You might think there are 17 candidates still running for president – as of Thursday morning, anyway. There are actually four-and-a-half.
There’s Hillary Clinton, who’s been the Democrats’ 2016 nominee since then-candidate Barack Obama clinched the party’s nomination in 2008. Among Republicans, there’s Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Sen. Marco Rubio.
The next president is probably one of those four. Let’s give half a slot to someone else who might emerge from Iowa and New Hampshire as still a viable candidate.
Who could that be? Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s last name has helped him raise money but hasn’t helped him in the polls. Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina had their moments but have faded. Gov. John Kasich never caught on. This is not the year for Sen. Rand Paul’s brand of very-small-government Republicanism, if ever there will be one. Gov. Chris Christie appears to be on the upswing, a little.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee started in the top 10 but has never gained traction. His path to victory – win Iowa and build momentum with support from Christian conservatives – was blocked by Cruz, Carson, Rubio and, surprisingly, Trump.
This week, Huckabee was relegated to the undercard debate for the second time. His spokesperson, Alice Stewart, left the campaign. A traveler snapped a photo published on the Arkansas Times website of him pushing his bag through the Little Rock airport, head down and cane in hand after a recent knee surgery. Behind him was former first lady Janet Huckabee dragging her luggage. No one else was with them.
Little Rock is home to Huckabee’s campaign headquarters, but he lives in Florida now, and of course his focus has been on the Iowa caucus six weeks away. There are many reasons why he could be here in December, but a staff meeting followed by a press conference would not surprise me. His former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, said a candidate must be able to look into the mirror every day and see the next president of the United States. It would be tough for Huckabee to do that now.
That leaves Trump, Cruz and Rubio. Trump is the Republican Party establishment’s worst nightmare because he’s not part of their clique, and because he’s not really a conservative or even a Republican, and because they can’t control him, and because he’s accelerating the party’s descent into what Sen. Lindsey Graham once called a “demographic death spiral.”
What Graham was talking about was the fact that the GOP is too much the party of white people in a country where white people are shrinking as a percentage of the population. According to Gallup, President Obama won 89 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012 and 90 percent in 2008. John Kerry won 83 percent in 2004. As pointed out on fivethirtyeight.com, President Reagan won 56 percent of white voters in 1980 and won 44 states, while Mitt Romney won 59 percent of white voters in 2012 but lost the election. That’s because nonwhite voters have increased from 12 percent of the electorate to 28 percent and will keep rising.
Trump’s sweeping comments about Mexican rapists and shutting the door on all overseas Muslims play well with many voters but don’t help the GOP with its demographic problem. There’s also his comments about women, a majority of the electorate that voted for Obama by 14 points in 2012, Gallup says. If Trump wins the nomination, he’ll be running against a very tough woman. That should be interesting.
Republicans – who, let’s remember, control the House and Senate and occupy 31 governors’ seats – have other problems in presidential elections. Democrats have won four of the last six elections and the popular vote in five of them. Electoral College math elected George W. Bush president in 2000, but now it favors Democrats. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have voted for the Democrat in six straight elections, giving them 242 reliable votes, just 28 short of victory. Republicans have won 13 states with 102 votes six straight times, as shown by Politifact.
Other states are reliably red, but Republicans still must win most of the purple states. It’s hard to see that happening with Cruz, who sees and speaks about the world in black and white (and blue and red).
That leaves Rubio, who is quickly becoming the establishment’s choice. So was Jeb Bush.