Sometimes, a week is a long time in politics. There are still 53 weeks to go to the 2016 general election, and three months to the Iowa Caucuses, but this week was a big week. Three candidates out on the Democratic side, a probable new speaker, an old investigative committee, a new investigative committee, and two elections — one in Canada and one in Louisiana.
The big news is the three candidates out (two officially in the race and one who was never officially in the race) on the Democratic side. With only three candidates left running heading into the next Democratic debate, there will be enough time for all of the candidates to make their points on whatever topics come out. As we saw several weeks ago, the smaller field allowed a much more civilized debate among the Democrats than we have seen among the Republicans. With so many candidates running on the Republican side, there just is not enough post-debate coverage to go around; so the coverage goes to the most outrageous statements.
On Capitol Hill, it appears that Paul Ryan will be the next Speaker of the House. I am dubious that Speaker Ryan will be any better at herding cats than Speaker Boehner, but this should be the end of any future political career for Paul Ryan. Meanwhile, the Republicans made fools of themselves twice. First, spending all week rehashing Benghazi. Second, Speaker Boehner in a parting gift/curse to the Tea Party has authorized a special committee on Planned Parenthood. If wasting time on Benghazi hasn’t been enough to sour independents on Republicans, partisan attacks on the major women’s health organization in this country will do wonders with Republican efforts to convince folks that they are not waging a war on women.
Yesterday was the open primary in Louisiana (one of the handful of states that use off-year elections for state officials). Senator David Vitter limped to second place (and the run-off) with 23% of the vote. Given that the Republicans got the majority of the votes in the primary, Senator Vitter still has a good chance to win the election, but this type of showing gives hope for an upset. If Vitter wins, that may spell the end of Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign with Jindal getting named by Vitter as his replacement, but there are other Republicans in Louisiana seeking that nod too.
The Canadian elections are significant for two reasons. First, the clear defeat for the Conservatives (whose policies are probably somewhere between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) and the clear win for the Liberals (slightly more liberal than the progressive wing of the Democratic Party will change Canada’s take on several international and bilateral issues. Second, the structure of the Canadian election (like the U.S. and U.K., a first past-the-post system) is a warning sign for the winner-take-all/winner-take-most Republican primaries. With three parties getting over 10% in most districts (and a fourth party getting over 10% in most districts in Quebec), only 133 districts out of 338 had a candidate who got an absolute majority. In 69 districts, the winning candidate got less than 40% (40 of those districts were in Quebec which tended to have four competitive candidates). If the Republican Primary field stays full, there could be a lot of the one-third of states that use such a system in which the winning candidate only gets 36% or less of the vote — the one way that a candidate like Donald Trump could get the nomination. When there is a consensus candidate, winner-take-all helps produce a winner quicker. When there is not a consensus candidate, winner-take-all benefits the fringe candidates.
As the first batch of debates have shown, the winnowing process has now started. In all probability, the three Democrats left will make it to Iowa (Governor O’Malley may scale back his campaign, but currently the incentives are for him to stay in just in case something happens to Secretary Clinton). The Republicans still have too many candidates (for the reasons noted above). Some of them will not make it to Iowa. The sheer number still running and the unpredictability of who will drop out next. makes it hard to declare any candidate the front-runner. In the absence of a front-runner, Donald Trump and Ben Carson will continue to do damage to the Republican brand.