Click through and follow the trend line. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Ted Cruz seemed to be putting daylight between himself and The Donald in Iowa, surging to nearly 32 percent in RCP's polling average. The Texan was peaking at the perfect moment, it seemed. With less than a week to go until Hawkeye State voters caucus, however, it's looking like Cruz may have peaked too early. Trump's support is indisputably on an upward trajectory -- perhaps thanks to some mix of effective attacks (exploiting this Cruz vulnerability), the Palin endorsement, and the billionaire's epic ethanol pander -- and he's pulled back ahead of his erstwhile best buddy, by a statistically significant margin. This shift is too blatant and dramatic to simply ignore:
If you're among the many conservatives opposed to a Trump nomination, I'd submit that the time has come to start rooting hard for a Cruz victory in Iowa, regardless of your candidate preference. A wounded Trump with an early loss under his belt can be beaten. A steamrolling Trump could very well prove unstoppable in the GOP primary (before hitting his general election ceiling). After I published this analysis of the potential consequences of a Trump win in the Hawkeye State, some Twitter pals shoved back with a number of critiques. Several noted that last few GOP Iowa victors never went anywhere, so dramatic pronouncements based on one state's results are premature. Others pointed to Newt Gingrich's 2012 win in South Carolina after getting pasted in Iowa and New Hampshire as evidence that anything can happen. The first counter-example doesn't apply to the Trump phenomenon. Neither Mike Huckabee (2008) nor Rick Santorum (2012) held leads in both of the next two early voting states, let alone Trump-like double-digit advantages. Both candidates had limited national appeal, placing a very heavy emphasis on winning over Iowa's religious conservatives. Neither man even sniffed the nomination. The Gingrich example may be more apt, given that polling finally broke in his direction very late. But Newt had been dominating the South Carolina polls in the weeks leading up to that primary election, only to be overtaken by Mitt Romney for a brief span, before storming back into an eleventh-hour lead. Two more facts: Newt's campaign went nowhere after his Palmetto State win, and Trump hasn't trailed in a South Carolina poll since last August. In other words, if you're hanging your hat on a few cherry-picked recent historical examples to explain way Trump's path, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Ok, you say, but what about this?
From a little birdie that knows the caucuses as well as anybody, "The only sign of Trump winning Iowa I see are these public opinion polls."— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) January 25, 2016
That's from Iowa radio host Steve Deace, a veteran caucus-watcher. His "little birdie" source's sentiments closely mirror what Byron York's been hearing over and over again on the ground in New Hampshire: That the Trump effect is exaggerated, and that the polls must be wrong. Let's stipulate that some polling has been embarrassingly wrong over recent election cycles. Then again, 2012 offered a painful lesson for the "skewed polls" crowd. It's of course possible that Trump's support is overstated and that many of his nominal supporters won't show up and vote. But that's conjecture at this point. And there's a case to be made that the polls might -- gulp -- understate his support. We'll finally get some actual evidence to help settle this question over the next two weeks; in the meantime, simply waving off reams of polling data, even under a plausible theory, seems unwise. Meanwhile, Trump is Trumping. He's whining about Megyn Kelly as a debate moderator, floating empty threats about pulling out of Thursday's forum if she's permitted to do her job. Fox reportedly isn't backing down, thankfully. He's embracing incoming support from some establishment figures, ridiculing Cruz as a "nasty whack job." And he's promising that he'll transform himself if elected. Quote: "When I'm president, I'm a different person...I can be the most politically correct person you've ever seen." How does the notion of a total, unpredictable Trump makeover sound to his followers? Pretty awesome, I'd imagine -- much like literally everything he says and does. You know who else has noticed how blindly devoted Trump's personality cult is? This guy:
He's mocking his own hardcore supporters' mindlessness -- and they love it, of course, proving his point. Six days.