By Cinzia Croce
As soon as Ted Cruz was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses, the factions that have traditionally dominated GOP primaries wasted no time reverting to form. They are elated to have dodged the bullet of a Trump win, which could have made him unstoppable and forever change Republican politics. That may still be in the cards, but the entrenched factions are working overtime to use the week between Iowa and New Hampshire to turn the primaries into a repeat of the quadrennial war of establishment candidate versus the base.
Both factions claim to have the perfect formula for winning the general election. The establishment usually selects candidates who are center-right, in the hopes of appealing to moderate voters. The GOP base holds the opposite view: that the surest path to the White House is to nominate a rock-ribbed conservative who will draw to the polls millions of disenchanted conservative voters. Only “bold colors” can guarantee victory, they say — no “pale pastels.”
The argument the establishment uses to promote its candidate is always the same: he is the only one who can win in November. That’s what they said about John McCain and Mitt Romney. And that’s the argument that Marco Rubio made in the closing days of Iowa caucuses — and it paid off. Polls show that Rubio was the winner among late deciders and voters who were concerned about electability. After beating expectations in Iowa, the Rubio campaign has quickly moved to consolidate establishment support.
One of the most under-reported stories out of Iowa is the fact that it was a do or die state for Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump. The heavily-evangelical, values-driven electorate is tailor-made for Cruz’s televangelist approach to politics. His campaign poured the time, resources and late minute Machiavellian tactics to fend off the Trump challenge. Cruz survived and has become the standard-bearer for the crowd yearning for a “true conservative’.
Ironically, neither faction has the right formula for winning the general election. Rubio suffers from the same problem that every establishment candidate has: the base doesn’t trust him. There is a large segment of the Republican Party that only cares about one issue: immigration. Faced with the prospect of having to vote for the Gang of 8 candidate, many will simply choose to stay home, just like many voters simply could not bring themselves to vote for the grandfather of Obamacare in 2012.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a country that has elected Obama twice is looking for a ‘constitutional conservative,’ but the fantasy persists, promoted by the conservative entertainment industry. And the fantasy will persist until the GOP bites the bullet and nominates someone like Cruz. In 2012, I suggested that the Republican Party give the nomination to Rick Santorum, let the American people decide whether they want a culture warrior for president, and settle the argument once and for all.
After Iowa, the establishment has its ‘moderate’ pick, and the GOP base has its true conservative. The players are set, unless Trump wins New Hampshire and resumes his role as the disruptor of Republican politics.