There will be a brokered Republican convention
So, sure, a brokered convention -- in either party -- is the political nerd fantasy of all times. But, that doesn't mean it won't happen; in fact, if we are ever to see another brokered convention in modern politics, this year and this Republican Party may be our best bet.
Start with the fact that, even with the departure of George Pataki this week, there are still a dozen serious candidates running for the Republican nomination. It takes time for a field that large to sort itself out and thin down to one or two candidates. That's before you consider that one of the dozen candidates is named Donald J. Trump -- a man who is, without question, the least predictable politician ever to lead a major party's nomination contest this late in the calendar. Trump has repeatedly pledged to carry the fight all the way to the convention, although it remains to be seen how he will cope with losing -- if and when that happens.
Now consider the way that the Republican Party will allocate its delegates from the various primaries and caucuses next year. If your state holds a primary or caucus prior to March 15, you have to allocate the delegates won by candidates proportionally -- meaning that the candidate who wins the state doesn't get all of them (or even close). By my count, 26 states will vote prior to March 15 in 2016. That means that it's VERY likely that come mid-March you will have three or four candidates with a creditable amount of delegates. There's likely to be a leader. But he (or she) isn't likely to be able to run away with it. And, if there are four viable options on March 1, then that quartet can cherry-pick states here and there over the next few months in which they can win and continue to accrue delegates. All the way to the convention floor.
Arguing against the brokered convention is the Republican establishment's fervent desire to take back the White House and beat expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That's a very real emotion within the GOP establishment, no question. But, if this past year has proven anything, it's how little power the establishment has to enforce its will on the broader party.
In short: Circle July 18-21 in Cleveland. It could be the most interesting political convention in decades.
President Obama will go out with a bang
Politicians get frustrated when they don't get what they want. President Obama gets flabbergasted.
As we've noted before on this blog, Obama often seems bemused that the things he's proposed aren't universally accepted as good ideas. Republicans who stand in his way are seen as obstructors, standing in his way just because they want to -- not for any real policy or ideological reason. When Obama has failed, he has often blamed his inability to sell the idea to the American people. The subtext of that is this: I'm right, and people just haven't been made to understand that yet.
We've seen Obama publicly vent about this, most often when it comes to passing new gun control legislation. It clearly bothers him that he can't break through the gridlock -- that the strength of his own good ideas aren't accepted wholeheartedly across the political spectrum. He knows he's right.
But while Obama has vented, he hasn't truly seethed -- truly emoted and laid his feelings bare. That's not really his style; he was, after all, a professor.
And yet, here we are with just more than a year left in his presidency. And I believe that, at some point over the final year, we'll see Obama truly lose his cool -- or at least be a much more in-your-face Obama.
It might or might not be totally spontaneous (perhaps he'll do it to make sure his point is made loud and clear), but Obama will become so exasperated by the political debate and lack of progress in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail that he'll make a scene.
I'm not talking about a Howard Beale-style public breakdown, mind you. I'm not saying Obama is going to start publicly ridiculing his opponents and cursing -- although the latter can't be ruled out, given Obama's comments to Jerry Seinfeld. I'm just saying that he'll do something with a little more oomph behind it, something perhaps uncharacteristic for a U.S. president.
This is a guy whose political rise, after all, was tied to breaking down the wall between red and blue -- whose soaring rhetoric was supposed to bring about "hope" and "change." He hasn't been able to do that, and even making a scene likely won't move the needle much.
It's also politically risky. The very prospect of doing something "uncharacteristic for a U.S. president" can, of course, be labeled "unpresidential." (In fact, I checked and those are synonymous. Who knew?) Obama has his legacy to worry about, and perhaps he won't want one of the lasting images of his presidency to be The Guy Who Lost His Cool on Camera.
But leaving our politics in better shape than he found them is something that Obama cares deeply about -- and something which he has been clearly and genuinely astonished hasn't happened on his watch.
Given that volatile mix, it's possible Obama might feel the need to do more than just vent a little.
Ted Cruz will be the Republican nominee
The presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2016 will be Ted Cruz.
Yes. I said it. And yes, time and unforeseeable developments might prove me wrong. But I'm making this prediction now because, well, Chris asked me to offer an idea. Now, here's how I arrived at this prediction.
Data tells us that much of Republican front-runner Donald Trump's support comes from adults who are not reliable voters. This means that whatever Trump is or is not doing to get out the vote matters a great deal. Now, every campaign claims they are running the biggest, baddest -- or in Trump's case, classiest -- ground game of all time. But as our own Jenna Johnson reported in recent days, it's no cinch that Trump supporters will actually turn out.
So why does that make Cruz the likely nominee?
In a Dec. 14 Quinnipiac poll of the Iowa caucuses, Cruz was just one point behind Trump. Cruz's positions on abortion, religious liberty, Obamacare, gay marriage and other issues make him a natural fit with evangelical voters. And these voters are valuable not only because of their large presence in Iowa, but because they're accustomed to operating with political discipline. This is a group whose members vote. That means Iowa really and truly could go to Cruz.
After a tougher state for Cruz in New Hampshire, it's on to South Carolina where evangelicals, tea party types, and big business interests reign. Cruz's ideas about climate change and related regulation, federal spending and social issues appeal there.
By this point in the primary season, voters in the next state, Nevada, will likely begin to factor into their votes who looks like a winner. If Cruz arrives in the state with one or two victories, this could matter. Rubio could pose a challenge; he lived in Nevada in his youth, and the state is home to some Latino Republicans who may find his campaign and immigration stance appealing.
Then, there's Cruz's long-game. He has praised Trump while displaying subtle differences of opinion connected to his experience as a lawmaker, a former Texas solicitor general and a Harvard Law grad. Even in this we-adore-outsiders election cycle, national security and economic concerns loom large. So those descriptors do not render Cruz unqualified. While he's not a policy twin with Trump, they are friendly -- very friendly -- siblings. Should Trump's campaign fail, Cruz is best positioned to inherit motivated Trump voters in many states.
Indeed, Trump's presence in the race has very much opened the door to Cruz.
Conservatives in Congress will turn on Paul Ryan -- just as they did on Boehner
As he reflects on an unexpected and tumultuous year, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) is probably feeling pretty good about his first two months in his new job.
He avoided a government shutdown by negotiating a spending bill and a tax bill with Democrats. He got a majority of his members to vote for both. He kept conservatives mostly content by opening up some previously untouchable leadership jobs to them.
In short, Ryan carefully navigated his first tests as speaker without a major revolt of the lawmakers who helped oust his predecessor, former speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), and could have easily made the start of his new job more difficult.
But the new speaker's honeymoon will end abruptly in 2016.
The fundamental dynamics that drove the Republican Party into chaos -- increasingly partisan districts, the rise of politically active conservative groups watching lawmakers' every move, and the lack of earmarks that leaders can use as leverage to counter all that -- are still very much in play when Congress returns next year. In fact, they'll likely be exacerbated.
As it stands now, lawmakers -- like the 30 to 40 that make up the hard-line Freedom Caucus -- can demand politically popular but practically untenable policies like cutting of funds for President Obama's health-care law or Planned Parenthood without repercussions from voters back home. They're often encouraged to take such stands by conservative groups willing to shell out bucks for conservative causes -- even quixotic ones. That's especially true in an election year, when lawmakers of both parties tend to take more partisan stances anyway.
Ryan might be better-liked and more trusted among conservatives than his predecessor, but those are powerful forces for any leader to overcome. Boehner, with his three decades of experience, including almost five years as speaker, couldn't find a way.
Speaking of Boehner, Ryan had the added benefit during December's messy year-end spending negotiations of blaming his predecessor for backing him into a corner. Because Boehner was unable to help shepherd through individual spending bills for each government agency throughout the year, Ryan told his conference that had no choice but to negotiate with Democrats and pass an expensive, goodie-filled spending bill that jammed government funding into one 1,500-page package.
Next year will be different, Ryan promised his party. Under his leadership, Congress will return to "regular order" where Republican lawmakers of every level will have a say and major bills are put together on time so as to avoid last-minute capitulation to Democrats.
Those are big promises Ryan is putting all on his own shoulders. All it takes is one slip-up to give an emboldened, skeptical conservative class reason to think Ryan is just like their old leader -- unwilling to stand up to Democrats -- and turn on him like they did with Boehner.
In Washington, slip-ups and broken promises are inevitable. Which is why I think 2016 will be the year conservatives turn on Paul Ryan.
Donald Trump will join the political press he so loathes
Mark it down: In 2016, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who "hates" — but notably would stop short of killing — journalists will become part of the political media machine he claims to loathe so much.
Embedded in this prediction is a more basic one: Despite leading the GOP field for months, Trump will ultimately fail to win the party’s presidential nomination. That’s not a terribly original or bold prediction, and it leaves me to wonder what he will do next. In an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in November, he said “if I lose … I go into the sunset, and I go to Turnberry, and I go to Doral, and I build buildings.”
That’s probably true in the long run, but expect Trump to finish the 2016 election cycle as a political commentator. Maybe it’ll be on talk radio (isn’t Rush Limbaugh’s contract up next year?), but it’ll most likely be on television with one of the cable news networks.
No way, you say. Trump despises the media. Puh-lease. Remember how much Charles Barkley hated the media’s persistent criticism of his bad behavior when he was playing in the NBA? He even used a memorable Nike commercial to tell the world, “I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model,” which didn’t exactly help relations.
Guess who’s now a leading TV commentator on basketball — and occasionally media and politics — during coverage of the NBA and NCAA March Madness? That’s right, Sir Charles. And just like Chuck, Trump is a loose cannon that some network will decide is worth the risk because he’s a big name, he’s entertaining and, most importantly, he gets ratings.
Trump is a businessman, a pragmatist. If a network approaches him with a good offer, he won’t be able to say no.
And here’s the thing: He’ll be good as an analyst. He knows the race from the inside, knows the candidates and — better than anyone else in the field — knows what frustrates many Americans about the current state of politics. His ability to channel that frustration is why he’s done so well so far.
When the improbable run of Candidate Trump finally ends, get ready for the run of Commentator Trump. It’s gonna be YUGE.
All of these predictions will turn out to be wrong
The safest prediction one can make about the 2016 election, of course, is that everyone's predictions will be wrong, except those predictions that are squishy enough to be corralled into something resembling accuracy.
Predictions are an offshoot of the instinctual human tendency toward spotting patterns -- the same inclination that makes us see faces in inanimate objects. We see 1 happen, and then 2 and so we proclaim with confidence that over the next 12 months, 3. Political pundits are just people who have been watching the thing longer, and so they rush ahead of themselves sooner. Three!, they shout with authority. And, inevitably: 4. Or, if this year is any guide, what actually happens is [crying emoji].
That's actually a made-up biological reason we do predictions. Maybe it's correct; I don't know. I'm doing what a pundit does: Using the information at-hand to generalize about something with which I'm loosely familiar. It sounds right, doesn't it -- this idea that pattern-seeking is why we make predictions? That's what makes me a professional, sounding right.
The non-made-up reasons we do predictions, particularly in politics, are two-fold. (Again, setting aside this maybe-real, maybe-not uncontrollable desire to make predictions.) Media folk do predictions 1) because it is fun, and 2) to share some broader insights about the world around us. This list you are currently reading is an example of the first sort of prediction-making. It's the end of the year, and what the hell, and so on.
Most predictions are of the second sort. By way of explaining what is happening in politics (or anything else) we step through what we have seen and what we have heard. Donald Trump has repeatedly said he'll run for president, and we can explain how and why that happened. Therefore, it's unlikely he'll run in 2016. There was a pattern to the poll numbers of outsider Republican candidates in 2012; they went up, hung out for a second, and collapsed. Therefore, it's safe to assume the same will happen to Trump. The prediction is part of the explanation. It's often the peg for the story -- the thing that makes the story worth telling at this moment. Predictions are a tool for contextualizing what we're sharing -- the test drive of the car whose specs you've been reading about. Sometimes (often) the car won't start.
But I was asked for a prediction, not some meta-nonsense about predictions themselves. So here is my prediction: Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson will all be out of the Republican race by the time the "SEC primary" rolls around March 1.
I'm extrapolating outward from what I know now, and I predict that this prediction is wrong.