Political pundits are in the unique position to watch one of the most crowded presidential races in decades unfold as the 17 remaining candidates for 2016 remain in play.
With the Iowa caucus less than three months away, three experts from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute met to discuss the candidates and possible election outcomes during a special luncheon Monday at the Saluki Stadium Club.
Visiting professor John Jackson said the country is in the midst of what he and fellow scholars call the “invisible primary season,” even if it has been anything but quiet.
“Actually it’s been louder, longer, more raucous, more public and more conflict-ridden than perhaps ever in history,” he said.
Jackson pointed to changes in the election process and how it has impacted the way politicians run for office.
“We used to have pragmatic parties that were interested in winning the presidency and office, now we’ve got very ideologically-driven, programmatically-driven, issue-oriented political parties,” Jackson said.
Competing ideologies are forcing moderate candidates on both sides of the aisle to address far-left and far-right issues, furthering the stagnation of the entire political process, Jackson said.
Jackson said Clinton is likely to win the Democratic nomination and thinks Jeb Bush’s $100 million super PAC will secure the Republican nomination, despite recent media focus on Marco Rubio, who he regards as the “flavor of the hour.”
“That money’s got to go somewhere, and I don’t think it’s over for Jeb Bush yet,” Jackson said.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson are neck-and-neck for the GOP nomination, according to national polling data. But polling expert Charles Leonard said national polls are little more than popularity contests, and frontrunners don’t usually win the nomination.
“We get tired of the person who’s the frontrunner for too long,” Leonard said.
While that theory may or may not apply to Trump or Carson, Leonard said Clinton shouldn’t have a problem securing the nomination this year, despite her early lead.
“We are looking at national polls, trying to figure out what’s going on in a process that’s driven by states,” Leonard said. “It happens state by state, yet we look at national polls year-in, year-out like they’re going to tell us something.”
While neither Leonard, Jackson or David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, predict a President Trump, Leonard acknowledged Trump’s campaign may have a negative residual effect on the party’s reputation among voters.
“What Donald Trump is doing to the Republican brand among young people and among Latinos scares them half to death,” Leonard said.
Yepsen, former chief political writer for the Des Moines Register, said immigration policies touted by ultra-conservative Republicans may be influencing minorities of Latino or Asian descent to vote blue.
“Republicans simply cannot be a party with much of a long-term future in the electoral college if they continue to alienate those kind of groups,” Yepsen said.
Bill Lukitsch can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bill_LukitschDE.