By Ronald Brownstein – – – –
1. Who wins the battle for control of the Republican Party?
Once again, the GOP is dividing between white-collar, center-right “managerial” voters and “populist” voters drawn from the overlapping circles of working-class whites and evangelical Christians. When those two blocs have diverged before, the managers’ preference (think John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012) has usually prevailed. But this year, no candidate has consolidated the managerial wing, and the race’s two front-runners are antiestablishment populists relying mostly on blue-collar (Donald Trump) or evangelical (Ted Cruz) voters. Many party strategists fear that neither candidate could win the general election. The primaries will determine if the GOP’s managerial mainstream can unite to seize the nomination, or if the party will leap into the unknown with Trump or Cruz.
2. Can Democrats reassemble the “coalition of the ascendant?”
That’s the term I coined in 2008 for the groups that underpin the modern Democratic electoral coalition: millennials, people of color, and college-educated, single, and secular whites, especially women. Those groups are growing in the electorate, and if Democrats can turn them out and maintain their recent advantages among them, Republicans could win the presidency only by amassing dauntingly high margins among all other whites. But it remains to be proven whether Democrats can energize those groups as effectively as they did with President Obama on the ballot. Polarizing proposals from the GOP front-runners could help motivate them, but front-runner Hillary Clinton draws surprisingly tepid ratings from some of these constituencies. One related wild card is the continued tension between African-Americans and mostly Democratic big-city mayors over policing practices. This could depress black turnout from its record high when Obama ran.