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Analysts Share Views of Political Landscape in Welcome General Session

One word that sums up the current political scene is “assumptions,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, who shared the stage on Sunday evening with David Wasserman, election analyst, the Cook Political Report, during the conference’s traditional session featuring Washington, DC, political analysts who provide context for the meeting’s subsequent activities.

“I’d like to start with a confession,” Gonzales said. “I did not think Donald Trump would get this far,” he added, noting that this was his first incorrect assumption for the presidential race.

He said he thought GOP presidential candidate Trump “would falter or become disqualified because of the words he says or his actions in the past or during the campaign. Inside the beltway, we underestimated the segment of America that is deeply distrustful of Washington, DC. [These voters] are working hard but feeling like they’re not getting ahead.”

Trump is tapping this frustration, Gonzales said, and his supporters are discounting the kind of statements that previously have damaged other candidates.

“Trump is not being held to the same standards as the other candidates. Saying ‘he is not a politician’ covers up a multitude of ‘sins.’ We underestimated that fervor,” he said.

As for the efforts of so-called establishment Republicans to rein in Trump, Gonzales said, “Republicans and the media talking about that. Trump supporters don’t care.”

This point prompted Gonzales’ next assumption: The Republican establishment would “take Trump down.”

He added, “We had an assumption that the ‘establishment’ was a singular force that would prevail” but the most establishment Republican in the race, Jeb Bush, “had problems money can’t fix.”

Gonzales said on the Democratic side, the biggest incorrect assumption was that the “label ‘socialist’ would be a deal breaker. That hasn’t happened. Labels don’t mean a lot,” he added, referring to Bernie Sanders, a longtime U.S. senator from Vermont and self-declared “democratic socialist” who recently registered as a Democrat.

In addition, he said he and other analysts are currently examining the assumption that Hillary Clinton will be able to reassemble the Obama coalition, which Gonzales said is not a foregone conclusion.

As for the general election, Gonzales cited one school of thought that says “Trump would be a disaster for the Republican Party. It could be a historic meltdown for the party but I’m not sure we can assume that. There’s an uneasiness about how Trump will play in the general election.”

Wasserman shared remarks based in part on NCAA Final Four basketball metaphors. “We’re down to the final four,” he noted. “Donald Trump has had his own bracket for the better part of this year. He’s a candidate with zero experience but he has dominated the party.”

As for the other Republicans running for president, Texas senator “Ted Cruz’s bracket is social conservatism and evangelicals,” Florida senator Marco Rubio (then still in the race) was in the establishment bracket and Ohio Gov. John Kasich “is in the ‘moderate Republican’ bracket, the ‘let’s all get along bracket.’ Only Ted Cruz has a real chance of pulling even with Trump and that’s an uphill climb for him,” Wasserman added.

He offered another way of looking at the Republican race. “If the Republican Party was a ship, a mutiny has been brewing for a long time. Perhaps the right pirate has come along” to take the helm, he said.

Wasserman also talked about the role of the news media in the race. “Something else is going on here. News media outlets are economic organizations. Media outlets have needed Trump as much as he needed them. There’s just no oxygen left for other candidates in the race.”

As for Senate elections, Gonzales said seats in seven states could change hands from Republican to Democratic. “Democrats are on the offensive. The Senate is firmly in play,” he said.

That’s likely not the case with the House where the Republicans hold a solid majority, Wasserman said. “The Democrats picking up 30 seats doesn’t seems likely. They’d have to ‘run the table’ in the fall.”

AECOM sponsored the session.

Nathan Gonzales, left, and David Wasserman offered insights and predictions about the current political climate.

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