For the reasons I laid out on Sunday, the outcome of the Iowa caucus is notoriously hard to predict even in a normal election year, which 2016 is decidedly not. The most reliable poll, according to longtime observers, is the one conducted by the Des Moines Register. This time around, its final poll projected unusually high turnout on the Republican side, with Donald Trump leading the field with 28 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at 23 percent, and Marco Rubio at 15 percent. All other Iowa polls released in the past few weeks had found similar results. Though Cruz began January as the frontrunner for the nomination, at least in the state, his support in the polls was sliding, meaning that Trump had retaken the lead; Rubio, concurrently, was on the rise.
Those trajectories, as I noted Sunday, struck me as plausible. Still, I predicted a different outcome. I wrote that I expected Cruz to win, and added that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trump underperform—even if turnout was high, which I thought it might well be. In the end, a record number of Iowans voted in the Republican caucus. Cruz won, with 28 percent of the vote. Trump came in second, with 24 percent, and Rubio finished third, with 23 percent.
The reason I thought Cruz would win is simple: I’ve been paying attention to him; I predicted in November that he would beat Trump in Iowa. I’ve been paying attention to Trump; I wrote in August that his support would be broader and more durable than Republicans were then anticipating. And for the past week, I’ve been paying attention to Iowa. On Sunday, I posited the following scenario:
Trump’s support has been durable because the various criticisms levied against him—by his rivals, by the political establishment, and by the media—can be discredited on the basis that they are efforts to discredit him. I realize that’s tautological, but...
On Monday, voters in Iowa will be the first in the nation to choose their candidates for this year’s Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. And in a week of reporting, I’ve come to two key conclusions about the 2016 caucus. First, the stakes are higher than usual—especially for Ted Cruz, who probably needs a decent showing given how conservative Iowa Republicans are. Second, no one has any idea what’s going to happen.
Because Iowa holds the first formal contest of the nominating process, its caucus always gets a lot of attention, but its influence is often overstated. Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa, in 2008, was unusually consequential: it was evidence that a freshman senator, with his liberal beliefs and exotic life story, could compete effectively in a state like Iowa, and field the kind of ground game that often proves decisive in this idiosyncratic context. But a win in Iowa that same year ultimately did little for Republican Mike Huckabee, or for Rick Santorum four years later. The state itself isn’t necessarily a good proxy for the nation as a whole and its electoral process is sui generis. The results of the Iowa caucuses are inevitably subject to interpretation, and may ultimately be dismissed, on the basis that they have little predictive power. That may be the case on the Democratic side this year. For all intents and purposes, there are only two candidates running for the party’s nomination, and it’s widely assumed that Hillary Clinton will be the eventually be the nominee, even if Bernie Sanders wins in Iowa, as he might.
On the Republican side, however, Donald Trump remains the clear frontrunner in a crowded field, followed by Cruz. The Iowa caucus represents an opportunity for candidates like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul to emerge as someone who can plausibly compete with Trump or Cruz. Not the last chance, perhaps, but a potentially crucial one. A strong showing in Iowa would insulate a candidate like Rubio from criticism if he doesn’t medal in New Hampshire—in Rubio’s case, I think, it certainly would—and make it easier to persevere as the field narrows.
More importantly, the Iowa caucus gives Republicans a chance to address their party’s most pressing problem. As I predicted in August, Eeyore-ishly, Trump’s popularity has proven more durable than most observers thought it could. National polls show him with nearly twice as much support as Cruz and the same is...
It’s cold up here in Iowa, but Texans, at least, are getting a warm welcome. Yesterday Rick Perry endorsed Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican nomination, and today the two are on the trail together. Though it’s hard to measure the electoral impact of any given endorsement, this one seems auspicious for our state’s junior senator. As we all know, Perry’s own bid for the Republican nomination never got any traction this time around. But during his brief time on the trail our longtime governor distinguished himself with his focus on substantive issues like Wall Street reform and racial justice, and by showing more moral clarity than any of his rivals after Donald Trump launched his own bid for the nomination. A number of candidates took exception when Trump scoffed at John McCain’s military service and sneered at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Perry was the only one to object to his blanket slander of Mexican immigrants, way back in July: “The fact is that I’ve said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican party.”
Cruz took the opposite approach, and it has proven to be politically shrewd. He and Trump are now the leading candidates for the nomination. With less than 150 hours to go before the Iowa caucus, many Republicans have abruptly concluded that Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the nomination in national polls, will be the party’s standard-bearer, and even that he should be. This uptick in mysterious epiphanies has coincided with Cruz’s ascent in Iowa polls, and the two trends seem to be related.
Perry’s endorsement of Cruz, given his principled opposition to Trump, has a moral valence. For those of us who have been following the race for the Republican nomination, that may seem like an irrelevant observation. Sun Tzu, the great military strategist, wrote that by considering seven factors, he could forecast the outcome of any given campaign. The first is as follows: “Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?” Neither Trump nor Cruz, thus far, but Perry’s blessing can’t hurt the latter.
And I’m feeling superstitious about Sun Tzu at the moment, because I brought The Art of War with me to Iowa, and rereading it with reference to Cruz’s presidential campaign has been eye-opening. I had read it years ago, but hadn’t remembered certain specific pieces of advice: “Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his...
We’re now counting down the days until the Iowa caucus, and Ted Cruz, who began surging in that state’s polls late last year, has been the subject of some serious last-minute attacks. These have come from Donald Trump, of course, and Trump supporters such as Sarah Palin, but also from members of the Republican establishment, ranging from Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who said that he hopes Cruz does not win his state’s caucus, to former Kansas senator Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, who thinks that the party would be better off nominating Trump.
Branstad, to his credit, has a substantive objection. Cruz is a longtime critic of ethanol subsidies, and even introduced a bill, in 2013, that would have eliminated the Renewable Fuel Standard. From a non-Iowan perspective that is one of the most admirable things Cruz has done in Congress: the practical effect of the RFS has been to create an artificial demand for ethanol. To Branstad’s point, however, Cruz’s support for a market-based approach to energy production would adversely affect Iowa, at least in the short term; nearly half of the state’s corn goes into ethanol production. And it’s hard to fault the incumbent governor of Iowa for being dogmatic in his policy preferences on the subject, although I hope Iowa’s leaders are also aware of what economists call the ‘resource curse,’ and its long-term effects on states like West Virginia and Kentucky. Corn is a renewable resource, which is not the case with coal, of course; but insofar as the market for Iowa’s corn is contingent on government policies, the state would be better off, over the long term, with a more diversified economy.
The other Republicans taking shots at Cruz this week, however, have mostly offered vague criticisms of his character, or speculative analyses of his electoral prospects. Concurrently, a number of Republican leaders have come out with lukewarm compliments about the national frontrunner. Dole is one of the few who has explicitly argued that Trump would actually be a better nominee than Cruz, but a number have implied that the two are more or less equivalent in electability or suitability.
It’s not entirely clear to me what’s going on in these smoke-filled rooms, but I suspect that there are several factors at work here. Some members of the Republican establishment may see Trump and Cruz as equally unpalatable. Others, perhaps, are focused on Trump’s standing in the national polls, and...
We here at Texas Monthly are busy making preparations for the Iowa caucus, which is, as readers know, rapidly approaching. For today, then, I just wanted to pass along some reading recommendations: a couple of unusually well-done profiles, and a word salad from the former governor of Alaska.
The first is Joel Stein’s delightful profile of Bernie Sanders for Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
The second is Andy Kroll’s authoritative look at Jeff Roe, Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, from The New Republi:.
And, thanks to Kyle Blaine at BuzzFeed, we have the full text of the speech Sarah Palin gave yesterday, endorsing Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency. Readers are encouraged to leave additional recommendations in the comments—or, perhaps, pictures of baby animals for the benefit of anyone who straggled through the entirety of Palin’s speech.
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