How did it happen?

Photographer: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Five Secrets to Spill From the 2016 Campaign

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

As Election Day approaches, we’re getting closer to when campaign operatives will begin sharing their secrets. Here are some things I’m interested in learning.

  1. Why did Christian conservatives and their allies, especially in Iowa, make the shortsighted decision to back Ted Cruz? We had some reporting on this when it happened, but we could use more, since it probably turned out to be the single most important decision by Republican party actors during the nomination process. Had they backed someone more widely acceptable to the rest of the party, there’s a very good chance that candidate would have won it all.

  2. How close did Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren come to running for president, and what did she learn that influenced her not to? Warren consistently said she wasn’t running, but she maintained wiggle room until January 2015. Perhaps she never intended to run no matter what. Perhaps the party actors she hoped to recruit were already committed to Hillary Clinton. If so, which ones did she consider crucial? Were they donors? Politicians? Operatives?

  3. What was John Kasich thinking? From his initial decision to run as a moderate, to his decision to stay in the race after a very modest second-place finish in New Hampshire, to his strategy contesting a small number of states (where he performed poorly), to his abandonment of debates once Donald Trump backed out of them, to his failure to run serious ads against Trump -- none of it made any sense.

  4. Why did Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus choose to tilt toward Trump instead of away from him in the final weeks of the nomination season, and especially at the Republican National Convention? Was it a personal decision? Or were Republican party actors urging him to take that position in order to have an orderly convention? How many of them, by contrast, were willing to risk chaos in Cleveland to avoid the problems with having Trump as the nominee?

  5. Why didn’t we see more negative material on Trump before he won the nomination? Yes, some of it showed up in ads by his Republican rivals, but plenty did not. Rarely were there sustained attacks. Did Republican opposition researchers just miss much of it? Or did they dig stuff up, but decide it wouldn’t derail the reality-show star? To what extent was their reticence strategic, with candidates assuming they could defeat Trump one on one, so they didn’t want to destroy him before other candidates had dropped out?  

OK, there are more than five things. Why did Cruz choose to drop out after losing the Indiana primary instead of continuing through the final contests and picking up at least a few more delegates in a long-shot attempt to force a deadlocked convention? What pushed Republican candidates to drop out before Iowa even when they weren’t out of money?

And back to the Democrats: Did Bernie Sanders or his campaign believe he had a legitimate chance to win the nomination (and, if so, for how long), after the primaries and caucuses began? 

This isn’t just historical curiosity, as fascinating as the nomination contests this year were. The more we learn about what happened, the better we’ll understand how parties and the nomination process work -- and the more prepared we’ll be for the 2020 presidential race, which, like it or not, begins on Nov. 9. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net