Ted Cruz has had a rough time of it in the Iowa polling battle in the final days before the voting begins. After taking the lead in December, he’s been taking fire from all sides, including from inside the state’s GOP power structure. Just this week we saw Joni Ernst absolutely not endorsing but still hitting the trail with Marco Rubio. The state’s governor also wasn’t endorsing anyone as he clearly wants you to know, but he’d prefer that it wasn’t Ted. So what gives with the Iowa GOP? Do they really hate Cruz that much? Or are they trying to help either Trump or Rubio?
Maybe… but there’s another possibility that might make a lot more sense. As Charles C.W. Cooke points out today, what Iowa Republican leaders may fear more than anything else is the possibility of their caucus becoming totally irrelevant.
For years the line about Iowa has been that it serves as a natural corrective to elite preferences. Candidates have to go from town to town, talking to groups of voters as small as five or six, and make the case in humble settings that they deserve to lead the free world. In the 2012 cycle, Rick Santorum went from speaking to rooms full of empty chairs to toppling establishment favorite Mitt Romney in the caucuses and almost winning the whole darn primary.
But that’s the old thinking. The new conventional wisdom is that Iowa fails unless it replicates the national polls – so long as the polling leader loves ethanol. The mask has dropped. The rest of the country now should understand what has long been true. The Iowa caucus exists not to give underdogs a shot and introduce humbling direct contact between candidates and voters but rather to preserve Iowa’s outsized influence over public policy and public opinion.
To at least some extent that has the ring of truth to it. Iowa was allegedly the counterweight to New Hampshire, acting as a pair of battlegrounds where candidates with two very different natural constituencies might find some fertile ground and get their name out there. Unfortunately, Iowa’s batting average for picking the candidates who go on to win the nomination and the presidency (aside from incumbents, of course) hasn’t been all that spectacular. So maybe they are just trying to salvage the reputation and influence of the caucus.
But if that’s the case, why push forward anyone but Trump if you’re somehow convinced that Cruz can’t win? And while we’re on the subject, where did they come up with the idea that Cruz was out of the running? If he’s not the one to eventually find a way to defeat the Donald, who do they thing it’s going to be… Bush? Maybe Charles is on the right track with his thinking but we need to remember both the points he brings up. This could be a combination of factors playing out here. Sure, Iowa’s party leaders would like to pick a winner but it has to be someone sufficiently in debt to King Corn, and Cruz is still the “weakest” supporter of ethanol. Branstad isn’t going to forget that any time soon. But if they don’t produce a winner soon, people may just stop showing up and showering the state with attention every four years.