Look, a Dead Pool is a grisly parlor game where people write down a list of famous people and then bet on which of those famous people die first. And it has to happen within a set time period. For tougher rules, the pool requires a specific type of death for it to count. It's a very macabre concept.
So naturally when Rick Perry and Scott Walker fled the stage of the 2016 "OH GOD TRUMP IS DRIVING THE CLOWN CAR" Republican Primary cycle, people started their guessing games about whose campaign was going to "die" next.
This is a tempting "what if" game to play, in a way. It measures your skill of judgment - being able to tell who's going to rust first - balanced against your personal bias and the realities of political campaigning. For one thing, the rules of the post-Citizens United world are NOT helping the big-name candidates one bit...
So, if I had to put my skills to use, my own caustic criticism standing on the sidelines over here, how would I predict which campaigns end before the others? Who are going to be the last ten standing? The last six? The last three? Who's going to dine on the bones of their enemies in Cleveland as the last candidate standing?
In order of departures, I'd have to go with:
This is all pure guessing, I'll admit. The biggest factor right now for someone to drop out is more external than internal woes of a campaign. We are still waiting for the next quarterly report to the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that would show how the campaigns are managing their funds and expenditures. That may yet show which campaigns are in the red or bleeding money, which would be the reasons to drop out.
That's essentially the reasons Rick Perry and Scott Walker quit: Perry's campaign was getting to where they couldn't pay staffers, and Walker's group were under rumors about questionable spending habits. This is odd to report in this day of post-Citizens United limitless fund-raising, but the actual campaigns still have to play by certain rules, and it's possible some candidates and their managers mis-read the situation.
There is of course the likelihood that Jeb? Bush vacuumed up all the SuperPAC money already leaving the other normal candidates few sugar daddies to corral.
Past that, the thing to look for are the candidates coping with scandals. Perry may have been having difficulties raising money because he's got a federal felony charge waiting for him back in Texas. Walker may have shaken off the John Doe investigation but there were whispers of more scandals on the way.
This does not bode well for Rand Paul and Chris Christie. Rand's campaign was hit by arrests over his staffers' alleged involvement in vote-buying back in 2011 for his dad's campaign. Christie still has BridgeGate hanging over him: he's currently not directly linked but new evidence can always come out. He's also got investigations into his mishandling of various state projects including Sandy relief funds.
While it's possible any candidate can drop at any time, you have to look at one other thing: egos. The majority of remaining candidates are known for their ambition and self-indulgences. Each of them are going to wait as long as possible and let the others drop out in shame.
Because the ones who get into the primary season next year with most of their pride intact are going to have opportunities to win enough delegates to make it all the way to Cleveland.
I've been stating for the record that both Gilmore and Pataki are hopeless. They've never broken into the main debates, they're not bringing anything to the table that's different than most of the other candidates. They're not household names and I doubt anyone from their own states could point them out in a lineup. Of the remaining candidates, they're the ones most likely to drop and so should sit in the early tier.
I've got Santorum there because while he'd done well in 2012 this is four years later and for 2016 the Social Conservative candidate title has gone elsewhere (between Jindal, Cruz and Huckabee). He may have been the last Not-Mitt standing then, but now he's not even standing in the polls.
I've got Paul and Christie early as well because of the thing I mentioned already: the potential of scandal wiping them out. Otherwise their egos would keep them in it as far as they can go.
I've got Graham dropping relatively early because he's not getting very far as the Foreign Policy candidate and he's not wowing anyone on the other issues.
Fiorina may be the rising star this month, but by next debate all of her faults - bad business management, the flurry of lying that even Republicans can't stomach - is going to have her slide back down below the five percent she'd been at before September.
When we get to the final eight - from Jindal to Bush on that list - we can likely see all of them struggle to stay in it well into July at Cleveland. After the first two or three primaries when the delegate counts are starting to line up, at which point the ones not winning - Jindal in particular - will have to drop out because the money will dry up. Nobody's gonna send checks to a losing operation.
I have Carson leaving at this point because while he's hot now - like Fiorina - he's not experienced enough to keep himself in a political wrestling match. He's bound to slip down, especially by the major primary rounds in March.
The remaining six are experienced campaigners... or in the case of Cruz and Trump, massive egotists looking to trash the entire game to satisfy themselves. Cruz is the likeliest to drop however if he fails to garner enough primary results, which is likely because he's running in Trump's shadow. If Trump stays in, Cruz won't find many voters.
In the case of Rubio, Kasich and Jeb*, they are the Establishment candidates most likely to keep their cash flows rolling in. Dropping out would be foolish, especially as these candidates have solid shots to wrap up the actual party's support. However, each of them are flawed. Kasich is currently polling low much like all the other professional candidates. Rubio is not the savior the pundits want him to be. Jeb>< is one of the weakest, under-performing top-billed candidates in ages. The last time a party-approved, top-funded candidate did this poorly was 2008 with Mitt. And Mitt actually campaigned compared to the flat tone Bush the Third has performed.
The only real thing keeping Jeb& in this race is his pride: he's running on the legacy of the Bush name, even as he's trying his hardest (he's really not) to avoid running on that name. He's seen his dad become President and his older brother (with whom there was a sibling rivalry) become President, and dammit now it's his turn. He wants what was promised him, that golden crown. Jeb? has the money to keep going, but not the actual love of campaigning. He's at once the most likely to drop out if his pride gives out, and at the same time the most likely to keep at the race all the way to Cleveland. Even if he's still polling at eight percent, and getting barely enough delegates to even justify waking up in the morning.
This leaves Trump as the true wildcard. Overperforming at a level no-one saw coming, the banner-carrier for a disaffected voter base tired of the Establishment wing's abuse. Money is no deterrent. Scandal won't embarrass him. He's in this until a major screw-up he can't run away from kicks himself off the list... or else the RNC leadership can't take it anymore. I have no idea when or how Trump would drop out. If he's pushed out - the likeliest scenario right now - he's guaranteed to break his pledge and run as an Independent as he would have every reason to seek revenge.
The way things are, I'm expecting at least eight of the candidates to stick it out as far as possible. After the FEC filings coming up soon, we'll likely get four of the lowest names to drop out. We should well have ten names on the ballot come New Hampshire.
I'm predicting - doom upon me for saying this, the Gods Old and New will not save me - a brokered convention come July with Trump, Rubio, Kasich, Jeb? in fourth place, Cruz, Huckabee, and Carson with delegates. The fight's going to be between Rubio Kasich and Jeb over who gets the RNC back-room controllers to tap them as the anti-Trump.
Past that, I'm not saying any more. I don't want karma to mess this up.
I'm likely going to be wrong as hell anyway. This is the most chaotic race I've ever witnessed in my adult life.