Clinton and Democrats can hardly believe their luck
Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30
W e may be witnessing the implosion of the Republican Party in the 2016 election. Democrats can barely believe their eyes as the civil war between front-runner Donald Trump and the party elders becomes more uncivil every day.
If the GOP succeeds in ousting Trump, no one will be happier than Hillary Clinton.
Contrary to most commentary, Hillary Clinton would much prefer to face Senator Ted Cruz, his likely replacement, rather than the utterly unpredictable Donald Trump, in November's presidential election.
As the selection processes enter the final lap, Hillary appears to have at last left Bernie Sanders in the rear-view mirror, but on the Republican side the mash-up continues, with Trump frightening the pants off the GOP establishment with primary victories, such as Florida, that end up as runaway successes.
But with polls showing Trump losing heavily to Clinton (50pc to 41pc for Clinton in the latest poll), there are high-level efforts afoot to swing the election at the GOP convention in Cleveland in July to the second-place candidate Senator Cruz or perhaps someone else altogether. The name of Speaker Paul Ryan has even been mentioned as a last-minute compromise.
Trump has made clear that there will be blood if he is somehow denied the nomination in Cleveland and the party elders throw the election to someone else.
So as Republican poobahs desperately try this week to stop the runaway train called Trump and first turn desperately to Ted Cruz, a far-right and widely disliked politician, Democrats and the Clintons quietly dream of a race against Cruz.
They consider a race against Cruz easily winnable, rather than against the mercurial Trump. The latter contest would be very difficult to predict, despite the favourable polls for her at the moment.
A race against Cruz would immediately line up like a predictable chess game.
Cruz is a known unknown, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush's Secretary of Defence and his assessment of Iraq pre-invasion. Trump is a complete wildcard who could challenge the Democrat's 'blue wall'.
That blue wall, mostly the Mid West states, California and New York, has been the bulwark of every victory since 1992, from Bill Clinton to Obama, with only the disputed Bush election breaking the sequence.
As Dan Balz of the 'Washington Post' wrote, the 'blue wall' is a term coined by journalist Ron Brownstein of Atlantic Media and refers to the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that Democrats have won in the past six elections since 1992.
Those states add up to 242 electoral votes, giving Democrats a rock-solid foundation to get to 270. Starting with 242 votes and needing to get to only 270 to win simplifies the Democratic battle plan.
States such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with Ohio, would make up a solid Democratic backbone against Cruz, who, as a southern bible-belt powerhouse, carries little impact in the industrial Midwest.
But the battle against Trump could be a very different one. In a huge upset, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan's Democratic primary, drawing on disaffected white working-class support.
Trump knows the Midwest states are home to many of his core supporters, high-school dropout working-class males left behind in the technological revolution, feeling cheated by the international trade treaties that Trump convinces them shipped their jobs to Mexico and China.
Working-class and union voters, long a traditional Democratic strength, might just go for Trump on this issue, equalising any fall-off he gets from minorities such as Blacks and Hispanics.
There is also the unpredictability of a Trump campaign. A leading Obama staffer this week advised Democratic strategists to ignore everything they knew about how to win elections when dealing with the "asymmetric" - ie, guerilla tactics - of Trump.
Would he drag Bill Clinton's infidelities in? Would he make allegations daily, like now. which send the media into a frenzy? You betcha.
If Marco Rubio became "Little Marco", Ted Cruz became "Lying Ted" and Jeb Bush became "Low Energy Jeb", what insults would he hurl at Hillary and how well would they stick?
On the other hand, Cruz has little appeal in such constituencies with his bible-based messages and slashing taxes on the rich. His flat-tax proposal alone, allowing the rich to pay just 25pc, would infuriate working-class voters.
So weak is Cruz that some Republican honchos are even talking about a third-party candidate; former Texas governor Rick Perry is being especially mentioned.
How Perry would salvage anything from the ruins of two candidates competing for Republican votes, with Hillary as the sole Democrat, is unclear.
The third candidate in the GOP race, Governor John Kasich, who has won only his home state and sees a contested convention as his outside chance. But the chaos of such a scenario makes it very difficult to envisage.
So Hillary sits pretty. Sanders has tested her, which turned out to be helpful in sharpening her game. She sees the GOP in chaos and can hardly believe her luck. But she, above all, will know nothing is won yet. In this crazy political season, there may still be surprises ahead.