Call me a sellout, but I think Ross Douthat, the New York Times’ house conservative, consistently writes the most interesting op-eds among the paper’s stable of columnists.
Douthat wrote yesterday of the GOP primary — what else? In particular, he dissects the frantic impasse facing the three remaining Republican candidates who aren’t Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. As Trump and Cruz vie dominance in the upcoming South Carolina election on Feb. 20, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are scrapping to be the sole remaining non-lunatic candidate.
Bruised as the narrative may be at this point, the mainstream assumption is still that the party’s establishment wing will eventually consolidate itself around one of those men, who will then have captured enough of the fractious GOP to snatch the nomination from Cruz and Trump. But … how and when, exactly, will that happen? Can it happen?
Douthat, who has argued somewhat convincingly that Republican support for Trump does indeed have “a ceiling,” is now beginning to have his doubts:
[The] three arguably have equal claims to fight on. Rubio still has the highest upside, Jeb the most money and organizational muscle, and Kasich — well, Kasich just beat both of them.
Or alternatively, all three of them look equally pathetic: Rubio unable to capitalize on good press and a clear opening, Jeb unable to capitalize on all that money and organization, and Kasich unable to break out of the [John] Huntsman demographic in a party where playing to that demographic offers little save newspaper endorsements.
Given that equality-in-ineptitude — and after what we just witnessed in New Hampshire — there’s no reason to assume that any of them will have a breakout moment in South Carolina. Kasich will probably lag, but another virtual tie between Jeb and Rubio seems entirely plausible. In which case all three men could still be in the race a month from now, with Kasich hanging on hoping for a big win in his native Ohio while Jeb and Rubio wage an Eastern Front-style war in Florida.
If that happens, there would probably no longer be a path to outright victory through the so-called establishment lane — only a path to delegate accumulation, with an eye toward a contested convention in the summer.
By the way, as exciting as it may be to see the GOP in disarray, Dems need to temper their gloating. There are equally existential issues at play within the Democratic Primary, and in the next few weeks things are going to get vastly uglier — both on the campaign trail itself and in the words traded between Sanders and Clinton supporters everywhere. Hold on tight