There’s a saying in presidential politics that there are only three tickets out of Iowa. But in 2016, with an overcrowded field of candidates and the unpredictability of establishment versus outsider dynamics, it seems as though this old adage will be unceremoniously retired. Fifteen candidates (12 of whom are Republicans) made it to the first checkpoint: the Iowa caucuses. As polls rolled in, the frontrunners have been thoroughly entertaining as Sanders and Clinton, and Trump, Rubio and Cruz grappled for position.

However, the majority of the candidates, such as O’Malley, Fiorina and Santorum, could rest easy that night knowing that not one of them would be walking out of Des Moines as the victor. So the question is: Who will throw in the towel and who will stay? That’s where it gets dangerous, especially for the Republican Party. The “establishment” candidates, like John Kasich or Chris Christie, for example, still have potential for strong showings in Iowa. And if one of the big three falls (today or tomorrow or in two months), who’s to say their 20-percent-plus share of the vote wouldn’t swing in his or her direction? What if the next off-color Trump remark finally sinks him, or the Canadian-born Cruz faces a courtroom challenge? Being fair to these candidates, the race is too unpredictable to drop out now.

Martin O’Malley’s departure, like a third wheel finally becoming aware of his surroundings, leaves a two-person contest between Bernie and Hillary. Mike Huckabee’s sabbatical from Fox News is apparently up, so he has dropped out as well. The GOP field might slim to 10 after last night, but in a year like 2016, there are absolutely no guarantees. Prepare for the clown car to be around a little bit longer.

Brett Graham can be reached at btgraham@umich.edu. 

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