The Four Most Likely Scenarios for Iowa, N.H., and S.C.

Photo credit: Tom Arthur via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Tom Arthur via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There have been a lot of theories and ideas thrown out lately about what will happen in the early primary and caucus states. I’ve read a lot of them and have decided to condense them all and give the top four most likely scenarios for our readers that don’t have as much time to watch the sport of politics:

1.) Donald Trump wins Iowa, New Hampshire, with an alternative candidate emerging from his/her 2nd place finish in either Iowa or New Hampshire. (Most Likely)

Right now, the momentum in both Iowa and New Hampshire is with Trump. He’s regained the lead in Iowa and has held a steady lead of at least 15 points in New Hampshire. What’s to be determined in this case is who emerges as the alternative to Trump. Will Ted Cruz come close enough in Iowa, while the rest of the field winnows down? Will John Kasich, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush get close in New Hampshire? After these two contests, expect the race to be winnowed to at most four candidates, and likely only three.

2.) Cruz wins Iowa, Trump wins New Hampshire, and a third candidate emerges as an alternative to both. (Somewhat Likely)

I’m not one to discount polls, but they aren’t always right. After all, they are a snapshot in time and are based off of predictions for what turn out will be. Cruz has established an impressive ground game in Iowa (and across the country for that matter), and you shouldn’t expect his team to let off the gas anytime soon. If Cruz wins Iowa, it will be the first political loss for Trump — something that could dramatically change the game. Trump has held a commanding lead in New Hampshire, so he’s likely to win there. The question is, will Kasich, Rubio, Bush, or someone else come close enough to emerge as the alternative to both candidates? I think it’s likely — again more will be determined by what happens in South Carolina.

3.) Cruz wins Iowa, Trump loses New Hampshire, and whoever wins New Hampshire becomes the establishment alternative. (I can dream can’t I?)

Here’s the thing — success begets success. People want to back a winner. When that winner stops winning, or loses a huge match, the focus goes elsewhere. In the recent CNN/ORC poll, 70 percent of Trump’s supporters have made up their minds — in other words 30 percent could go to another candidate — taking Trump from 30 percent to 20 percent, a huge drop. This would allow for a candidate like Rubio or Kasich or Bush, who have all been staying alive in New Hampshire or have recently seen an upswing in the polls there, to break through and win New Hampshire. If this happens, again, expect South Carolina to winnow the field even more.

4.) Trump wins Iowa, with Rubio pulling an upset 2nd place finish. (Emerging possibility?)

I just read this article from The Weekly Standard that says one-third of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa could switch candidates. The conclusion is that a candidate who has been in a distant 3rd there — namely, Rubio — could have a shot.

Here’s the key graph in the polling memo from PPP:

There are reasons within these numbers to see the possibility of both Cruz and Rubio outperforming their current standing on Monday night. Currently 30 percent of the likely electorate is supporting someone among the also rans — the 9 candidates in single digits. But 43 percent of those voters are open to the possibility of changing their minds — possibly casting a strategic vote. And among that group supporting the also rans 35 percent say they would pick Rubio, 25 percent say they would pick Cruz, and 17 percent say they would pick Trump if they had to choose between the leading contenders.

If Rubio were to somehow pull off a surprise 2nd place finish in Iowa, it would have the potential to change the game all around and would catapult him to within striking distance in New Hampshire. An interesting scenario to say the least — not likely, but possible.

Terry Schilling is the executive director of American Principles Project.