Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But here goes. Barring a major political earthquake, Ted Cruz will be the GOP nominee later this year.
As the primaries get under way, two or three candidates will quickly emerge. Based on the voting blocks which are apparent in the current polling, and their likely moves as the options narrow, the most likely result is a Cruz win, perhaps by a landslide.
With a strong anti-establishment sentiment among GOP voters, 65% are going for one of the opposition candidates, either Donald Trump (35%), Ted Cruz (20%), or Ben Carson (10%), according to recent RCP averages. These voters are angry that the Republicans have done so little to resist Obama and advance a conservative agenda. They remember how establishment candidates McCain and Romney fared in 2008 and 2012. They will not be appeased.
That leaves only 35% for the GOP establishment candidates to fight over, led by Marco Rubio (now 11%), Chris Christie (5%), and Jeb Bush (3%). Beyond these three, nobody has more than 3%. There is no path to victory for any of them, with the possible exception of Rubio. Some might question whether Rubio should be considered as part of the establishment, but rightly or wrongly, many voters think so.
Now back to the opposition candidates. Trump and Carson are acceptable to many opposition voters because they are not tainted by any of the party failures of the past eight years. Cruz qualifies by virtue of having stood up against what he calls the “Washington cartel.”
Currently at 35%, Trump has too many negatives to go much higher, but he can go lower. Voters not already in his camp are truly anti-Trump. They love to watch him scorn the media, but his screwball remarks make them nervous about November. Nominating an unelectable Trump would forfeit the best opportunity to elect the first conservative president since Ronald Reagan. Can you say “President Hillary Clinton?”
Furthermore, Trump has no history as a conservative and nobody can predict what he might do in office. He is a risk that most GOP voters — currently 65% — are smart enough not to take.
Can Trump’s support collapse? Yes. As his supporters take a closer look at his antics on the campaign trail, many will ultimately conclude prudence demands an electable conservative, not a bombastic contrarian. But they won’t go for any of the establishment candidates; clearly, they will go to either Cruz or Carson.
Now down to 10%, Carson’s weaknesses (e.g., lack of experience) have been exposed. Ask any business owner, “Would you let the smartest, most good-hearted doctor in town come in and take over your business?” The answer will be “No.” Managing the US Government is a much bigger and more complex job than managing any corporation. It’s no place for a trainee.
That leaves Cruz. He can pick up votes from Trump and Carson, but Trump can’t get more than he already has.
What about the other 35%, those not yet in one of the opposition camps? Where will they go? Will they stick with their favorite also-ran, or will they switch to a more viable alternative? It depends on how frightened of Trump they are.
Establishment voters may not like Cruz, but they fear a Trump nomination. If Trump is still threatening, many will decide, perhaps at the last minute, to vote for Cruz as the most viable alternative.
Cruz has another advantage, and that is organization. He has raised more money than any other GOP candidate. According to media reports, his organization is much more developed than is Trump’s. Look for him to outperform the pre-election polling. Look for Trump to underperform.
There is one caveat. Rubio could challenge in a three-way race if the opposition voters split evenly between Trump and Cruz, but he would have to run the table in picking up establishment voters, now hopelessly split among 8+ candidates. It’s a longshot at best. It depends on the level of fear. If Rubio gets close, Trump voters could run to Cruz because they perceive Rubio to be soft on immigration. If Trump stays close, Rubio voters could run to Cruz because they know Trump would be unelectable in November. Advantage Cruz.
In summary, Trump is maxed out and will decline as his voters are sobered up by thoughts of a November disaster. Cruz can pick up voters from every other camp, as people focus more and more on the candidates and the realistic alternatives. Cruz is more electable in November, has better organization, and will attract both opposition and establishment GOP voters. He has momentum, and his victory in Iowa will provide another boost. Rubio could challenge, but Trump and Cruz would have to split evenly and Rubio would have to capture all of the establishment voters. Nobody else can come close.
Cruz wins, possibly in a landslide.