I think the historical record supports my sense that it's hard to predict the next Republican nominee, or the next president, over two years out--especially when we're dealing with an open seat election rather than a presidential re-election.
Consider where the last seven men elected president stood at this point in the cycle:
In late August 1966, very few observers or even insiders thought Richard Nixon would be the GOP nominee in 1968--let alone the next president (the GOP was going to be in the wilderness for decades after Goldwater!).
In late August 1974, no one would have bet on an obscure one-term Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, to be the Democratic nominee or president (in addition to everything else, he was much too conservative for a newly McGovernized Democratic party!).
In late August 1978, Ronald Reagan wasn't a clear favorite for the GOP nomination, and surely not for the presidency (the GOP was going to be in the wilderness for decades after Watergate!).
In late August 1986, George H. W. Bush seemed like a weak vice president who'd have trouble winning his party's nomination. And no party had held the White House for more than two consecutive terms since 1948.
In late August 1990, most observers ranked Bill Clinton's chances behind those of Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, and Bill Bradley, among others. And in any case, everyone "knew" there was a Republican "electoral college lock" that virtually guaranteed them the White House for the next few elections!
1998 is the exception: in late August, George W. Bush probably was the front-runner for the GOP nomination and was thought to have a decent shot at winning the general election.
But in late August 2006, everyone was getting ready for the Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani clash of the titans in the 2008 general election.
My conclusion: Pundits want politics to be predictable. But American politics is volatile and unpredictable. More generally, while thought wants to be at rest, politics is about motion. The great thinkers, including Shakespeare, could teach us that.
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