Mark Halperin at Bloomberg Politics has an article out this morning making the case for Hillary Clinton as the “most likely” next occupant of the White House:
“October has been good to Clinton: a glittering debate performance, the decision of potential rival Joe Biden not to run (greatly simplifying her path to the nomination), the vanquishing of Republicans during her daylong Benghazi hearing, and a solid turn at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night. All have improved Clinton’s odds of cruising into the White House twelve months hence, and have thrown into sharper relief some of the advantages she has had all along.
To state the obvious, Clinton faces two tasks to become commander-in-chief: get enough delegates to beat Sanders and then sew up 270 electoral votes. The more easily she can complete her first mission (especially compared to the wooly nomination battle of her eventual Republican opponent), the more easily achievable will be her second goal.”
Halperin then lays out the specifics of why he sees Clinton as the odds-on favorite, and it’s a compelling case that includes the following observations:
Hillary has shown she can handle Bernie Sanders, despite his plucky persona, raw grassroots appeal, and authentic authenticity. The Vegas debate and Clinton’s improved poll standing has given her and her team a revived notion that Sanders will end up a nuisance rather than a real threat…. Without Biden in the race, Clinton is not going to have to play three-dimensional chess and can focus her energies on Sanders alone….
Hillary could be the de facto Democratic nominee by Feb. 8. Her team privately believes that, given the way expectations have been set up, even narrow wins in the two first-voting contests would not be discounted. Clinton has robust field operations in both states and could diligently grind her way to victories. Even Sanders’ top aides acknowledge that, barring other factors, it could be game, set, match if Hillary starts the voting year with twin wins, giving Brooklyn ample incentive to go all in there and try to put it away early….
The Republican nominee is more likely to emerge bloodied, broke, and behind. A nominating calendar and delegate rules designed to avoid the kind of extended intra-party fight that crippled Mitt Romney’s general election effort will almost certainly be no match for a fifteen candidate field, a number of whom can make a decent argument that they’ll win the prize. The ferociousness and deep pockets of gladiators Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the possibility that the party establishment will end up intervening with tens of millions of dollars in negative TV spots means a long, gory slog that might not find resolution until after the national convention in Cleveland in mid-July. (Of course, if Trump is ultimately the nomination victor, then “broke” should not be a factor.)…
Republicans are erroneously convinced they can beat Clinton solely with talk of Benghazi, e-mails, and other controversies that have nothing to do with the economy and the real lives of real people. Nowhere does the Fox News-Rush Limbaugh echo chamber more hurt Republican chances of beating Clinton than in the politics of scandal and controversy. To paraphrase the famous line attributed to Pauline Kael: everyone who conservatives know think the Clintons should be in prison. The problem is that swing voters don’t share that view in sufficient numbers to actually warrant banking a victory on placing those arguments front and center. Kevin McCarthy’s acknowledgement that the Benghazi committee was set up to damage Clinton politically has not just polluted the select committee’s efforts; it also means that one of the most effectively tried-and-true Team Clinton defenses (that any controversy that swirls around her is a ginned up political attack because Republicans don’t want to talk about real issues) has got legs straight through next November.
Halperin notes up front that a Clinton victory is far from assured – he writes that “a strong Republican candidate could absolutely defeat her next November, with victory as simple as the party putting forth a nominee who is more likeable to voters and better on television” – but simply assuming that Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to get the Democratic nomination and then also assuming there is a 50/50 chance a Democrat will win in 2016, then Clinton does indeed top the list of candidates most likely to be the next president. The question for Republicans isn’t “can she be beat?” (the answer is assuredly yes), it’s “will Republicans nominate someone capable of beating her?” The answer to that won’t be known for several months.