That loud, low rumbling noise you hear outside isn't another fracking earthquake. Indeed, it's political internet going indiscriminately bananas after a new poll showed Ted Cruz leading Donald Trump in the forthcoming Iowa caucus. But clearly anyone predicting Cruz's ascendancy in Iowa, including very serious pundits like Chris Cillizza, is suffering from a tragically short attention span.
A few points:
1) Iowa isn't a GOP bellwether. Recent history has proved that winning the Iowa caucus is no indication of a broader victory, at least for the Republicans who've handed meaningless Iowa victories to both Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Sure, digging deeper into the record books shows candidates like George W. Bush and Bob Dole winning in Iowa then moving on to the nomination. This trend could change again, but the last two caucuses show that even if Cruz holds onto his lead and wins Iowa, it could be a one-hit-wonder victory. This leads us to the next point...
2) The Republicans love their flavors of the month. I'm old enough remember when Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina were showing signs of becoming a threat to Trump's presumptive nomination. However, both candidates famously peaked and then faded. If you recall the 2012 process, nearly every candidate, including Santorum and Newt Gingrich, had their fleeting windows of success -- nipping at Mitt Romney and forcing establishment columnists to ballyhoo the upstart challengers, only to disintegrate under scrutiny as both Carson and Fiorina have. While many onlookers have suggested that Donald Trump represents the same kind of phenomenon, he has already demonstrated far more staying power than someone like Michele Bachmann ever did in 2012. Like it or not, he's here to stay. (More on this later.)
3) Cruz is slimy. While he's the most ideologically and demagogic conservative candidate to rise to this level, short of Trump himself, Cruz tends to come off as a slippery door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Authenticity and genuine sincerity aren't traits often associated with Cruz, and his slick political acumen is transparently fake. His conservatism might overcome his shortcomings with the notoriously fringe-like GOP Iowa caucus-goers (see aforementioned Santorum and Huckabee victories), but it seems unlikely that he'd pass the authenticity sniff test among less radical GOP voters post-Iowa.
4) The Trump cult of personality is unstoppable. Most importantly, it's difficult to overestimate the withering crazy-strength of Trump's disciples and fanboys. A recent article in the conservative Townhall.com was quite revealing in terms of the perception of Trump among Republicans who dislike the bewigged frontrunner -- but it also illustrated the magnetic power of Trump's brand. Among some of these Republicans, Trump is inexplicably perceived as a closeted Democrat. Yes, really. It's this kind of through-the-looking-glass, opposite-day projection that's growing increasingly frustrating for not only those of us who cover politics every day, but casual observers as well, because it's almost entirely divorced from objective reality. Nevertheless, the Trump cult exists and therefore needs to be addressed as part of the national debate.
While Democrats and Republicans alike see Trump as an undisciplined comment troll and, more recently, a far-right fascist, there are more than a few Republicans who agree with the Townhall analysis that "Trump's Democrat-style campaign is driven by feelings and identity, not issues." The second part is true, of course, but describing Trump as a Democrat is objectively ludicrous. The truth is, Trump's running as a de facto Tea Party loyalist and any Democratic leanings are features of his past rather than his present. There's nothing leftist about Trump. Nothing.
Along those lines, the Townhall item referenced a poll from September that quietly flew under the radar. It shows that Republicans are willing to support President Obama's key positions if they're told that Trump proposed them.
It demonstrated how Republican voters -- driven, it would seem, by Trump backers -- became astonishingly supportive of (a) maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, (b) government-run and -funded healthcare, and (c) race-based affirmative action when the pollster informed respondents that those positions were held by Donald Trump, as opposed to Barack Obama.
This has far less to do with Trump's politics and much more to do with the ignorance and the rah-rah, cult-like support for Trump by uninformed automatons. It reminds me of Obamacare polls that show how a majority of Americans dislike the legislation, but when asked about individual line items in the law, love nearly everything about the healthcare law. Likewise, more Americans tend to identify as conservative, yet when asked about specific issues, they tend to be more liberal issue-by-issue. Why? The labels. It's Trump, and he's on television, so he's always right. The words "Obamacare" and "liberal," meanwhile, have been routinely stigmatized for years, so naturally very few people want to be identified with each.
Ted Cruz simply doesn't possess Trump's populist heft. He never will. He'll always be a stereotypically greasy politician who looks like Grandpa Munster and who totally misinterpreted a children's book, "Green Eggs & Ham," while filibustering Obamacare.
In other words, Republicans will accept and support President Obama's policies when they're associated with Trump's brand. This not only indicates who the nominee will most likely be (not Ted Cruz), but in a larger sense, it's evidence that opposition to Obama is all about the name "Obama" than the actual substance of what he did or didn't do. There's a mindless, brainwashed aspect to Trump's support than no one, including the Democratic candidates, enjoy. It's probably not enough to propel Trump to the White House, but it's surely enough to win him the required delegates for the nomination. What the party itself decides to do with Trump from there is a different story.
It's difficult to see any other Republican gaining enough momentum this close to the primaries to usurp Trump. And one poll in Iowa isn't nearly enough for Ted Cruz.