Going into last week’s GOP debate in Las Vegas, Charlie Cook, one of those people others look to to make sense of electoral politics, offered a few insights on where we are right now with the Republican presidential nomination and what it all means.
A few comments stood out.
The first is his contention that the Iowa caucuses on February 1st and the New Hampshire primary on February 8th will not “pick the eventual Republican nominee” although they will “winnow the field down to the final four” with “subsequent caucuses and primaries [narrowing] the contest down to the finals.”
He is picking Rubio and Christie as the most likely candidates to represent the “inside wing of the party” with Trump and Cruz as the outsiders.
In fact, in a talk Cook gave in Des Moines earlier in December, he argued that “Ted Cruz is best positioned to use his intellect, oratory skills, and intense preparation and concentration on tactics to pull ahead in the back stretch and win the Republican nomination.” He described Rubio as the “default candidate of the establishment wing.”
As for Trump, he had this to say:
Liberals, moderates, and also Republicans of a more conventional stripe may fundamentally disagree with Trump’s positions and rhetoric—they can be appalled all they want—but it’s clear that he is striking a responsive chord with the GOP electorate. Even so, the two words that pop up with the greatest frequency about Trump in recent days are “judgment” and “temperament.” It’s entirely possible that rank-and-file Republicans will want to keep venting their spleens. But my hunch is that, at some point, voters will conjure up a mental picture of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a CIA director, and others of careful judgment gathered around the conference table in the Situation Room, with American lives and treasure at stake.
Cook then says he doubts if a majority of Republicans want to visualize Trump sitting at the head of the table, making the big decisions.
As always Mr. Cook provides a very sensible perspective, although I just noticed the latest CNN poll pop up on my screen showing Trump at 39%, Cruz at 18%, Carson and Rubio each at 10%, and Christie at 5%.
Again, the most respected people in the business tell us Donald Trump cannot win the nomination because it defies everything we think we know about politics.
Truth is, I think Mr. Cook is right. I think his analysis makes good sense, and yet I am not completely comfortable we fully understand the nature of the responsive chord Trump is striking with the GOP electorate and ultimately whether it will be too difficult for them to snap back in order to embrace a candidate with more suitable judgment and temperament.