POLITICS

Nonsense 2016 Scenarios That Will (Probably) Never Happen: GOP Edition

Let the madness begin.

The Great Wheel of American Political Punditry takes four agonizing years to complete its cycle. We've just entered one of its most amusing and riveting phases: the Pre-Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina Scenario Frenzy. At this point everyone has enough data -- polling, fundraising, number of volunteers in Ottumwa, Nashua and Aiken -- to issue confident predictions about who is going to win the nomination and how. Of course nobody really knows, and almost everybody will be wrong about everything. But this is the moment of maximum sort-of knowledge and minimum actual results. 

Rather than committing to any one of these scenarios (we are no more clairvoyant than anyone else), First to Last here offers a compendium of Wild (GOP) Scenarios, in approximate descending order of likelihood. A real, honest-to-goodness, multiballot floor fight is every reporter's dream, but the last time there was anything even close to that was 40 years ago, in Kansas City. We have hopes for Cleveland in 2016, but there is a greater chance that Donald Trump will buy the entire convention venue.

RANK SCENARIO
1
THE TRUMP TRIUMPH
Why dance around it anymore? Trump’s lead in national polls has occasionally buckled, but it hasn’t broken. Those of us who haven’t literally insisted that his demise is forthcoming have at least drafted an obituary. But what if this is all there is: Donald Trump riding white-nationalist polemic and a never-say-die, never-give-in attitude all the way to the GOP nomination? The truth is that he has never really invented anything new in conservative politics -- he’s just turned what his politer peers whisper into a full-throated scream. And voters love it.
2
CRUZ SNAKES THE LEAD
But Trump still has to win something. What happens if he actually loses in his first opportunity? In Iowa, it’s Ted Cruz who has won the backing of influential endorser Bob Vander Plaats, who has backed the right horse in two straight cycles. This is where Cruz’s “draft behind the leader” strategy may kick in. The only problem? This has now become conventional wisdom. You can’t help but question a scenario when Chris Cillizza endorses it.
3
ESTABLISHMENT WINS OUT, WITH MARCO RUBIO
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz... what happened to the candidates that donors and party pooh-bahs actually like? For those who used to wield actual influence over party politics, it’s the perpetually bubbling-under Marco Rubio who’s supposed to be wielding plaudits and ducats en route to a primary victory. Do GOP machers and billionaires not matter anymore?
4
TRUMP LOSES, RUNS AS AN INDEPENDENT
Trump has promised to not run as an independent so long as he’s “treated fairly.” But no one really knows what that means -- it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Trump would consider any scenario in which he loses to be “fair.” This is just one reason why that pledge was a dumb idea, Reince Priebus! Anyway, Trump has made it clear that he’ll “never” leave the race. Maybe we should take that seriously? Maybe he hasn’t as much money to self-fund a grueling independent run as we think.
5
CHRIS CHRISTIE'S PLAY PANS OUT
Does New Hampshire still matter? One guy who’s counting on the always-late-to-break Granite State to deliver him a new round of momentum is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has essentially hunkered down to run a “Win New Hampshire Or Die” contest. He has moved the chains a bit: The Union Leader has endorsed him, his favorables tend to be the highest in the state, and he has slowly trudged back from single-digit irrelevance to mid-field respectability. If he closes this deal, it could be a catapult.
6
NOBODY GETS A MAJORITY OF DELEGATES, DEAL MADE
It could happen, maybe? We get through the primary process and no one ends up with the magic number of delegates necessary to claim the nomination outright. There’s time between the end of the primary season to meet before the convention and come to an amicable agreement. Surely that’s what will happen!
7
NOBODY GETS A MAJORITY OF DELEGATES, NO DEAL
Oh, hey, a deal didn’t get made? Well, it’s just going to have to go to the convention floor, for a classic floor fight! This is the brass ring, folks! Aaron Sorkin stuff! The mechanics of party democracy as it was intended.
8
FULL-SCALE SHENANIGANS
But what if Trump has a line on the nomination, and the GOP establishment decide that they just can’t abide the thought of him leading the party? There’s no good option in this situation. But we’re past “good options.” This is where party elites become desperate, cornered animals. Maybe they jam through rule changes. Maybe they invent a loophole? Maybe they lose their minds entirely. MAYBE THIS IS HOW MITT ROMNEY ENDS UP THE NOMINEE?
9
THE MATTHEW DOWD SCENARIO
Or maybe the establishment GOP takes its best shot as a third party in the race? That’s an idea that longtime GOP strategist Matthew Dowd has countenanced on Twitter as Trump has proven to be indefatigable: “Will Jeb, Kasich, Christie run as independent if [Donald Trump] wins? [T]hat is a more valid question than Trump independency.”
Photos: Getty, Associated Press
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