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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, January 8, 2016

The pre­season phase of the pres­id­en­tial cam­paign is now of­fi­cially over, so what can we ex­pect—that is, if any­thing can really be ex­pec­ted this year? Cer­tainly few, if any­one, an­ti­cip­ated the rise of Don­ald Trump and Ben Car­son. The sus­tain­ab­il­ity of the former caught the polit­ic­al pros off guard; the col­lapse of the lat­ter was less of a sur­prise. Bernie Sanders has ob­vi­ously done bet­ter than his Sen­ate col­leagues ex­pec­ted, not to men­tion the Demo­crat­ic es­tab­lish­ment and Hil­lary Clin­ton. But what next?

On the Demo­crat­ic side, Clin­ton may well hear Sanders’s foot­steps for a while longer. It’s not hard to un­der­stand how a heav­ily ideo­lo­gic­al can­did­ate can do well in Iowa or, for that mat­ter, oth­er caucus states. In fact, that’s the norm. Neither is it a shock that a lib­er­al Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or from Ver­mont might be do­ing well else­where in New Eng­land, in­clud­ing New Hamp­shire. But it is very hard to see how Sanders can pre­vail. There simply aren’t enough del­eg­ates picked in caucus and/or New Eng­land states to sus­tain Sanders. His sup­port is too nar­row and too white to do well out­side of those two sets of states.

As my Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port col­league Dav­id Wasser­man has cal­cu­lated, in the nearly im­possible event that Sanders won 100 per­cent of the Iowa and oth­er caucus state del­eg­ates as well as 100 per­cent of the del­eg­ates from New Eng­land, that would get him 36 per­cent of the del­eg­ates needed to win the nom­in­a­tion. The only real nom­in­a­tion chal­lenge that Clin­ton might face would be if the Justice De­part­ment moves for­ward on her email con­tro­versy, which is highly un­likely. Even then, Demo­crats would just reach for the red box on the wall that says, “In case of fire, break glass,” and pull out Joe Biden’s phone num­ber.

One way of look­ing at the GOP nom­in­a­tion fight is to think of three lanes or brack­ets: a pop­u­list lane—ob­vi­ously dom­in­ated by Trump—a con­ser­vat­ive lane, and a con­ven­tion­al/mod­er­ate lane (the liber­tari­an lane that Rand Paul was bank­ing on failed to emerge). The pop­u­list lane is all Trump. Voters fol­low­ing The Don­ald tend to be less ri­gidly con­ser­vat­ive, more sec­u­lar than re­li­gious, and most, though cer­tainly not all, have less than a col­lege de­gree. The an­ger and strongly anti­es­tab­lish­ment mood is dom­in­ant in the pop­u­list and con­ser­vat­ive lanes, while not that sig­ni­fic­ant in the more con­ven­tion­al/mod­er­ate lane.

The Feb. 1 Iowa caucus is likely to bring an end to the con­ser­vat­ive-lane con­test. Ted Cruz is gain­ing mo­mentum and seems to have the best or­gan­iz­a­tion, which is para­mount in try­ing to get voters out and stick around for two hours on a very cold Monday night. It is hard to see how the two pre­vi­ous Iowa caucus win­ners, Mike Hucka­bee and Rick San­tor­um, can stay in the race after get­ting shut out in the Hawkeye State.

The con­ven­tion­al/mod­er­ate lane is con­sid­er­ably more com­plic­ated. This fac­tion of the GOP, like the pop­u­list side, is fairly sec­u­lar, but is con­sid­er­ably more up­scale in terms of so­cial, eco­nom­ic, and edu­ca­tion­al yard­sticks, and has been deeply splintered, as my Na­tion­al Journ­al col­league Ron­ald Brown­stein has writ­ten so per­suas­ively. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Marco Ru­bio are all com­pet­ing in this lane. It is highly un­likely that any of them can win in re­li­gious and move­ment-con­ser­vat­ive Iowa. In­deed, it is un­likely that any of them can even come in second, so each would prob­ably settle for a mod­est boost by fin­ish­ing third be­hind Cruz and Trump.

The New Hamp­shire primary, where there are con­sid­er­ably more mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and where in­de­pend­ents can choose between cast­ing Demo­crat­ic or Re­pub­lic­an bal­lots, is aw­fully im­port­ant for this lane. If any of them could man­age to come in first in New Hamp­shire, that can­did­ate would be hard to stop for the nom­in­a­tion. Trump has been run­ning first; Ru­bio, Cruz, and Christie are neck-and-neck for second place; Kasich is not far be­hind in fifth place; and Bush is a bit fur­ther be­hind in sixth. It’s not just a mat­ter of which con­ven­tion­al/mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an comes in second but also how far back the oth­ers fin­ish. The longer this (al­pha­bet­ic­ally lis­ted) Bush-Christie-Kasich-Ru­bio splin­ter­ing of the largely col­lege-edu­cated and not-so-con­ser­vat­ive-or-pop­u­list bloc of votes goes, the harder it will be for any of them to pre­vail for the nom­in­a­tion. One needs to dom­in­ate and the oth­ers need to go away, but it is not sure at all wheth­er this will hap­pen—nor is it sure that either the South Car­o­lina primary or Nevada caucus will cla­ri­fy the situ­ation.

I re­main con­vinced that between now and the March 1 Su­per Tues­day/SEC primar­ies, and par­tic­u­larly the March 15 set of primar­ies and some con­tests after, those angry and pro­foundly anti­es­tab­lish­ment voters will have fin­ished vent­ing their spleens. They will have sent their angry mes­sages to the polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment and will turn to the ser­i­ous busi­ness of se­lect­ing a pres­id­ent, tak­ing in­to ac­count such things as tem­pera­ment and judg­ment, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the end of their af­fair with Trump. They will co­alesce be­hind a more plaus­ible vehicle for their an­ger and anti­es­tab­lish­ment views. That can­did­ate is likely to be Cruz.