The Iowa caucuses are a week from tomorrow, and the New Hampshire primary eight days after that. Candidate strength with voters will soon be assessed by actual ballots rather than the educated guesses of pollsters. Things are about to start being clarified.
Or are they?
True, the press will have some actual winners and losers to focus on, and the large field of candidates, particularly the Republican gaggle, should begin to thin itself out - but will the identification of front-runners actually mean that things are getting simplified?
Anytime we have a hotly (or bitterly) contested primary race, the chances exist for one of the losers to mount an outside run through a third-party candidacy. Whoever loses in the Hillary-Bernie slug fest will have to be treated with exceedingly soft kid gloves in order to ensure that the failed candidate does not marshal his or her already organized political forces and launch an independent bid for the White House. The Republican party bosses who would like nothing better than to deny the nomination to Donald Trump are smart enough to realize that Donald of the big ego and big checkbook could finance and lead a helluva third party movement.
Yesterday former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced that he, too, might enter the presidential race as an independent. Bloomberg who originally ran for the mayor's post as a Republican, later changed his party label to "Independent." He, like Trump, is an unfettered billionaire with plenty of strong political views - not all of which are supported by the grassroots of either party. Bloomberg is very much pro-Wall Street and corporate America, views which don't necessarily resonate well with the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. But he is also well known for being a gun control activist and pro-abortion, views which are an anathema to hard-shell Republicans.
Bloomberg said that he will not enter unless he sees a path to victory. That path, he says, would appear to be open if the Democrats nominate Bernie and the Republicans go with either Trump or Cruz.
Third party candidates haven't run a really strong race since Teddy Roosevelt and his Bullmoosers came in second in 1912, but two notables within the last forty years have been instrumental in spoiling the election for incumbents. John Anderson, a somewhat liberal Republican who ran as an independent in 1980 did more damage to incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter that he did to his own party's standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan. Many pundits and politicians alike suggested that Ronnie and Nancy were undoubtedly pleased that Anderson decided to pursue a third party bid.
H. Ross Perot, was a billionaire loudmouth who took an independent run at the presidency in 1992. Perot, who had a strong dislike for the first President Bush, ran from the right and proved to be enough of a spoiler to give the election to Bill Clinton
Today's Republicans are already being dismissive of a potential Bloomberg run, possibly (or probably) because they see his entry into the race as taking votes from the Democrats. Bloomberg, however, because he is neither completely left or right politically, might take a respectable slice of each party's pie and throw the election into further disarray.
And what about Cruz and Trump? They can't both be the nominee of the Republican Party - unless one agrees to serve as running mate to the other - and that ticket would lean so far to the right as to be certain of falling over. Would whoever did not get the nomination quickly form an independent effort?
Iowa and New Hampshire used to give us a fairly good idea of who the ultimate candidates would be, but I don't suspect that will be the case this year. This looks to be the year of unpredictability.