Nate Silver maps out the GOP scenario coming out of tomorrow's Iowa caucuses.
Yes, I know: There’s an incredibly handsome orange-haired man from Queens sitting atop the polls. Donald Trump has a serious chance of winning the Republican nomination — not words I’d have expected myself to be writing six months ago.1 Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, however, still have a shot to knock Trump off his pedestal. Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie might have a chance too, although they’ll need a lot of things to break right for them.
The dominoes will begin falling after the Iowa caucuses Monday night. It seems to me there are four basic narratives that could emerge from the state. (By “narratives,” I mean how the media, Republican party elites and the other candidates will interpret the results. Be warned: How the media responds is sometimes way more predictable than how voters do.) They depend, respectively, on whether Trump beats Cruz and on how well Rubio does.
About Rubio: What it means to perform “well” is obviously a little subjective, but how a candidate does relative to his polls is usually a pretty good guide to the spin that eventually emerges. Recent Iowa polls have Rubio in third place, with a vote share in the mid-teens. If Rubio finishes in the low teens or worse, his performance is likely to be regarded as disappointing (he’ll also be at risk of falling behind Ben Carson or another candidate into fourth place). If he’s in the high teens or better, he’ll probably be regarded as having momentum, especially if he slips into second place. Our models also think there’s an outside chance — 7 percent to 10 percent, depending on which version you look at — for Rubio to win Iowa. That’s mostly out of an abundance of caution: Iowa polls aresometimes wildly off the mark.2 The scenarios below contemplate Rubio finishing in second or a strong third place, but not winning. Of course, there could be even crazier outcomes still — our models give Carson around a 1-in-100 chance of winning Iowa, for example — but the four cases we describe below are the ones we take to be most likely.
Nate's scnarios involve whether or not Trump beats Ted Cruz, and whether or not Rubio finishes well enough to remain a contender, which renders four possible outcomes: 1) Trump smashes Cruz and Rubio with a runaway victory and becomes the overwhelming favorite, 2) Trump and Rubio both do well and the establishment rallies behind Rubio to stop Cruz and Trump, 3) Cruz pummels both Trump and Rubio and he becomes the frontrunner, and 4) Cruz and Rubio both beat Trump and The Donald's balloon bursts.
Most people are expecting scenario 2. We'll see what happens tomorrow.