Pundits speculate on presidential election like it’s a sport

If you follow any major sport, you probably know about weekly power rankings. Teams are rated on their recent performance, and their standing may change from week to week. The ranking supposedly reveals the ultimate winner.

Power rankings have now come to the presidential campaign. Washington Post pundits plan to rank weekly all potential candidates, Democrats, Republicans and independents. But not Donald Trump. Perhaps the Post assumes that he has all the power he needs to get the GOP nomination.

The presidential campaign is well under way, starting barely after the latest elections. The pundits are hard at work, speculating on the latest news. The voters are likely to be confused.

The congressional races have also begun. Last week, Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign announced her best fundraising quarter ever. It openly attributed the support, from all 50 states, to her vote in favor the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh’s opponents have raised a war chest to support whatever candidate opposes Collins, the expected Republican standard bearer. Money in politics? Here is a case of money seeking the candidate, not the reverse. It seems clear that the campaign will be mainly about that one vote by Collins.

There might be as many as 20 Democratic hopefuls in the presidential race. Inevitably, this campaign crowd must be seen as reflecting the belief that Trump is vulnerable and almost any respectable Democrat can beat him. The problem is that’s just what the Democrats thought in 2016, when the result did not support their optimism.

Only a few of the Democrats have a platform. The Post’s power ranking focuses more on where candidates fit in their parties, based on their personality and where they hail from.

Are the Democrats inclined to select a reformer willing to upset tradition, as young voters supposedly want? Or will they prefer a candidate who appeals to the white, working class men who usually line up with the GOP? Is it the right moment for a woman to be elected, thanks in part to the growing involvement of women in the political process?

Whatever happens, it would be a mistake to conclude that the Democrats will end up so badly divided they cannot win. Unlike the GOP, the Democrats are accustomed to internal battles and the campaign losers often stick with the party’s candidate.

On the GOP side, Trump seems to be having trouble finding his footing. He has always relied on the cheers of his base, the core group of supporters who stick with him no matter his policy choices. But other Republicans, especially in the business community, and even some of his core are now becoming less reliable.

The economy is strong. But if it slows, as forecast, will Trump still be able to take credit for a boom? The tax cut has produced only small benefits, but a large deficit, making it less popular than it was originally.

And he has stumbled. His Wall is not happening and he looks increasingly desperate. His rebuke of the government intelligence chiefs backfired, and he admitted that he had only followed their analysis in the media, when most presidents would have been briefed by them. The shutdown failed and left him looking unsympathetic to workers.

Moderate GOP office holders have been hinting they might run against him in party primaries. But they would need massive funding and enough support from reluctant Republicans to defeat Trump in early primaries. Achieving either seems unlikely unless more of his base washes out.

Of course, the Mueller report may contain enough damaging information about Trump’s involvement with the Russians in the 2016 campaign that even some of his base deserts him. His continued coziness with Russia, while the diplomats and military openly worry, could make him more politically vulnerable.

If Trump weakens or drops out, watch for an army of GOP candidates. They would test whether the GOP has permanently abandoned moderate politics to become a party of the far right.

The political scene is too unsettled and the primaries are too many months away for television’s talking heads to get much right.

With the campaign under way, it is worth remembering picking a president is serious business, not a sport to handicap. Speculation can swamp knowledge. The voter far from Washington may be treated more like a commodity than as a citizen.

Conclusion? Don’t pay much attention to the pundits and don’t rush to pick a candidate. Plenty of time remains for candidates to emerge, shine or simply disappear. This is not a sport.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.