Watching the progress of the New Hampshire Primary election, it was hard not to feel some sympathy for the harassed media contingent as it desperately sought to churn out instant analysis and comments on the result.
‘Trump and Sanders a step nearer the White House’ was one headline that swam across the television screen. ‘Rebuff for the establishment candidates’ was another.
Apart from the fact that Trump and Sanders couldn’t both be nearing the White House as there can be only one occupant, comments such as these, so far back from the nominating convention, let along the actual election, are utterly pointless.
The 24/7 news cycle is to blame: The requirement is for an outcome; never mind that the outcome could be quite different the following week. ‘New Hampshire – nothing decided; long way still to go’ just doesn’t hack it.
But what has really happened so far? Well, we have had Iowa where on the Republican side Ted Cruz won handily from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio did better than expected. For the Democrats Hillary Clinton sneaked past Bernie Sanders by three tenths of a percentage point.
Then came New Hampshire and in the GOP camp Trump won by a mile, Cruz got beaten into third place by John Kasich, and Rubio was back with the also rans. For the Democrats, Sanders stormed home with 60 per cent of the vote, leaving Clinton struggling.
Clear who the eventual winners are going to be? I thought not.
So now we go on to South Carolina and Nevada, the latter holding its Democratic caucus-style election on Tuesday and Republicans the week after — yes it gets really complicated.
Amid all this confusion, trying to look ahead to how things work out is not easy, but here goes.
First the Democrats: At present it’s a two-horse race (another candidate could enter the fray late if both Sanders and Clinton look vulnerable, but that’s unlikely). As time goes on Sanders’ age will become a factor. He’s 74 and should he win the presidency he will be nearing 80 by the end of his first term.
Would he stand for a second term in 2020? If not, the Democrats would be giving up the huge advantage gained by a sitting president running again. They mostly succeed unless circumstances conspire against them (Jimmy Carter) or they lose the plot (George Bush Senior). Party strategists want someone who can hold the White House for eight years, not four.
But Clinton, at 68, is no spring chicken. — and she sufferers from what could be called the Hubert Humphrey Syndrome (really mature readers might also like to call it the Adlai Stevenson Syndrome).
Humphrey — a presidential candidate in 1960, 1968 and 1972 and Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President from 1964-68 — was a decent man, and in the opinion of this writer, would have made a better president than many of the other big names of the time, but he suffered from being around too long, his face became too familiar; Democrats prefer someone, anyone, who is new and different and that led to the George McGovern debacle.
(Interestingly Republicans are not so concerned about recycled candidates, reference Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan).
Moving to the Republican side, there is obvious opposition to Trump among the party establishment, but if the candidate continues to poll well and roll up States in the primaries, that will change, because nothing matters more to the GOP than being in power and if Trump can do it the establishment will grit their teeth and get on his bandwagon.
However, if it transpires that Trump could win the party’s nomination but lose against Clinton/Sanders then watch for a concerted effort among the other Republican hopefuls to form an ‘Anybody but Trump’ coalition through deals done and promises made that could extend to the floor of the nominating convention.
Then there is the possibility of a third party candidate with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg not ruling out the possibility of running as a moderate conservative if Trump is the Republican choice.
On the face of it, this is the Republicans’ election to lose. The two major parties mostly alternate in the White House after eight-year spells. However, the situation is far too volatile for a prediction to be made at this early stage — and certainly not after just two primaries.