Over at RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende chews over the polls and the outlook and concludes that Donald Trump is the most likely to win the nomination – but only gives him a 20 percent chance. He gives Marco Rubio a 16 percent chance, Ted Cruz a 15 percent chance, Christie 10 percent, and everyone else collectively makes up less than 15 percent. Here’s the scenario Trende deems slightly more likely than any individual candidate:
No One (25 percent): My most likely scenario is still that no one wins a sufficient number of delegates to claim the nomination. As Nate Silver lays it out, this comes in three different “flavors”: (1) No one wins, but someone is close enough that the writing is on the wall; (2) no one wins, but things get sorted out at the convention; (3) no one wins, and it is fought out on the convention floor. I agree with Silver that these are presented in decreasing order of likelihood, and actually put the overall percentages lower than he did (and lower than I did last winter).
One big question is whether the field thins and how quickly. By February 10, at least six and perhaps as many as ten candidates should be out of the race. Start with the no-hopers Gilmore, Graham and Pataki. If post caucus-winners Santorum or Huckabee don’t perform well in Iowa, what’s the point of them sticking around? (Currently, Huckabee is at 2 percent in the RCP average, Santorum at 1.7 percent.) If candidates who focused heavily on New Hampshire like John Kasich and Chris Christie can’t break into double digits, why should they continue? (Right now Kasich is at 8 percent in the RCP average in the Granite State, and Christie is at 7 percent.) If Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina or Rand Paul get wiped out in those early states, where do they make their stand? At what point do those candidates acknowledge that it just isn’t happening for them?
In other words, how quickly does the race come down to a quartet like Trump, Rubio, Cruz, and Carson? (Note Carson’s lost half his support in Iowa since Halloween and lost almost half his support in New Hampshire.)
By the time South Carolina votes on February 20, the choice could be down to four real candidates, or perhaps as few as three. (The only poll of South Carolina in December has Trump at 35 percent, Carson at 15, Cruz and Rubio at 14 each.)
Yes, there’s some question as to what percentage of the people telling pollsters they support Trump will turn up to vote in primaries and caucuses. Some polling indicates that a significant portion of his voters were previously unengaged with politics. But if you’re one of Trump’s rivals, it’s enormously risky to bet that his supporters won’t show up; they certainly appear willing to show up to hear him speak at his campaign events.
If by March 1, Super Tuesday, it’s a three-man race between Trump, Rubio, and Cruz, this is a dramatically different ballgame. Trump’s been the dominant frontrunner nationally while polling in the high 20s and sometimes popping up to the mid-30s. Is he acceptable to that remaining 65-70some percent, or are they deeply opposed? Do they unite around Rubio or Cruz, or do they remain evenly split? If it remains an evenly-matched three-way race well into the primary, will there be calls for an entirely-Cuban-American unity ticket? That lead to one of Trende’s convention scenarios . . . but for now, there’s still a lot of road ahead.