FIX: There’s only one question in the Republican party right now: Can anyone — or anything — stop Donald Trump? So, can they? If so, who — and how?
Stevens: Voters stop Donald Trump.To win you have to win. So where's Donald Trump going to win? Iowa? Don't think so. Given the cultural conservatism of Iowa Republican primary voters, a guy who has been married three times, bankrupt four, is in the gambling business and stumbles over a question about asking God for forgiveness is not a good fit. The recent Monmouth Poll, which has been a good poll for the Caucus, has him in fourth place with what they classify as "regular" Republicans, basically repeat Caucus customers. Fourth is where I think he'll end up in Iowa, with Cruz winning and Rubio and Carson in second or third, pick 'em.
Trump's entire definition is based around "winning." So if he doesn't win Iowa he has lost Iowa and that makes him a...loser, that dreaded word in the Trump lexicon. So Loser Trump comes out of Iowa and goes into New Hampshire. When is the last time the first-place Republican candidate in New Hampshire spent less time campaigning in the state than the second or third place? New Hampshire voters want to be loved and demand great amounts of personal commitment. If you can win by flying in and out and holding a rally, New Hampshire becomes just another Tarmac Campaign State.
Right now Chris Christie has a lot of momentum in New Hampshire and can be a sane alternative for those seeking a strong voice on foreign policy. He's the Strong Leader candidate. Timing and talent mean a lot in politics and when the two combine, it can be potent. I'd say the top three in New Hampshire will be Christie, Rubio and Bush, pick 'em order. I think there's a chance Trump can get on the podium if he gets off his plane, gets on a bus and works it. But will he?
National polls are meaningless for the obvious reason that you are testing a lot of voters who don't, well, vote. The first four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada -- will likely serve as playoff rounds for who makes it beyond. Coming in second or third in a state is only meaningful if it helps you win another state. To win you have to win. There is tremendous volatility in these state races impacted by the previous states and factors during the days before the race. In a one-month period in 2012, there was a 33 point shift between Romney and [Newt] Gingrich in Florida. In 2000, after losing New Hampshire, George [W.] Bush landed in South Carolina almost twenty points down to McCain. He won by 12.
FIX: You are RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. What do you say to Trump?
Stevens: Anybody can run for president and they have the right to say crazy stuff. Al Sharpton ran in 2004 in the Democratic Primary and was taken seriously. The Republic survived. It's not any party's job to be a hall monitor for what is inevitably a chaotic and confusing process. But if Trump or anyone says something offensive, the party should -- and has -- reacted. When someone is going crazy often the best thing and sometimes the only thing you can do is not go crazy with them.
FIX: If you are a Senate GOP incumbent running for election or reelection in a state like Ohio, Florida or New Hampshire, how worried are you about Trump and the rest of the chaos on the GOP side? And, is there anything you can do to distance yourself from Trump? Should you even try?
Stevens: In 2012, no Republican Senate candidate in a real race got more votes than Mitt Romney in their state. Republicans won only one U.S. Senate seat in a state Romney lost: Nevada, where [Dean] Heller won by a tiny margin with the independent taking five percent. What's that mean? It's going to be very difficult to win tight Senate seats if the presidential candidate is not either winning or very, very close to winning. Trump as a nominee is an obvious disaster for Republicans, which is just one more reason he won't be the nominee. Parties don't really like to commit suicide. But forgetting Trump, it's reasonable to assume Clinton or [Bernie] Sanders (yes, he is the most liked candidate in the race of either party) will be doing very well in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. You need to build Senate campaigns that carve out a unique identity focused on the individual candidate.
FIX: Does this primary fight remind you of any in the history of the GOP? 1964? 1976?
Stevens: What's different about this race is the increased attention it's generating this early. It's a function of Obama fatigue, a wrong track nation that believes there is real consequences to the election, social media and, yes, Donald Trump, who has that WWE appeal. Politics is covered a lot like sports now and everybody watching is that guy or woman calling Mad Dog or Paul Finebaum to tell them what their favorite team should really be doing. That drives passion if not perception. So I'd say this reminds me of the 2013 NFL season, when home-field advantage wasn't decided until the last week of the season and every game had playoff implications. Fun.
FIX: Finish this sentence: The chances of a brokered convention are _____________. Now, explain why.
Stevens: I've just finished a novel that is set during a Republican brokered convention in the near future, so this is a subject I've been living. In my fictional convention -- set in New Orleans -- a few bombs are going off here and there and it's a wild ride. Since Knopf is publishing it in June, I'll naturally say I think the odds for a brokered convention are 100 percent.Why? Because it would be so great for my book. (Which is called, by the way, "The Innocent Have Nothing To Fear.")