If the internecine warfare between the two top populist candidates continues, the conservative majority of the Republican Party could once again be forced to live with a nominee chosen by the Establishment.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump placed first and second in Iowa. But if they don’t now combine forces and put aside their rancor, they may each find themselves losing the nomination to the third-place finisher, Establishment favorite Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Entering New Hampshire, Cruz and Trump have to play it smart. Cruz must recognize that he needs Trump to win in the Granite State. If Rubio wins instead, he will gain so much momentum that he will be almost impossible to stop.
[lz_table title=”Iowa GOP caucus voters who said they are ‘very conservative'”]
Ted Cruz, 44%
Donald Trump, 21%
Marco Rubio, 15%
Ben Carson, 9%
Rand Paul, 3%
Mike Huckabee, 3%
Carly Fiorina, 2%
Rick Santorum, 2%
Chris Christie, 1%
Jeb Bush, 1%
John Kasich, 0%
Cruz is smart and must know he can’t take the Granite State, which has fewer of the conservative and evangelical voters that drove him to victory in Iowa. According to Iowa exit polls, Cruz garnered a third of the evangelical vote and was the choice of 44 percent of voters who consider themselves “very conservative.”
Trump, on the other hand, is up by 20 points in New Hampshire and has a real chance of victory — a win that could send the soaring Rubio straight back to earth, possibly wrecking his chances and providing a major blow to the hopes of the Establishment.
Regardless of how much Establishment gloating and snide media reaction you’re hearing about Trump’s second-place finish in Iowa, he has actually performed pretty well so far. Sure, he would like to have come in first, but he still racked up more votes than Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney did in 2012. And it’s still not clear that skipping the debate was a mistake. He could very well have come in third behind Rubio if that had gone badly. Trump remains strong.
Cruz exits Iowa legitimately galvanized by his victory. He should get huge credit for turning out a massive number of voters. Hard work and old-fashioned retail politics paid off in the end. But now he has to recognize political reality — that the race at this point is more of a battle between the base and the Establishment than between Cruz and Trump.
It’s safe to say that there are four candidates who are unacceptable to the Establishment: Cruz, Trump, Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul. Together, those candidates amassed 65.8 percent of the vote in Iowa. The candidates that the Establishment can accept are Rubio, Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. John Kasich. Together, they secured a measly 29.6 percent of the Iowa vote.
This is the distinction that really matters. If the Cruz people start thinking they have more in common with the Rubio people than the Trump people, then we may as well hand the nomination to Marco right now. Rubio is about to get a huge boost from the mainstream press, GOP elected officials, and the Donor Class. Under these circumstances, it will take the combined efforts of Trump and Cruz to defeat Rubio.
For weeks on my radio show I have been warning that Trump’s and Cruz’s decision to attack each other would redound to Rubio’s benefit. That certainly turned out to be the case.
On the proposal of a Trump-Cruz cease-fire, Cruz surrogate Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told me Tuesday: “That sounds to me like it’s probably the right kind of tactic.” He added that this wouldn’t be easy given some of the bitterly personal hits Cruz has taken from Trump in recent weeks.
Long-time New Hampshire GOP strategist Mike Dennehy also sees the wisdom of the counter-Establishment detente: “They have to take the guns off each other.”
Going forward, Trump should drop the Canadian birthplace line of attack, and Cruz should stop ridiculing Trump. Instead, both should focus on the failures of the Rubio Establishment — like their support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, immigration amnesty and increasing the budget deficit.
The Establishment is crafty, extremely well financed and supremely well organized. They can still find a way to win, and they are implacably determined to do so. They’ve done it the previous two election cycles, and each time, the Republican nominee has lost the general election.
By forging a strategic alliance — today — Cruz and Trump can ensure that this does not happen again.