Why Ted Cruz Is Rising - and May Possibly Win - in Iowa

The Paris terrorist attacks have transformed the Republican race for president in striking ways. 


Most visibly, in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest, neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been supplanted as the candidate trailing frontrunner Donald Trump, by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, according to the latest pollingA Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday gives Trump 25 percent of likely GOP caucus votes, followed by Cruz with 23 percent, Carson with 18 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with 13 percent.

Everyone else running for the White House is far behind in the single digits.

“It’s his time,” Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said of Cruz’s emergence. “All of the candidates have their time in the sun. This is his time. He has benefited from world events. The Paris attacks have changed this election in ways that we can’t even imagine.”     

According to Brown, Cruz’s popularity in Iowa is boosted by the fact that he’s seen as the best candidate on foreign policy among Republican caucus-goers. Other ultra-right stances—such as not letting any more Iraqi or Syrian War refugees into the U.S.—is shared by 87 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, Brown said. Add to that Cruz’s evangelical Christian credentials, and he now sits amid the top tier of 2016 Republican contenders.

“Worth remembering, however, is that winning Iowa is no guarantee of success elsewhere,” Brown noted in his analysis accompanying the Quinnipiac poll. “Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the 2008 caucus and former Sen. Rick Santorum took the 2012 crown, yet both were quickly gone from the nomination fights as the primary calendar moved to larger states.”

The question that emerges is what is the appropriate attention and importance to accord Iowa’s GOP caucuses in 2016, especially since past ideological extremist winners have a proven track of going nowhere fast.

To start, Iowa Republicans cannot be said to reflect the party’s values nationally. Their beliefs are far more extremist than most GOP voters nationwide. Nearly 60 percent call themselves evangelical Christians, compared to 25 percent nationwide. Other polls have found that more than a third of them actually believe President Obama was not born in the United States and is not constitutionally eligible to serve as president.       

“What passes for conventional wisdom in much of [Republican] Iowa is different from what passes for conservative wisdom in other states that are less politicized but also small and rural,” Peter Brown said. “In other words, what passes for conventional wisdom in Iowa would be considered more conservative than in some other states.”

So what then are non-Iowans to make of Cruz’s ascendency to the top tier of GOP contenders? In the short run, he appears to have knocked Carson out of the limelight and as a serious challenger for the nomination. Cruz’s time in the sun, as Brown put it, might last a few weeks and then shift to another top contender who has not yet stepped into the spotlight, like Marco Rubio.

Earlier this year, when Trump began rising in the polls and jumped to the head of a very crowded GOP field (recall there were 16 candidates at the first debate), many pollsters said that Trump’s negatives were too high and his momentum would hit a ceiling. While Iowa Republicans told the Quinnipiac poll that they trust Trump the most on economic issues and handling terrorism, one wonders if Trump’s frontrunner days are numbered.

If that’s the case, it may be that the GOP presidential contest is narrowing itself to Cruz versus Rubio. For his part, Rubio has been doing exactly what George W. Bush did in 1999—telling every possible GOP constituency that he will be their guy if nominated and elected president. It’s easy to scoff at that notion, yet it worked for W.

Should Democrats see Cruz as a serious contender and competition for their likely 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton? Clear-thinking people might shudder, but another recent poll—this one from swing-state Colorado last week—found that all of the top four GOP contenders would beat Clinton by double-digits, with Rubio leading by 16 points and Cruz leading by 13 points. Carson beat her by 14 points; Trump by 11 points.

The other factor that seems to suggest the GOP race is narrowing to a three-way contest between Trump, Cruz and Rubio is that each of them have billionaire backers and money in the bank that they can spend to get past the first early contests and into March. That is when larger states with more sizeable delegate awards start to vote. In Cruz and Rubio’s case, those backers are funding sympathetic super PACs. Trump, of course, has multi-millions at his disposal from his personal wealth.

All of this means that Iowa is playing an odd role in the 2016 race. Its winner is likely to be far to the right of where most Americans reside, including Republicans. One would think that fact, as well as the history of Iowa winners floundering as the race goes on, would be a comfort to Democrats. But last week’s Colorado poll showing that Clinton would be badly beaten by any of the extremist Republicans now in Iowa’s top tier is very disconcerting. Add to that the super PAC money Cruz and Rubio can access, and Trump’s fortune, and it suggests that nothing about 2016 can be predicted.

Indeed, the biggest questions that seem to be following the shifts in the presidential fields since Paris is, are any of these Republicans—Cruz or Rubio—really electable? And on the Democratic side, is Hillary Clinton really that bad of a candidate?

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