Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
If the hunt for the Republican presidential nod has demonstrated anything so far, it’s that attempts to predict what’s going to happen, even from day to day, aren’t worth very much. So with all due humility, let’s consider the possibility that the surprises keep unfurling, all the way through the end of the process — 11 months from now. The GOP hasn’t seen a nominating battle settled at its convention since 1976, when Gerald Ford narrowly beat back an insurgent challenge from Ronald Reagan in Kansas City. A repeat next year remains remote. Yet it is not out of the question, and top campaigns are bracing for a scenario that sees the fight tumbling into the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland next July.
The series of events leading to a brokered convention actually isn’t all that tough to imagine. In recent times, only those candidates who place in the earliest contests earn tickets into the later rounds, where resources swiftly dry up for those unlikely to go the distance. This cycle, the proliferation of super PACs means that a single committed sponsor or two can spell a gadfly contender deep into the calendar. That, combined with an ahistorically sprawling field, sets up what could be a marathon slog for delegates that forecloses a quick and bloodless conclusion.
Some of this is simple math. The first four contests, in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — all in February — together will award only 133 delegates, out of a total 2,470 up for grabs over the length of the race. Over the first two weeks of March, however, survivors will have to dash through 25 more events awarding a combined 1,052 delegates. The size of the media markets in play in this period (including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, and Seattle) would seem to favor the best-funded contenders. But while each of those contests has its own rules for distributing its spoils, they have this in common: Delegates will be awarded, in some fashion, proportionally. In other words, the top vote-getter in any given state or territory won’t come away with all of its delegates. Assuming four — or five or six or more — candidates can remain standing through this phase, they could well slice up the winnings sufficiently to deny an otherwise-favored frontrunner a clear path to a delegate majority. And that could supply those candidates’ respective billionaire backers all the evidence they need to continue cutting checks into the summer.
The chaos of a contested convention amounts to a political reporter’s dream. But at least some within the party itself are arguing its virtues. Ed Martin, a former chairman of the Missouri GOP and president of the conservative Eagle Forum, is urging all Republican contenders to “go the distance,” and remain in the race if they win any delegates at all in order to guarantee the fight is settled in Cleveland. “The usual suspects and the usual paths won’t work,” he says. And so far this race is hardly usual.
• Clinton, in Iowa, dismisses latest email headaches as a partisan attack
Hillary Clinton’s once-surefire lock on the Democratic presidential nomination has looked increasingly shaky of late in the face of new developments in the controversy surrounding her potential mishandling of classified material on her private email server. With a federal probe expanding into the matter, Clinton struck a defiant pose on the stump in Iowa, waving off the entire matter as a partisan witch hunt. Whether the feds probing the matter heed that characterization is another matter. Washington Post
• Schumer wants to block a major Chinese tech purchase
New York’s senior senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, is raising objections to a bid by a state-controlled Chinese firm for an American semiconductor maker. The purchase would represent the largest by a Chinese firm of an American company. But Schumer is calling on federal officials to give special scrutiny to the national security implications of Tsinghua Unigroup’s $23 billion offer for Micron Technology, citing defense repercussions, as well as continued resistance to Chinese market access for American tech outfits. Wall Street Journal
• Carly Fiorina’s business record doesn’t recommend her
Following her performance at the “kids table” debate last week, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is enjoying something of a breakout moment in her longshot bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Since she lacks any experience in public office, attention is now turning to her record at the helm of a Fortune 500 company. And her record there isn’t particularly pretty. Her six-year tenure was judged one of the worst in tech’s history — an assessment seemingly confirmed by HP’s 10% stock bump on the news of her firing. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• In an unruly Republican field, keep an eye on Kasich
The Ohio governor is defying expectations and easy categorization as he elbows through the crowd of GOP presidential contenders. Camping out in New Hampshire — where a no-nonsense Republican electorate is providing fertile ground for Kasich’s particular brand of plain talk — the Medicaid expansion-embracing, Common Core-supporting, immigration-reforming contender is finding an audience. Chalk it up to the Granite State’s idiosyncrasy — or a deeper hunger for a different kind of Republican candidate. How he travels beyond the Northeastern haven will go a long way toward determining whether his candidacy has real legs. New York Times
• The quotable Trump should probably disqualify him
Donald Trump so far has demonstrated a confounding durability as he leads the Republican presidential field in both national and early-state polls. Republican mandarins are waiting for the former liberal blowhard’s history of offensive statements to drag his numbers back to earth. While it’s not clear when or how the normal rules of political physics apply to a figure who seems only to draw strength from the establishment’s disgust, this latest compendium of Trump’s more intemperate remarks could at least provide a key. A sampling: “I have black guys counting my money… I hate it.” Politico
• Trump’s presidential bid may be working against him
Close observers of The Donald know that the New York real estate magnate’s media-ready antics have only served to inflate his ability to leverage his brand for bigger paydays in licensing deals, among others. But the controversy Trump is courting in the course of his freewheeling bid for the Republican presidential nomination may be testing the limits of that operating method. Could his ego finally be writing checks his business interests can’t cash? As resourceful as Trump has proven himself, it remains to be seen. Fortune