By Reed Galen
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 3
Quote by a Smart Person: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Seneca
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Week 45: Closing Time in Iowa
I didn’t watch the Republican debate last night. Not because Donald Trump boycotted the deal, just for once had something else to do while it was on. But thanks to Twitter and cable news, I quickly got the sense of how it went. Trump didn’t lose by skipping it. Cruz got hammered repeatedly. Rubio, Christie and Jeb did well. It was good to have Rand back on the stage. Kasich was Kasich. And Carson, unfortunately for him, was Carson.
There is some variance to that analysis, but based on what I’ve read, seen and heard, that sums up the evening. For the undecided voters in Iowa, there were enough attacks and issues discussed to begin making at least preliminary decision for whom one might Caucus on Monday night. A field this large works to Trump’s advantage; Cruz must do well. Rubio needs to finish third. The rest…the rest are trying to break the top five (more on that below.)
Losing Cruz(ing) Altitude
By any objective standard, the New Year has been brutal to Ted Cruz and his campaign. Trump’s simple but masterful injection of questions about Cruz’s Canadian provenance, while probably silly, are the kind of thing that rattles a candidate and can put just enough doubt in a voter’s mind. Coupled with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s “anti-endorsement” (we have a name for EVERYTHING now) over Cruz’s opposition to ethanol subsidies, both a third rail and a golden goose in Iowa politics, and the Hawkeye State seems less inviting every day.
Cruz has a couple of major issues: First, in Iowa, there are plenty of candidates for the large and active evangelical community can choose. Whether or not they win, a very religious Caucus goer can feel good spiritually (if not politically) about casting their lot in with Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum. If Cruz can’t hold this vital chunk, Monday night could be very long for him.
And then there’s the less tangible issue, but one every member of the US Senate and most of Washington believes: Ted Cruz isn’t that likable a guy. I have had conversations with those than know Cruz well who say he is a great guy and wonderful to be around. I have just as many friends who detest the sight of him. Now likability (or lack of it) isn’t necessarily electorally determinative, but given the choice, you’d rather be the candidate with whom voters want to tip a glass of suds at the local pub. If voters translate Cruz’s unwillingness or inability to get along with those who know him professionally, they may start to ask if he can get anything done at all. Even the Republican “Establishment” is now voicing their preference for Trump over Cruz. (Author’s note: There have been 674 pieces written about who and what the “Establishment” is. They’re all right and they’re all wrong at the same time in their own ways.)
For sure, though, if Cruz finishes anything less than second or in third place but by a statistically insignificant amount, he will have to find a way to regroup in South Carolina or Nevada and most certainly hang on until the March 1st “SEC” primary where the many deep Southern states he’s courted begin to come online.
One Way Tickets to New Hampshire
The old adage for Caucus night is that there are three tickets out of Iowa. It doesn’t necessarily hold true. Sen. John McCain finished fourth in Iowa in 2008 behind Fred Thompson and went on to win New Hampshire and ultimately the nomination that year. And while there may be four tickets, there aren’t likely five and certainly not six. If the Caucus night results look like this (for argument’s sake the order of the top five is unimportant for now):
1. Donald Trump
2. Ted Cruz
3. Marco Rubio
4. Ben Carson
5. Rand Paul
6. Anyone else
How do Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich make a credible argument to New Hampshire voters that they can overcome either Donald Trump (overall) or Marco Rubio (for the Establishment lane.) It’s one thing to not do well in the first contest, it’s something else altogether to finish way, way, way out of the money.
For both the Republican and Democratic campaigns, the next 96 hours will be a blur of activity. Last minute rallies, scores of local and national media interviews, volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls, all of it now begins to coalesce into the “GOTV” or Get Out the Vote effort. Entire fleets of white, non-descript 15 passenger vans are on order from the local car rental agencies. On Monday evening, they will begin picking up older Iowa voters in droves from neighborhoods and senior centers. And the Iowa Caucus, a most unique part of America’s most unique process for choosing her leader, will begin.
The American Singularity is hitting the campaign trail! From Sunday afternoon through Tuesday, I’ll be on the ground in Iowa going to events, listening to speeches, and talking to voters as the First in the Nation contest unfolds. If you’re going to be there, too, drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org!