6. Can Paul Ryan avoid the fate of John Boehner?
After Speaker Paul Ryan shepherded an enormous spending bill through the House this month, some activists on the right started to attack him as a traitor to the conservative cause. He will be under intense pressure in the new year to run the House in a more democratic fashion than Boehner did, and to deliver significant policy victories for conservatives, two goals that can be in tension with one another. Next fall, right before the election, when the government’s annual spending authority runs out, he will have to avoid the inevitable threats from the right to shut the government down over Obamacare or immigration or Planned Parenthood or whatever the issue of the moment is among conservatives.
7. Will Barack Obama help or hurt the Democratic nominee?
The single most important factor in next year’s election will be the state of the economy. If the economy is continuing to improve and growth is strong and unemployment low, the Democrats will have a modest edge. But dragging them down will be the natural exhaustion the electorate generally feels after eight years of seeing the same party in power. Obama’s own popularity is closely tied to the economy, but he can help the Democrat nominee by making steady progress on a popular domestic agenda, combatting ISIS, and proving that his more unpopular policies (like the Affordable Care Act) are working and that his legacy initiatives should be continued and improved upon, as Clinton promises, rather than overturned, as the G.O.P. promises.