Just over a week before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump has regained his lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the state of Iowa. Trump now holds a 5-point lead over the Texas Republican [39/34], with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lagging far behind in third place…

In Iowa, Trump has retained his own support from last month while cutting into Cruz’s edge among both tea party identifiers and evangelicals. The latter group is 38-30 for Cruz now and was 47-28 last month…

Looking ahead beyond the earliest states, Donald Trump has leads in some of the bigger states to vote in March. Trump is up in Florida and Georgia, while Ted Cruz leads him in Cruz’s home state of Texas. In Florida, Trump’s lead is large even over home-state Senator Marco Rubio and former governor Jeb Bush is in single digits.

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Trump bests Ted Cruz in Iowa and now receives 34 percent support among Republican caucus-goers. Trump was at 23 percent in the Fox News Poll two weeks ago (January 4-7).

Cruz is second with 23 percent — down a touch from 27 percent. Marco Rubio comes in third with 12 percent, down from 15 percent. No others garner double-digit support.

Among caucus-goers who identify as “very” conservative, Cruz was up by 18 points over Trump earlier this month. Now they each receive about a third among this group (Cruz 34 percent vs. Trump 33 percent).

There’s been a similar shift among white evangelical Christians. Cruz’s 14-point advantage is now down to a 2-point edge.

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RCP poll average of Iowa since January 1st:

rcp

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1. Donald Trump: Trump has had a very good last few weeks. He continues to hone his pitch on the stump and has clearly thrown Cruz off with the eligibility attack. Say what you will about her decidedly unusual speech endorsing Trump, but Sarah Palin remains a potent force (and surrogate) among social conservative and tea party types. Trump has pulled back into a tie with Cruz in Iowa, has extended his lead over the rest of the field in New Hampshire and leads in virtually every state that follows those two. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, look out: He’ll almost certainly be the Republican standard-bearer. (Previous ranking: 3)

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So deep is the dislike for him in some quarters that people like Mrs. Cleveland’s husband, Doug, question the accuracy of polls that so consistently identify Mr. Trump as leading the field with around 32 percent. “I’ve never met a single one of them,” Mr. Cleveland said about those said to be backing Mr. Trump. “Where are all these Trump supporters? Everyone we know is supporting somebody else.”

These are the lamentations of the 68 Percent — the significant majority of Republican voters here who are immune to Mr. Trump’s charms and entreaties, according to a battery of voter interviews on Thursday at campaign events for his rivals…

Trust is a nagging, recurring issue among Trump skeptics…

On some level, they do not quite believe that he is really, seriously running for president, despite everything, nor are they convinced that his Republicanism is authentic.

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The simple part: Trump is just a really, really good salesman. Or, as the campaign pros put it, a “political athlete.” The sophisticated part is how Trump is making that sale to voters. Consider the possibility that Trump — a billionaire businessman with an Ivy League education and a best-selling author on dealmaking — isn’t some blithering idiot blurting out populist nonsense. Instead, perhaps Trump is calculatedly using tried-and-true influencing and negotiating techniques — ones used by persuaders from carnival hypnotists to high-profile motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins — to literally mesmerize the GOP.

For instance, recall the debate over Trump’s net worth. He claimed a fortune of $10 billion when he released his financial disclosure statement last summer. Media analysts jumped to disagree. Forbes figured his wealth at more like $4 billion, while Bloomberg tallied it at $2.9 billion. But by coming out with a big, round, outrageous number, Trump employed a well-known cognitive bias called “anchoring” where people tend to rely on the first information they hear when making a decision. Classic negotiator technique. And by sparking a debate over whether his net worth was a few billion bucks or several multiples higher, Trump cemented in our collective mind that he was a tremendously successful businessman. He made us “think past the sale,” like when a car salesperson asks if you want that new Toyota Camry in Midnight Black or Blue Crush Metallic. The purchase decision is already locked in.

Or think about when Trump says, “We’re going to take our country back.” The lack of detail is what makes it powerful. Who took America away? Was it illegal immigrants? The Washington Cartel? Wall Street? Letting people fill in the blanks themselves is what hypnotists do. (“Now imagine yourself in a place of total security and serenity.”)…

Trump is intentionally playing a different game than his rivals are, with their tired 30-second ads and think-tank approved policy agendas. And he’s winning that game by a landslide right now — which, by the way, is what Adams is predicting for November 2016.

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Republicans have spent tens of millions of dollars on political advertising this cycle and virtually none of it has targeted Donald Trump. He is poised to glide into the early-state contests having largely avoided the kind of sustained paid-media attacks that bring down candidates with far fewer vulnerabilities…

If the establishment is responsible for the conditions that led to Donald Trump, many critics of the establishment are responsible for making him the frontrunner. Since Trump entered the race, these voices — on television, on talk radio, in Congress, even in the Republican presidential field — amplified his craziness. They rationalized his vulgarity, explained away his insults, ignored his lies, even celebrated his ignorance…

Cruz himself praised Trump for months despite the fact that they were rivals. “He’s bold and brash, and he’s willing to speak the truth. And he’s taking on the Washington cartel,” Cruz proclaimed in an interview on Hannity last July. But now, with the first Republican nominating contests just days away, Cruz is making the polar opposite critique. “Donald Trump said just yesterday that the problem with me is that I wouldn’t go to Washington to make a deal and go along to get along with the Democrats,” Cruz said. “If you’re looking for someone who’s a dealmaker, who’ll capitulate even more to the Democrats, who’ll give in to Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, then perhaps Donald Trump is your man.”

Did Cruz badly misjudge Trump? Or did he know all along that he was boosting an unprincipled dealmaker? If it’s the former, what does that say about Cruz’s judgment? If it’s the latter, what does it say about Cruz’s scruples?

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On the Republican side, there’s a limp, last-gasp effort to quash The Donald. Conservative magazine National Review published a special issue and editorial this week calling Trump a “menace to American conservatism” and asking those on the right to oppose his candidacy. But it’s probably a move that comes too late.

It remains a mystery as to why a concerted anti-Trump movement didn’t blossom earlier. All of the other campaigns assumed someone else would take up the task so they didn’t have to do the dirty work – and yet the anti-Trump cavalry never came. As a result, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush are left fighting for scraps and with each other. They’re in a circular firing squad, squabbling over particular votes and gubernatorial decisions, hoping to score just a pittance of the New Hampshire primary electorate to stay relevant. Remarkably, they’ve essentially conceded that beating Trump there isn’t possible. Second and third place will do just fine, their thinking goes.

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In the “fight” between Donald Trump and conservatism, Trump has had few better allies than Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Bush’s candidacy. There will be plenty of blame to go around if Trump ends up as the Republican nominee, but Right to Rise will have earned a prominent chapter in those histories: cable and network television gave Trump endless hours of free publicity; influential conservative voices explained away his liberalism, excused his excesses, and legitimized his crazy; and Right to Rise, like an all-pro right guard, helped clear a path for Trump by blocking several of his would-be tacklers, in particular Marco Rubio.

This was no accident. It was the plan.

“If other campaigns wish that we’re going to uncork money on Donald Trump, they’ll be disappointed,” Mike Murphy, chief strategist of Right to Rise, told the Washington Post in August. “Trump is, frankly, other people’s problem.” In an October interview with Bloomberg, he said: “I’d love a two-way race with Trump at the end.”

It’s entirely possible that there will be a two-way race with Trump at some point before the nomination is decided. But it’s nearly inconceivable that the other candidate in that head-to-head contest will be Jeb Bush.

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For one thing, according to Langone, a Home Depot Inc. co-founder who’s given New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s super PAC at least $250,000, anything can change before the primaries. Life goes on even under President Trump, Langone said, before getting even sunnier.

“The cockeyed optimist that I am, maybe, just maybe, he might turn out to be one of the greatest surprises America ever had,” he said. “You got to be optimistic.”…

Investor Rob Arnott, a libertarian who supports Cruz and despises Trump, has a theory about why his moderate peers might accept the billionaire.

“The Republican establishment views Trump as someone sufficiently inept that he’ll need them, and they can control the agenda,” said Arnott, who heads asset management firm Research Affiliates LLC, a sub-adviser for Pacific Investment Management Co. “Their view is: Better somebody who has no obvious core political values.”…

Christie supporter Joe Grano, who used to run UBS Group AG’s U.S. wealth-management business and now heads business-strategy adviser Centurion Holdings, could adjust to Trump. He’s a good negotiator and wouldn’t be “as dangerous as some people think,” Grano said.

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We say we want conservative changes, but we also want our Sugar Daddy Uncle Sam to foot the bill, so we keep running back to first base. Every conservative candidate wants to focus on securing our borders, keeping us safe from terrorists, restoring religious liberty, and dealing with taxes.

Ted Cruz wants to abolish the IRS, but then who will collect federal revenue? When President George W. Bush set up the Department of Homeland Security, there was great fanfare–it’s easy to create new agencies. The EPA, Department of Education, Department of Energy, DHS–none of them existed before 1973, and the government was still big even then.

It will take a generation to kick the habit of agency addiction, and no president can do more than cut some fat and slow the growth. Even that will hurt someone who depends on their fix of federal services. They will have to learn to do without, and when babies lose their pacifiers, they cry. Congress hates crying babies (who vote them into office).

I don’t think the country has the stomach for the kind of change it will take to actually be conservative. I think this is the reason Trump is so popular. He talks about all these things, but he doesn’t really mean it. He makes everyone feel better, but everyone really knows–wink, wink, nod, nod–it’s all just talk.

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To attack him effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.

So don’t tell people that he doesn’t know the difference between Kurds and the Quds Force. (They don’t either!) Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos — workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University…

Likewise, don’t get mired in philosophical arguments about big government and crony capitalism. Find the people hurt by Trump’s attempts to exploit eminent domain: The widow whose boarding house he wanted to demolish to make room for a limo parking lot, the small businessmen whose livelihoods he wanted to redevelop out of existence…

All of this is not particularly complicated. It’s roughly what the Democrats did to Mitt Romney, rendering him radioactive with many of the same working class voters currently backing Trump.

Except with Trump the trick is subtly different. Mitt was a numbers guy, so he was caricatured as a cruel Scrooge. But Trump is a salesman: That’s been a big part of his campaign’s success. And how do you flip a salesman’s brand? You persuade people that he’s a con artist, and they’re his marks.

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[I]n Virginia’s Super Tuesday primary March 1, I will not be voting for Trump.

But what about on November 8? Despite NR’s best efforts, Trump could very well be the nominee. (In fact, the fuss made over the “Against Trump” issue may well help him, at least at the margins.) Will the symposium contributors vote for Trump despite their reservations or will they support the Democrat? (either by voting for her directly, or by backing a third party or not voting, which amount to objective support for the Democrat).

I think Erick Erickson was the only contributor to the symposium who said he’d vote for Trump in the general election; no one admitted they’d prefer Hillary in the Oval Office, though John Podhoretz suggested as much in a twitter exchange. (Separately, Ian Tuttle has explained why he’d vote for Trump in November.)

I’ll vote for Trump if he’s nominated and hope for the best, but I can see why someone would decide differently (an easier call if you’re in a state where the outcome is a foregone conclusion). But such a decision means you think Hillary (or Bernie) would be less bad for the country than Trump – and that would be important for readers to know. Your grocery clerk or accountant are under no obligation to disclose their political biases; but those of us who are paid to bloviate on politics are. Idea: Another symposium after the GOP nominee is formally anointed at the convention in July, this one entitled “Against Trump?”

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