Of course, voter preference is fluid and the Iowa caucuses are still six weeks away. But Cruz’s strategy of embracing, rather than attacking, Trump—even after Trump makes controversial or offensive statements—appears to have served him well, at least so far. In the new poll, respondents who say they support Trump have an extremely positive view of Cruz: 73 percent view him favorably, while 18 percent view him unfavorably. Asked to state their second-choice preference, these Trump supporters overwhelming pick Cruz (49 percent), with Rubio (16 percent) a distant second. If Trump falters or alienates his current supporters, they appear quite open to supporting Cruz.
But the reverse is less true: Cruz supporters aren’t nearly as enthused at the prospect of backing Trump. Overall, they do view him positively. Sixty percent have a favorable view of Trump, versus 33 percent who view him unfavorably. Yet asked to state their second choice of candidate, Cruz supporters are about as likely to favor Ben Carson (26 percent) as they are Trump (25 percent). So Trump may have a hard time climbing back into the lead, especially if he goes on the attack against Cruz, as he did over the weekend when he told CNN he had “far better judgment than Ted.”
Trump could, of course, look elsewhere to grow his support. But he may have a hard time luring people outside his base of anti-establishment male voters. Women voters, for example, could be a hard sell. Call it the “Megyn Kelly Effect”: women in the poll more commonly prefer Cruz (28 percent) and Carson (16 percent) to Trump (13 percent). As strange as it may sound, maybe Trump should consider a pivot to the center and a more moderate tone.