Judd Gregg: The finish line

Judd Gregg: The finish line
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By the time the results of tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary come in, we may know not only the identity of the people who are going to cross the finish line to win the presidential nominations of their respective parties. We may also know whom the next president is going to be.

How can one say something so outrageous and so definitive this far from November? 

Because it is easy to predict the obvious.

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To begin with, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE will win the Democratic nomination. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE is not going to win his party’s mantle of leadership.  

Hillary is on an unstoppable path. If she wins the New Hampshire primary — where the polls say she is trailing the Vermont senator by a large margin — it will clearly be over. I expect she will win here in my home state, for a number of reasons I have outlined in prior articles.   

But even if she does not win in New Hampshire, she has the machinery of the party behind her. Unlike the Republican Party, which has no consolidated power centers, the Democratic Party does. Big labor, the teacher’s unions, the structured minority groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus and the super delegate selection process are all heavily tilted in Hillary’s favor. 

This is the nominating core of the Democratic Party. After New Hampshire, the process moves south and into the large states where these groups dominate and nominate.  

There will still be a time of entertainment. Bernie will put on a good show. He will continue to push the party towards his beloved socialism. But actually getting the nomination? That is not going to happen.

The only wild card on the Democratic side is the charge that Hillary put national security at risk for personal gain in the matter of her emails.  

If this issue becomes virulent enough, as it might, then the Democratic Party leadership will push her overboard, because controlling the levers of power is essential to the Democratic cause. If it becomes evident that Hillary cannot win, she will be jettisoned.

But even in that scenario, Vice President Biden would become the nominee, not Sanders.

This hypothetical drama is unlikely to take place, however. The ethical and legal shadows that cling to the Clinton name are accepted without complaint by her party. They are not seen as politically fatal.

Therefore, sooner or later, Hillary will become the Democratic nominee.

On the Republican side, the view may be hazier but landfall is visible.

Republicans do not have a power structure. They nominate through open and contested primaries, and some caucuses.

Most Republicans — at least sixty-five to seventy-five percent — will not vote for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE. The question up until last week’s Iowa caucuses was whether this large majority of Republicans would coalesce around a single alternative.

After Iowa, some might argue that Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE has become the chosen one. This misses the real lesson of Iowa.

Cruz won Iowa because a concentrated and motivated group of people went to the caucuses and dominated them: Evangelicals.   

We now move into states where elections determine the winners. No small group can control the process. Cruz may be competitive where evangelicals play a role — such as in the several southern states that vote on Mar. 1, in what is being called “the SEC primary” — but he will not win.   

Rather, the primary states will be a straight contest: Trump versus whomever the rest of the party voters choose.   

What Iowa showed was that these traditional GOP voters are willing to pick one person to support. In Iowa, it was Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE.

The question will be, can Rubio replicate that coalition of support in other states such as New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida where Jeb Bush, John Kasich and even Chris Christie are vying for the same votes?

We will find out tomorrow in New Hampshire. If there is a coalescing around one alternative to Trump — if Rubio repeats his Iowa success or if Bush or Kasich take that role — then the game is over for The Donald.  

Once the nominating process moves to a one-on-one contest of Trump versus a legitimate, rational conservative, the sixty-five to seventy-five percent of Republicans who have been looking for a leader other then Trump will move en masse to that candidate.  

It will not be Cruz, because he is neither trustworthy nor genuine. To paraphrase President Lincoln, “he can only fool a few folks all the time and not enough to win”.

What Republicans who are not so frustrated as to buy into the malarkey and superficiality of Trump or the demagoguery of Cruz want most is a winner.   

They have no candidate they are uniquely vested in. Rather, they have been looking around for the one who pulls them together. If Bush, Kasich or Rubio wins in New Hampshire that person will be the nominee, as the movement to him will be swift and overwhelming.

If any of those three is the nominee then — so long as the Democrats keep Hillary in the race — the Republican will win the presidency. Clinton’s flaws are simply too heavy a lift for a majority of the American people to carry.   

Of course, this is all conjecture on the part of someone who gives disproportionate consideration to the role of the New Hampshire primary — and who assumes that the American electorate is inherently rational.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee. He has endorsed Jeb Bush in this year's presidential race.