Cue the scary-minor-key power chord: Ted Cruz is within the margin of error of Donald Trump in Iowa. It’s Trump 25, and Cruz 23, but as we will see further down, other numbers from the poll suggest that Cruz is well positioned to win what might now be a two-man race in the Hawkeye State.
This is just awesome news. One can now begin to see how this may all be shaping up. I tweeted it last Friday. Trump becomes the crazy, not-really-electable, neo-fascist candidate—the choice of a good chunk of the base, but one the establishment can’t live with. Marco Rubio, the guy the establishment is most comfortable with, becomes the establishment candidate—but by definition that will make him unacceptable to a sizable chunk of the base. And so emerges Cruz—the “compromise” candidate! (That the scenario of Cruz as compromise candidate is not at all implausible is one stark measure of what Trump’s presence has done to the GOP.)
Cruz is now running—and smartly, it must be said—what you might call the “Donnie Jr.” strategy. Be like Donald, but not as... Not as out there. Not as openly racist. Not as extreme. Differentiate where principle absolutely demands, as Cruz did on the question of religious ID cards for Muslim Americans, which Cruz ruled out as Trump did not. But basically, be the acceptable Trump.
It’s working, at least as far as Iowa is concerned. A few more numbers from this poll (and here’s the full PDF). When Quinnipiac asked respondents who had the best chance of winning next November, Cruz won, with 25 percent. Rubio, the guy you’d expect to win that one, was named by 20 percent. Trump got 16 percent, behind even Ben Carson at 19 percent. So if electability is on the minds of caucus-goers come next February, as things stand now, incredibly enough, Cruz wins that one. Another interesting question asked, is there anyone you would definitely not vote for? Cruz also won this one—only 5 percent named him as a non-choice. Again he beat Rubio (named by 7 percent) and throttled Trump (23 percent).
Also worth noting is the grim finding that Cruz, Trump, and Carson combined for 66 percent. That shows how out there this particular electorate is. Or does it? Well, pretty different from New Hampshire, where the Truculent Troika combine for just 46 percent. But not necessarily that different from South Carolina, where they combine for 61 percent, or Florida, where the number is also 61 percent. So the Iowa GOP electorate is more extreme, but not by leaps and bounds.
Numbers like these really put the squeeze on Rubio. He’s not going to win Iowa. He can win New Hampshire if Trump totally collapses, but he keeps not collapsing and getting stronger. Rubio won’t win South Carolina. Then come the Nevada caucuses, and nobody’s polling that much for some reason, but Rubio looks to be way behind there, too. Then 21 more states will vote before they get to Rubio’s Florida on March 15. Can the establishment big boys keep him afloat that long if he’s not winning primaries?
I don’t know but I have a feeling they might have to find a way to, because there’s just no way they’re going to let it come down to Trump vs. Cruz. They despise them both. One’s first reflex is to think, well, they’ll just have to find a way to make their peace with Cruz, because Trump is so obviously out of the question.
But on the other hand... remember how much congressional Republicans loathe Cruz. Almost all of his GOP Senate colleagues think he’s a grandstanding demagogue. Most members of the House do, too, except the small cadre that has named him its leader, the group that meets at that Tex-Mex restaurant on Capitol Hill. But except for them, the R’s do not like Ted. They do not like him in D.C., they do not like him up a tree, they do not like him with a mouse, they certainly don’t like him in the White House.
They somehow might end up preferring Trump. Which would be really funny, him being an open racist and all. But you know what? Psssst: They’d actually prefer Hillary. Now no one’s ever going to say that publicly of course. But half a lifetime of covering these people has taught me a few things about how they think. And one of those things is this: Intra-party personal hatred is much more visceral than inter-party personal hatred. The prospect of someone they hate in their own party having more power than they have is like the bitterest, foulest bowl of hemlock these people can drink. Trust me on that.
So I can guarantee you, I mean guarantee you, that whatever he says publicly, Mitch McConnell would think something like this privately: “Well, OK, I hate seeing Hillary get to make all those Supreme Court appointments. We’ll have to come up with a strategy on that one. But the rest? On foreign policy, she won’t be as bad as the current guy, and it’s far better for us politically to have the Iran deal in place, as it gives us a target. And on the domestic stuff, we’ll bottle her up, she won’t do much damage. I’d much rather that than have to call Ted Fucking Cruz ‘Mr. President’ for eight years!”
We on the other side aren’t supposed to gloat. Cuz, you know—you never know. You just never know what can happen. But come on, it’s really, really hard to see Cruz getting more than about 180 electoral votes. So I say keep it seemly, tuck it back in when necessary, but, for the time being—gloat away!