Ted Cruz has been ascendant in the Hawkeye State for weeks, and now he's broken through to the front of the pack, according to a new Monmouth poll:
Iowa is fertile ground for Cruz, whose brand of conservatism resonates with many of the state's Republican caucus-goers, and whose political operation in the state (and elsewhere) is robust. He's benefitted from Congressman Steve King's endorsement, and is expected to secure the backing of another influential Iowa conservative in the days to come. Take a look at his trend line: Cruz has jumped from just 10 percent support in October to 24 percent today. That's a net gain of 14 points in two months. Marco Rubio has netted seven percentage points over the same period, pulling into a virtual second place tie with the stagnant Donald Trump (Allahpundit notes that when first and second choice responses are tallied together, Rubio slightly edges Trump). What explains these dramatic shifts? Simple: The implosion of Ben Carson, who has shed 19 percentage points, falling from king of the hill to fourth place. Even if Monmouth's data is a little off -- these numbers do seem awfully bouncy -- there is now significant evidence, both in Iowa and nationally, that Carson may be in serious trouble. Much more than the media attacks and bizarre gaffes, I'd guess Carson's subpar knowledge and experience on national security and foreign policy (see: "hummus") have taken a major toll. The survey finds that Iowa Republicans' top issue is now national security, which beats out "jobs and the economy" by a nearly two-to-one margin. Add in terrorism, and security-related issues are prioritized by four-in-ten likely voters.
But wait, you may ask, isn't Trump equally ill-prepared and under-informed on those issues? Indeed he is, but as we've discussed previously, his followers will accept virtually anything from him, so they're far less likely to jump ship even when glaring flaws are exposed. That's how Obama-esque personality cults operate. For this reason, Carson's support has always been softer than Trump's. The acclaimed medical doctor's favorability rating remains sky-high among the Iowa GOP electorate (67/19), but voters who were once leaning in his direction seem to be migrating elsewhere. They still like him; they're just less convinced that he should be president. Big difference. His supporters are therefore heading into the open arms of Cruz and Rubio's campaigns -- with the Texan outperforming the Floridian...in Iowa, at least. If the Carson fade materializes in other states, this mass relocation within the center-right electorate could be a bigger boon to Rubio in some places, especially if Jeb continues to slide toward non-factor status. Incidentally, Ted Cruz's Iowa favorables are identical to Carson's in the fresh poll, though both men are slightly outpaced by Rubio on that measure (70/16). Trump's favorability split is closer among right-leaning Iowans (54/36), with nearly 40 percent saying they'd be "dissatisfied" or "upset" if the celebrity businessman won the party's nomination. Dead last in this category is Jeb Bush, who's underwater at (38/45). Sixty-nine percent of likely Republican caucus-goers now say they've either completely settled on their pick, or have a "strong preference," up from 54 percent in August. I'll leave you with the latest Iowa television ads from Cruz and Rubio, respectively:
Come to think of it, I'm going to re-up my "parting thought" from a post last week: Cruz now obviously poses a clear and present danger to Trump's viability. If the latter gets spanked by the former in Iowa, a lot of people are going start asking if Trump's support was a mirage all along. The Donald's been hammering Rubio for months, but hasn't laid a finger on Cruz (aside from ignorantly questioning his eligibility long before getting into the race). That truce is going to expire very soon, right? If and when it does, what angle will Trump pursue?