The Presidential Pensieve for July 13, 2015

Splash water dropAs is usually the case in presidential politics, especially this early in the race, a lot has happened in the past week, even if the headlines have been dominated by one or two particular candidates.

The bottom-dwellers really haven’t done much to improve their standing, and it seems unlikely any of them will really try to win the presidential preference poll during the 2016 Iowa Republican Caucus. But, a few of the middle-of-the-road candidates have put in some effort that may begin to pay off soon, while others are failing to capitalize on the opportunities in front of them.

At the top, it’s become a truly open contest with a self-funding billionaire, a darling of the anti-establishment movement, a pro-establishment Midwestern governor, and a former winner of the Iowa Republican Caucus all within a few hundred votes of one another. We doubt it will stay that way for long, but this week, it sure looks like a lot of fun.

We’re now projecting only 130,000 turnout, largely based on the predicted rapid implosion of the Ben Carson campaign. Much of his support is now bleeding off to Donald Trump, who may have ridden his immigration issue to its finish line with Iowans who are now ready to hear more specifics about other important issues.

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16. George Pataki (250 votes) — his constant drumbeat against Trump may have helped earn him a little bit of media exposure, but it was of the kind that wasn’t helpful to his campaign overall. He’s stuck until he decides to actually compete in Iowa.


15. John Kasich (500 votes) — there’s a new rumor he may not get in the race now, but we’re not buying it. He’s in, at least through the summer and early fall, but he’s going to struggle with Iowans who can smell pandering and patronizing from a county away.


13-tie. Lindsey Graham (1,250 votes) — he’s toned down the “I’m not your guy” talk, and replaced it with tough talk about Iran, national security, and foreign policy. Then, he promptly inserted his foot by denouncing Trump and jumping into the discussion on the Confederate battle flag (which, he’s actually got more of a stake in as a South Carolinian).


13-tie. Carly Fiorina (1,250 votes) — the “shadow Hillary” thing is only going to work for so long before it starts to be a drag, even for her most ardent supporters. They’re still out there, though, for now.


12. Chris Christie (2,250 votes) — Iowa just isn’t that into him. He can’t earn himself any media without putting himself in opposition to the grassroots of the Iowa GOP, which is a terrible position to face.


11. Ben Carson (4,500 votes) — right now, it seems, the “real” Ben Carson is starting to show up, and it’s not the same Ben Carson conservatives all across the U.S. thought they saw during the National Prayer Breakfast two and a half years ago. He’s likely learned it’s easy to criticize, but a lot harder to project an alternative solution that will attract supporters.


9-tie. Bobby Jindal (5,000 votes) — Christians are very intrigued by his campaign, and when he’s on the stump, he’s delighted the audiences, but we’re concerned this just isn’t his time (yet). He’s making a lot of rookie mistakes a more seasoned campaign would easily avoid.


9-tie. Rick Perry (5,000 votes) — going after Trump the way he did, on an issue he wanted to own at the onset, is hurting him. It appears he may have lost Sheriff Joe, who toured Iowa with him just four years ago, to The Donald. Hitting the road and stumping has helped some, though.


8. Rick Santorum (6,000 votes) — the defending champ is still the champ until someone unseats him (which, at this point, is very likely), and he’s campaigning like he’s champ (finally). Being on the stump early and often in Iowa will help, but campaigning with gas-tax hikers is going to eat up most of the added energy and enthusiasm.


7. Marco Rubio (9,000 votes) — another casualty of the Trump Bump, which only reminded everyone of his flirtations with the Gang of Eight and amnesty. Endorsement from an establishment gas-tax hiker certainly didn’t help, either. Not a good week when there were a lot of (now lost) earned media coverage opportunities.


6. Jeb Bush (11,000 votes) — he’s got a good chunk of the money to blast out his message, but unless he’s going to outright lie about his record and his intentions (no unheard of in politics), he’s only going to remind Iowans why they don’t want a third Bush presidency.


5. Rand Paul (13,000 votes) — he’s done very little to help or hurt his campaign this week, and the Paul Machine is still just as enthusiastic for him as they were immediately after the 2012 General Election. The rest of the grassroots? Not so much.


3-tie. Donald Trump (17,000 votes) — the true test of a candidate is how he fares when he’s being torched, not only by the media, but by members of his own party. He passed his first test, but there are likely more to come. Some have mentioned a “perfect storm” regarding Cruz, but The Donald is really in the catbird seat right now … New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are all starting to line up for him, and by this time next week, he could be leading Iowa, too.


3-tie. Mike Huckabee (17,000 votes) — in Iowa, personnel is policy, and conservative Christians who likely would have immediately jumped on are concerned about a few of the 2008 Iowa Republican Caucus winner’s hires. Stumping has helped, but the media attention on Trump provided a distraction from social issues that fall into his natural wheelhouse.


2. Ted Cruz (17,500 votes) — sticking up for Trump has stopped the bleeding. Putting up some phenomenal fundraising numbers gained additional earned media when it was hard to come by.


1. Scott Walker (19,500 votes) — grassroots conservatives are starting to really get to know their “neighbor from Wisconsin,” and what they’re learning isn’t exactly making them feel good about his candidacy. A report that came out over the weekend that implies he’s pandering to conservatives to get their votes before bailing on them later on is going to hurt more next week.