by Rod D. Martin
August 14, 2015
Famed pundit and political scientist Larry Sabato, writing in his Crystal Ball Report, has pronounced a new Republican top tier that’s outsider heavy. He also says Donald Trump is, at best, Republicans’ “summer fling.”
Sabato is a smart guy, but he’s far from perfect. When he lists Cruz, Bush, Kasich, Rubio and Walker as the new top tier, it’s significant. It certainly says a lot about Ted Cruz, whom everyone (though not I) was writing of just shortly ago.
But his bigger thesis — that Trump is “un-nominatable” — is just silly. It depends on “insights” like this one: “presidential nominees need widespread backing from elites in the party.” They do? You mean like Barack Obama, running against a party dominated by the Clinton Machine? Or Ronald Reagan? Or Jimmy Carter?
These are certainly not perfect analogies, but they’re instructive in a key way: to the limited degree that these former candidates had “widespread backing from party elites,” they only got it after they caught fire.
Sabato buys into the conventional wisdom in another key respect when he writes that there have been several other outsider candidates over the years who have initially gotten high ratings in early state polls, including former Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012, but “there was no way that any of the trio was going to end up as the Republican nominee for president.”
But while that may have been true for Bachmann, it certainly wasn’t true for the other two. Cain was viewed as such a threat by the Obama White House that they engineered a cascading, bogus sex scandal against him (his final-straw accuser was actually David Axelrod’s neighbor): note well that all the accusations disappeared the minute Cain dropped out.
It was even less true for Newt Gingrich. Against all odds, Newt destroyed Mitt Romney in South Carolina and headed into Florida the improbable frontrunner. Had he won here, Romney’s campaign would have been shattered and Gingrich unstoppable. Which is why Romney pulled out all the stops and dumped FIVE TIMES Newt’s cash into Florida media markets. He won, Newt lost; but in an even fight, it would likely have been the other way around, and Newt would have been the nominee and (judging by Barack Obama’s later debate performance) our current President.
Trump will not be outspent in Florida, or anywhere else, unless he chooses to be. Is he in it to win it? I don’t know, but do you really want to bet against that?
So Sabato’s insights remain very interesting, particularly with regard to the rest of the field. But on Trump, he may just be right when he says that “everything we think we know about presidential nominations [may be] wrong.”