Republicans Could Be In For A Wild Ride In 2016

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from The Wall Street Journal,

New primary rules make the choice of a nominee far more uncertain than in the past half century.

To better understand the 2016 GOP presidential race, let’s consider some history. At a comparable point during the last nine Republican presidential primary contests, four had a front-runner with a double-digit lead in a national poll, and in five the leader was ahead by single digits.

the front-runner—regardless of their lead’s size—won five out of nine times. If the front-runner actually ran, he became the GOP nominee in five of seven contests. So a lead now, even a small one, is something of an advantage.

Structural changes imposed by the Republican National Committee may make 2016 a different story. Only four states will have primaries in February—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. States holding primaries in the first half of March 2016 must award delegates proportionally. States in the second half of March can be winner-take-all.

Assume different candidates win each of the first four contests, which is historically the case. No one locks up the nomination in February, but the field narrows to three-to-five plausible candidates.

March’s proportional primaries further winnow the field, with the late March and early April winner-take-all primaries settling the contest. In this scenario, the quality of each candidate’s message is likely to be the most important element in determining the outcome.

But more so than in the past, momentum in early March, strong organizations in the March states, and sufficient money to spend effectively could seal the nomination.

Another scenario: The field is so jumbled following the February contests that the late March/early April primaries narrow the field but don’t produce a winner. The race continues through the spring, probably involving two candidates locked in fierce struggle.

In this scenario, if minor candidates win enough delegates in the February and early March proportional contests (which could happen given this field’s quality), no candidate might win a delegate majority before the convention. State laws and party rules would require delegates pledged to minor candidates to support them for at least a ballot or two at the July 2016 convention in Cleveland. Candidates would then wheel-and-deal to arrive at a majority, as often happened at conventions before 1952.

This scenario isn’t likely.

There is also a question of who the front-runner is now. There are more surveys this election than in the past. So while Wednesday’s Real Clear Politics average had Jeb Bush at 14.5%, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13% and Mike Huckabee at 11.8%, each man has led in a national poll in the past four weeks.

Republicans prize orderliness, so it’s unlikely the GOP will return to smoke-filled rooms, and deals over platform planks or cabinet posts to pick their candidate. Unlikely but not impossible. So there is still hope for political junkies who dream of drama and disarray.

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