HOT: The big dogs of the social conservative movement have voted, and their candidate is Ted Cruz. The effort among leading social conservative organizations to coalesce around one candidate – in order to maximize their influence on the nomination process – is a quadrennial initiative which usually comes to naught. But this year, doubtless due to fear of The Donald, the objective was achieved.
As noted previously, Cruz has been endorsed this week by the National Organization for Marriage and Richard Viguerie. Other participants in the social conservative consensus project will follow suit. But the big get is Iowan Bob Vander Plaats, whose network of pastors across the state is widely considered sufficient to swing the caucuses to Cruz.
That sets up a big bounce for Cruz going into New Hampshire. Of course, the Iowa and New Hampshire electorates are very different (the former evangelical, the latter libertarian), and in fact, New Hampshirites revel in going their own way. But winning Iowa puts Cruz in the top three in New Hampshire and sends him into South Carolina with Big Mo.
NOT HOT: Marco Rubio. The cruel calculus of the nominating process is that you actually have to win somewhere early on. If Cruz does indeed pull out Iowa and South Carolina, with The D taking New Hampshire – or if Cruz comes in second in South Carolina to The D, which will be fun because so many heads will be exploding here in D.C. – there isn’t much oxygen left for Senator Rubio. And it just doesn’t look like Rubio wins South Carolina. Waiting until Florida for one’s first win was the Giuliani strategy, which goes by another name: losing.
And if the social conservative hierarchy is true to their word (to each other) and closes ranks behind Cruz, there won’t be a clearly defined constituency for Rubio to dominate. His tax plan (Lee-Rubio) is flawed, inferior to others, so economic conservatives likely will go elsewhere. His foreign and defense policy bono fides are fine but not head-and-shoulders above the field.
It has been obvious for a while now that one or the other, Cruz or Rubio, was going to emerge as the experienced (relatively) alternative to the outsiders, Trump and Carson. Carson’s self-immolation sets up a three-way race. And events of this week favor Cruz to be the anti-Donald. Cruz seems to have anticipated (or at least hoped for) precisely this outcome, as evidenced by his kid-glove handling of The D, making it easier for Trump’s supporters to migrate to Cruz. Say what you will about Cruz; the guy’s wicked smart.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.