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Trump v Clinton: We’re Not There Yet

LONDONDERRY, NH - FEBRUARY 08: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
LONDONDERRY, NH - FEBRUARY 08: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“You may think I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”  Several of my Roll Call columnists have written that the presidential race is all but over on the Republican side, and that’s certainly the prevailing view of the Democratic contest as well.  

But the Conventional Wisdom has been wrong at every turn in this election cycle. Remember the certainty of a year ago (Mark Halperin please pick up the white courtesy phone) that the GOP race would have to be Jeb Bush vs. Scott Walker vs. Marco Rubio? And Hillary Clinton, almost everyone said, would be virtually unopposed.
Now, after three delegate contests , it strikes me as folly to conclude that the election is Trump versus Clinton. I realize that early delegate leads are hard to erase, but there are so many things we still don’t know about this campaign.  

On the Democratic side, all that we’ve learned is that Hillary Clinton does OK (Iowa and Nevada) when the fix is in during a low-turnout caucus. It is important to note that the turnout in Nevada was well under the 2008 numbers. Yes, the calendar does favor Hillary as the primaries now head South in states with a large African American vote. That said, I would really like to see how she does in industrial states such as Michigan (
March 8
) and Ohio (
March 15

No, I don’t see Bernie Sanders getting the nomination under almost any scenario. But until the filing deadline closes for California in early April, I refuse to totally rule out a late-entry Joe Biden race. In that case, Biden’s goal would be to turn around super-delegates and win enough late delegates to force a second ballot when everyone in Philadelphia will be unpledged.  

The variables out there range from some serious legal action on the Hillary home-brew server to some new scandal (maybe about Bill and the Clinton Foundation) to the fear that Hillary is too flawed a candidate to beat Trump.  

Remember that candidates get out of the race for two reasons: Either they’re out of money — which would never apply to Bernie Sanders — or they feel the pressure from the party. But Bernie isn’t even a Democrat, so that doesn’t apply, either.  

On the Republican side, I can’t believe that the party will blow itself up without more of a fight. Remember that no one has spent any money attacking Trump. (Kudos to Matt Lewis for stressing this point). I also think that Trump has many more tests ahead, despite his obvious delegate lead.  

Just because his prior vitriol has not blown up in his face doesn’t mean that he is immune for eternity from the consequences of his hate speech. A case in point: I’d like to see how Trump’s attack on the Pope plays in a state with a larger Catholic population that South Carolina.  

Up to now, there may be a feeling that a vote for Trump is a free vote without consequences. But I do wonder if there will be buyer’s remorse on a larger scale if people think about the codes to the nuclear arsenal. (I’d love to see a Republican run a version of the Hillary
3 a.m.

It is easy to concoct many scenarios in which no candidate goes to the convention with a majority. While a contested convention is unprecedented on the GOP side since 1976, it is not unfathomable.  

I’d also like to see if Rubio can defeat Trump one-on-one in Florida and whether Kasich can do the same thing in Ohio.  

I know there is a lot of talking about clearing the field. But I am not certain that Rubio is a better one-on-one candidate against Trump than Kasich. And certainly Rubio’s track record in this campaign is mixed: For all his institutional support in South Carolina, it was not an impressive night.  

And, of course, he both screwed up a debate and was embarrassed in New Hampshire. Further, the shortness of Rubio’s record makes him a weak figure to pose the
3 a.m.
phone call argument against Trump. Finally, I want to see if Cruz can take a lot of delegates in Texas. But since Iowa, Cruz, as well, has underperformed.  

An important final point is that John Kasich — as I learned during my interview  — really loves Pope Francis. I would guess that his anger over Trump for his attack on the Pope will become a major theme as Kasich makes a final stand in states like Massachusetts with a large Catholic population.  

I feel like one of those Roman orators screaming that the Republic is in peril. But that’s pretty much how I feel at the moment. Especially since I am not convinced that Hillary can beat Trump. But as worrisome as the moment is, I really don’t believe that the story is over after two primaries on the GOP side and one primary and two caucuses for the Democrats.  

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is covering his 10th presidential race. A fellow at the Brennan Center, he teaches at Yale and is the author of the forthcoming ‘Hustling Hitler,’ on his con man uncle. Follow him on Twitter at @MrWalterShapiro


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