Analyst: GOP contest a ‘wide open mess’

Analyst: GOP contest a ‘wide open mess’

At federation event, a cautious forecast of Bush vs. Clinton

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Mark Halperin foresees a Clinton-Bush race for president, but cautioned against anyone making predictions in this election cycle.     
Mark Halperin foresees a Clinton-Bush race for president, but cautioned against anyone making predictions in this election cycle.     

Despite the attention on Donald Trump, political analyst Mark Halperin predicted the 2016 election will come down to Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton will win.

Vice President Joe Biden won’t run, and Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina has no path to the presidency but would look good in the vice presidential slot.

Nonetheless, against a backdrop of partisanship, economic anxiety, populism, and anger at large institutions, voters are looking for a president who can “do things differently,” said Halperin. 

“A lot of smart people will tell you that in the end, at a time when the country is still looking for fundamental change, the major party nominees, the only two choices people will have for president, will be a Bush and a Clinton,” said Halperin, speaking Sept. 17 to about 250 supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “But for a lot of Americans, a Bush versus a Clinton doesn’t sound like fundamental change.”

Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and a frequent contributor to MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was the keynote speaker at the federation’s 2016 Major Gifts Event at the Crystal Plaza in Livingston. Donations of $10,000 and up are considered major gifts. (For donors 45 and under, the minimum gift is $3,600.)

The evening was chaired by Sharon and James Schwarz and Gayle and Larry Wieseneck.

Despite his own predictions and analysis, Halperin warned against any sense of certainty. “Don’t believe anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Halperin sees problems lurking everywhere for the Republican Party, starting with the Electoral College. He suggested that if the Republican Party cannot put states like New Jersey and California back into play, it will be hard to win in the numbers game — not only because Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six elections, but also because Democrats have won states totaling 242 electoral votes in the last five elections. That gives them a significant advantage when the total needed to win is 270. 

The demographic advantage goes to Democrats as well, he pointed out. If the GOP doesn’t start reaching out to “Hispanics, younger people, Asians, African-Americans, [and] women,” he said, then “the Republican Party will not only be a minority party, but an extinct party, if it continues being the party of old white men.” 

Halperin suggested that pundits and columnists are missing what is behind Trump’s popularity. “He’s running to make America great again. He’s not running because he’s in some fantasy world or he’s bored doing his job,” said Halperin. “He’s running because he thinks he can and should make America great again, and he’s the only one who can do it.” 

Based on what he’s seen, Trump enthusiasts aren’t interested in his celebrity persona but in his message. “It’s real,” he said of their support. Trump “says it’s a movement. It’s pretty close to a movement. He’s captured something that makes it very difficult for anyone to catch him.” 

Despite Trump’s popularity, however, Halperin does not see Trump as the ultimate GOP nominee. Without ruling Trump out completely, he said, “It will probably be an establishment candidate.” 

Halperin dismissed the chances of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but wouldn’t rule out stalking horses like Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Ted Cruz. 

“The Republican race is a wide open mess,” he said.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s strengths on the Democratic side, “There are some problems there,” he said. 

Topping the list are the lingering questions about her handling of e-mails as secretary of state, her public persona, and perceptions of U.S. foreign policy under President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, Halperin said, “She’s most likely the next president of the United States.” Having said that, he added that Clinton is facing a surprising challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Despite all the volatility, and his own vacillations, Halperin still sees next year’s election as a race between Bush and Clinton.

“My head says that’s still going to happen. My gut says no way.” But if it does happen, he suggested that both are “serious public servants” who are “in politics for the right reasons” and that therefore, “the country could do far worse.”

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