Get Ready: Why 2016 Will Be Totally Nuts

Michael Tomasky gazes into his crystal ball and lays out what to look for in the coming year.

12.28.15 5:01 AM ET

You want predictions? After a year like this?! Who knows. I will say in my defense that after Donald Trump went after John McCain, and nearly everybody in Punditland was saying that’s it, he’s cooked, I wrote no, not so fast. Five-plus months later, that column reads pretty well! So here I go.

Who Will Be the Republican Presidential Nominee?: As I write these words, I’m gonna go ahead and say Ted Cruz, although I actually kinda think it will be Trump, and I’m aware that I’m just saying Cruz to sound respectable (Cruz! Respectable!).

Marco Rubio...well, here’s the thing. I guess the new conventional wisdom is that people finally realized (again, as I’ve been saying for weeks!) that Florida comes far too late to be his firewall, so now everyone’s moved his firewall up to Nevada, and he’s supposed to win there, which would give him a W in one of the early four.

They say he’s got a strong ground operation there. So if he wins that, he’s in the game, anyway. But then it seems to me that after that, for a couple weeks anyway, the only states he’s gonna win are states that are going to be blue next November (Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, and maybe Virginia—yes, Virginia, Hillary is gonna win Virginia). So I have trouble seeing it. Now you should factor in here that I don’t want it to be Rubio because he’s the GOP’s best bet, but trying as best I can to put all that to the side, I’d still rank them something like Cruz, 45 percent chance of being the nominee; Trump, 33 percent; Rubio, 22 percent.

And Who’ll Be the Democrat?: Oh, you know. But I do expect she’ll have to fight for it. Maybe Bernie Sanders will win New Hampshire, and he’ll have the money to stay in for a while, until he’s won about all the delegates he can win, so he can take those delegates to Philadelphia and leverage them into something.

So Who’s Going to Be President?: If it’s Clinton vs. Trump, I’d say Clinton gets 384 electoral votes to Trump’s 154; this gives Clinton the heretofore red states of Missouri, Georgia, and Arizona (that is, red states with large urban centers, which seem flippable under this circumstance). If it’s Clinton-Cruz, I’ll say 358-180, flipping Georgia and Mizzou back to the R’s but keeping Arizona in Clinton’s column. If it’s Clinton-Rubio, I’ll go with 318-220, giving Rubio all those states and Florida. I’m keeping North Carolina in the Clinton column in all these scenarios, because I’m guessing they’ll plant ol’ Bill down there and he pulls it out.

But Surely Rubio Could Win?: Sure he could. If the economy goes south, all the purple states could swing in his direction. Chances are if one goes, they all go, or at least most of them.

What About the Fact That People Just Don’t Like Hillary?: First of all, not everyone doesn’t like Hillary. She has many ardent fans. But OK, I take your point. That could also help Rubio, if he’s the nominee. But chances are it just depresses turnout more than it helps the Republican—that is, the people who don’t like their choices, the ones who register as “don’t know” in polls, are just going to stay home.

All that said, this is an issue for the Clinton campaign. She needs to get voters thinking not about her personally so much as Supreme Court nominations, how well the economy did when her husband was president, etc. If this plays out anything like her 2000 Senate campaign, people go through these Kubler-Ross-ian phases of Hillary, and by election time, a majority ends up respecting her simply because she’s taken so much crazy conspiratorial and misogynist shit and managed to march through it with something vaguely resembling dignity.

Is There a Chance of a Brokered GOP Convention?: Sure, there’s a chance, but I haven’t the slightest idea how much of a chance. This is where Paul Ryan might enter the picture. Ryan could be formidable, but he would have big problems with evangelicals, after his total and utter sellout on Planned Parenthood funding. And then you get into immigration and his willingness to play ball with the Democrats on the budget. Face it, the Republican base is, any way you look at it, to the right of Ryan on a whole mess of stuff these days. Read this by the Beast’s Betsy Woodruff. This is worth keeping an eye on.

What’s Going to Happen to the Republican Party?: A schism is not unthinkable. If they nominate Cruz and he gets hammered, the more mainstream types will say, “See, you got your wish, a ‘true conservative,’ and we got...schlonged. We have to go in the other direction.” To which the true conservatives will most definitely not say, “Gee, establishment, you’re right.” And if it’s Rubio and he gets beat, the TC’s will say, “See, you sold us out yet again, we’re sick of this.”

I don’t know how a schism would work, frankly. Like, who gets to keep calling themselves the Republicans, and who has to go out and think up another name? Or maybe neither side wants that name at that point! Anyway, this is the kind of thing that would take a few years. And by the way, an eventual Democratic schism isn’t out of the question either, although the Democratic left, the Sanders wing, isn’t nearly as large or powerful as the Cruz-Trump wing of the GOP.

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All Right, What Else? What About Obama’s Eighth Year?: Likely to be pretty tough sledding, especially on foreign policy. And likely to be measured in its ambitions. Unless something goes kablooey, his legacy is in place already and it’s a good one (not great maybe, but good), at least to most of the people who think he isn’t the Antichrist.

What’s the War With ISIS Going to Look Like in a Year?: This Ramadi news is encouraging. And this Saudi-led anti-terror coalition could be good, although with them, who knows. As I’ve tried to say numerous times, we can’t destroy ISIS, we can only contain it. At best. Every extreme measure we take to try to destroy ISIS will probably just strengthen it. Only the key actors in the region can arguably destroy it, and they (for example Saudi Arabia and Turkey) clearly aren’t ready to. So I’d guess we’ll be at this for a while.

Anything Else?: As a matter of fact, yes. One of the more disturbing little factoids I happened across recently is this poll result showing that less than 30 percent of millennials think it’s essential to live in a democracy.

I have many thoughts on this, but this column is almost over, so maybe we’ll get to them next year. However: This is not a prediction for 2016 per se, but an observation about the entropic direction we seem to be heading in as a country. We aren’t really citizens anymore in any meaningful sense. Most of us are chiefly consumers and spenders. Those of us who do take citizenship more seriously and are engaged in politics aren’t sitting down together to figure out solutions to problems, as citizens are supposed to do (in the imaginations, say, of the Founders); we’re ripping each others’ bowels out. It’s no wonder young people care less about democracy—they’re not seeing much democratic practice in their lives that’s appealing or salutary.

In addition, the market has trained our brains to demand efficiency, to value it above all else; and democracy is terribly inefficient. Isn’t this part of Trump’s appeal? His supporters just want it done now; build the wall, to hell with Congress and lawsuits. This may or may not descend into fascism, but it’s something I worry about a lot—not just with regard to Trump, but with regard to where we’ll be 20 or 40 years from now—and you should too.

Happy New Year.