Get ready for a wild, unpredictable 2016

Story highlights

  • Hugh Hewitt says no one forecast the rise of Trump and the road ahead isn't yet clear
  • He says it will take a while for 2016's GOP presidential race to play out

Hugh Hewitt is a lawyer, law professor, author and host of a nationally syndicated radio show. He served in the Reagan administration in posts including assistant counsel in the White House and special assistant to two attorneys general. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)For 10 days, presidential politics is taking a breather.

Political junkies across the country are tuning out. They have Christmas to celebrate and they know ordinary Americans aren't paying much attention to the candidates yet since the first votes are still more than a month away. Ratings and rants will resume come the first week of the new year.
Hugh Hewitt
The last poll of December 2015 could not have been foreseen in January of 2015, anymore than we can guess at the result of November 2016, 10 months away. But CNN's last poll put Donald Trump atop the GOP field with a commanding 20-point lead over his closet competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- 38% to 18%. Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio have 10% each, and the candidate with momentum in New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie only has 5% in the national survey.
    We do know that once voting begins and delegate totals start to accumulate, the polls will fade into talking points to be saved for four or eight years from now when the next round of contested Republican primaries and caucuses arrive. For now though, they set the table for Christmas dinner conversations.
    Some will shake their head over the New York businessman's commanding lead. Others will defend Donald as a straight shooter who was needed to clear the clouds of political correctness away. Fans of Cruz will talk about his incandescent intelligence, and critics will call him ambitious beyond his years.
    The folks who watch all the shows and read all the political websites, left, right and center, will all spin scenarios that take into account the "Reince Rules," the series of reforms pushed through by Republican National a Committee Chair Reince Priebus over the past three years that brought order to the party after the primary and debate chaos of 2012.
    No one predicted the rise of Trump, and no one can predict the consequences of the Cruz win that appears to building in Iowa or of the Christie momentum in New Hampshire. Also unknown is how candidates will fare in South Carolina, a key test of traditional Republican voter appeal. Events abroad could crash into primary voters' collective consciousness as surely as the debates have struck home in five big nights -- with just as many to come.
    Trump leads, but he does not command, and we know -- from the results of the Kentucky governor's election wherein Matt Bevin was predicted to lose by four or five points but won by nine, as well as the British and the Israeli election of this year and the American vote of November 2014 -- that pollsters have not figured out the magic mix of turnout and sampling to produce anything like reliability. Pollsters aren't quite to the level of credibility of the discredited science of phrenology yet, but headed there.
    The magic number is 1,237. That's the number of delegates needed to nominate a Republican standard-bearer in Cleveland in July. The Iowa caucus puts 30 of those 1,237 in play, New Hampshire, 23, South Carolina, 50, and Nevada's caucuses another 30. Assuming that no candidate gets more than half those votes, the likely highest haul for the entire month will total only about 60 votes of the 1,237 needed. In short, candidates are right to look over their shoulders and to keep track of the folks in front of them.
    Preseason is always fun for every team in the NFL -- the regular season not so much. The reality of losing and winning is even tougher in politics, since there is no next year for most of the dozen Republicans left in the field, only a decade of second guessing strategies and choices.
    No one would have predicted the demise of all three of the Jindal, Perry and Walker campaigns a year ago, and the one thing we know right now about next November is that no one knows the result, not by a long shot, no matter the level of bravado or pretended expertise.