won, as the last plausible guy standing. He’s still got a shot, but the zeitgeist is against him. I wouldn’t bet your money on this guy.
That leaves John Kasich of Ohio. I think this is the guy. You can give me a lot of reasons why the base won’t love him, and that’s true. But the base hasn’t loved anyone since Dubya crawled back to Dallas. Kasich doesn’t need the base to love him. He just has to beat out these other three chumps (which is not particularly hard to envision) and be the last guy standing against The Donald.
I give Kasich at least even money in that fight.
So, what does Kasich have to do tonight?
Not much, really. Just sound reasonable and respectable and keep even with the others. As Jeb’s supporters panic and seek safety, they’ll flock to Kasich and his numbers will grow. Right now, he’s tied with Jeb in fourth place in New Hampshire with nine percent of the vote. Together, he and Bush have 18% and Fiorina (in third place) has another 11%.
So, collectively, these three command about 29 to 30 percent of the vote in the Granite State.
The problem is that Trump (22%), Carson (18%), and Cruz (5%) collectively have about 45%.
If there’s a problem with my theory that Kasich is an even-money bet to beat Trump, it’s this 45%-30% outsider-insider advantage. But I think the mainstream candidates are suffering from having no clear champion, as Beutler pointed out, and I think that the flaws in the outsiders will become more troubling to more people as it comes time to take a real serious look. So, really, if it were any closer than 45%-30%, I’d be willing to put my chips on Kasich without any hesitation.
Maybe Rubio will surprise me, and maybe Walker and Jeb have something in the tank that I’m just not seeing, but I’m getting more confident about a Kasich showdown with Trump, or if Trump collapses early, a showdown between Kasich and Carson.