On one level, this is a huge change in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. On another level, it's the same old thing:
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has surged ahead to become the latest front-runner in the campaign for the Iowa caucuses, dislodging Ben Carson and opening an impressive lead over a stalled Donald Trump, a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows.
The firebrand junior senator from Texas is backed by 31 percent of those likely to attend the Republican caucuses that start the presidential nomination season on Feb. 1. Trump is a distant second at 21 percent, up slightly from 19 percent in October, but below his peak of 23 percent in August.
... The senator’s great leap forward comes largely at the expense of Carson, as Iowa’s evangelicals appear to have picked the candidate they want to get behind. The retired neurosurgeon, now barely in third-place, is supported by 13 percent, down from the first-place showing he posted in October, when he was at 28 percent.
Notice who's not surging? Marco Rubio (fourth place, 10%). Jeb Bush (fifth place, 6%). Chris Christie (tied for sixth place, 3%). John Kasich (ninth place, 2%). If only one of these guys were in the race, maybe that one establishmentarian would be competitive, at 21%. But we still have no reason to believe that any Establishment candidate is going to emerge from Iowa in a position to be truly competitive. It's still the case that the only candidates who've led any polls since summer are Trump, Cruz, and Carson. The Republican race is still dominated by candidates no sane person would want within a mile of the nuclear trigger.
Trump still seems to be leading everywhere else, which suggests either that Iowa is going to be an outlier (as it often is) or that states with Republican electorates that are just as Christian-conservative as Iowa's will gravitate to Cruz. It's my impression that Southern Republicans think religion is a big driver of their vote, but what their religion tells them is that the world is starkly divided into the pure good and the pure evil, and the kind of candidate they're really looking for is someone who sees life on earth the same way, with the intention of bringing vengeance to the evil. On that score, Trump still has a considerable edge on Cruz (and on the rest of the field). Iowa Republicans seem to care more about religious conservatism in and of itself than even Southern Republicans do. What do they love in the South? College football. Every Saturday in the fall, in every contest, there's one winner and one loser. Trump is still the candidate whose most inclined to talk about everything in that way, and to turn campaign appearances into rah-rah tailgate parties.
So I think this is a two-candidate race now. Maybe one or two good debates could give Rubio a poll bump -- I assume that's what the party was hoping for when it added a debate a couple of weeks before Iowa -- but Jeb Bush's refusal to withdraw and the media's tendency to hype any signs of life in Chris Christie's campaign will probably prevent Rubio from getting real traction in the early states. My guess is that Rubio will be a distant third in Iowa, Bush and Christie will do just well enough in New Hampshire to spoil any chance Rubio has to shine there, and none of these guys will drop out before South Carolina and Nevada. And Trump and Cruz will win all of the first four contests, with every other candidate looking weak and second-rate. After that, it might be Trump or it might be Cruz, but I don't think it will be anyone presentable -- or, let's hope, electable.
New Fox poll of Iowa: Cruz 28%, Trump 26%, everyone else way behind (Rubio 13%, Carson 10%, Bush and Paul 5%, everyone else 2% of less).
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog