Since I’ve been so brilliantly successful at forecasting the progress of the US presidential campaign so far, I’ve decided to share more predictions.
At Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver sees “Four Roads Out of Iowa for the Republicans.” I also see four sets of outcomes for tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses, but not quite the same four Mr Silver sees.
I see four possible winners. Loudmouth landlord Don-John Trump is leading the polls among Republican voters in Iowa and most other states. If he wins the first contest, (let’s say he has a 35% chance of doing that,) his odds of winning everywhere else likely increase. However, it has several times happened that the winner of the Iowa caucuses has gone on to receive a smaller percentage of the vote in the next contest, the New Hampshire primary, than the New Hampshire polls had suggested before that Iowa win. George H. W. Bush in 1980, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008 can all be cited as examples of that sort of anti-momentum. A highly unconventional candidate like Mr Trump might be especially vulnerable to anti-momentum. New Hampshire voters might be leery of giving him wins in both of the first two contests, thereby putting him in a commanding position in the rest of the primary season. If they do desert him, the likeliest candidate to benefit would be Ohio governor John Kasich. Mr Kasich is rising in the New Hampshire polls, drawing big crowds at events in the state, and dominating the airwaves there. So if Iowa goes to Mr Trump, I would put the chances of New Hampshire also voting for him at about 70%, and of it turning to Mr Kasich at about 20%.
Texas senator Ted Cruz is also strong in the Iowa polls, and his voters do seem likelier to turn out for the caucuses. So I’d give him a 50% chance of winning Iowa. If he beats Mr Trump by a narrow margin, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone; Mr Trump’s chances of winning New Hampshire would probably be at least 70% in that case. On the other hand, if Mr Cruz wins by a wider than expected margin, that would put Mr Trump on the defensive, and again Mr Kasich comes into the picture as a possible winner in New Hampshire. Maybe his chances would rise as high as 40% in that case, with a 50% likelihood Mr Trump would win New Hampshire.
Florida senator Marco Rubio has consistently stood in third place in the Iowa polls, and is the only conventional Republican candidate making a stand there. Mr Cruz and Mr Trump have been feuding with each other in recent weeks; Iowa caucus-goers don’t like that sort of fighting, as witness the Democratic race in 2004, when frontrunners Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt spent weeks filling Iowa television and radio with attacks on each other, then neither finished in the top two on the night. It’s possible Mr Rubio could pull the kind of upset this year that John Kerry pulled on the Democratic side in 2004. If that happens, Mr Rubio will eclipse Mr Kasich, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor John Ellis Bush, and onetime tech CEO Carly Fiorina to become the default candidate of those looking for a conventional Republican candidate. That will likely guarantee him a win in New Hampshire, and probably make him unbeatable down the road to the nomination. If he doesn’t win Iowa, Mr Rubio won’t win anywhere; he’s been static in the polls, fundraising, and organization for months and months, and simply is not very good at connecting with Republican voters. If he does win in Iowa, though, he’s the nominee. (Unless something embarrassing bubbles up from his past, or something else unforeseeable happens.) On the other hand, that Iowa win, is pretty unlikely, I’d say about a 5% chance. So let’s say that translates to a 4% chance of a Rubio nomination.
Retired brain surgeon Ben Carson, briefly a frontrunner in the polls last year, is now polling at about 10% in Iowa. However, the final polls before the 2012 Republican Iowa caucuses showed former Pennsylvania senator Richard Santorum with about that same level of support, and he won. Mr Santorum’s people were the hardcore religious conservatives, the group that is far likelier than any other to show up and take an active part in the Republican caucus meetings. Dr Carson draws his support from the same bloc, and he has been a familiar figure among them for decades. While Mr Cruz may have made sufficient inroads with the religious right that Dr Carson is unlikely to emerge tomorrow night as the big winner, it would be foolish to discount his chances altogether. I would guess that he has about a 10% chance of winning Iowa. If he manages that, Mr Trump and Mr Cruz will both be seriously damaged, and Mr Kasich is virtually certain to win New Hampshire.
If Mr Trump comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire looking like winner, he’ll have to knock all of his opponents out of the race quickly, lest his poverty choke his campaign before he can clinch the nomination. If he wins Iowa, Dr Carson will probably back out of the race; if he wins it by a wide margin, Mr Cruz may see his candidacy collapse. If he wins New Hampshire, he’ll knock Mr Kasich, Mr Christie, Mr Rubio, Ms Fiorina, and Kentucky senator Randall “Rand” Paul out of the race. Mr Bush has enough money in the bank and enough institutional support that he can continue his campaign indefinitely. He will likely spend many millions of dollars trying to win the primary in South Carolina regardless of the results of the first two contests. If Mr Cruz is still in contention at that point, as it seems virtually certain he will be, then the outcome of the South Carolina primary will be quite unpredictable.
If Mr Kasich wins the New Hampshire primary, he may slip through the Trump/ Cruz/ Bush scrum to win South Carolina as well. Even if he doesn’t manage that feat, a win in New Hampshire would give him the mainstream default candidate status Mr Rubio could gain by winning Iowa. That in turn would take him to March 15, when the first states hold primaries in which the winner takes all of that state’s convention delegates, instead of giving each candidate a share of delegates proportional to his or her percentage of the vote. The two biggest of these states are Ohio, which Mr Kasich will certainly win if he is a viable candidate, and Florida, which is also likely to favor a candidate more conventional than Mr Trump or Mr Cruz. If he wins those two states, Mr Kasich will be all but unbeatable in the later stages of the nomination contest. But he has to win New Hampshire; he stands so low in the polls nationally and has so little organization or institutional support that anything less than a first-place finish there will force him out of the race.
Of all the Republican candidates, Mr Kasich sounds the most like a president; no less an an observer than the late Richard M. Nixon has declared that he is his party’s most, and indeed only, electable candidate. I would rather not see a Republican elected president, so I suppose I should hope they nominate Dr Carson or Mr Bush or Mr Cruz, each of whom, for his own particular reasons, would probably drive well over 50% of the electorate to oppose him unalterably.