Louis DeBroux / January 27, 2016

Strange Bedfellows Lead to the Iowa Caucus

The Republican race is the strangest nomination process in memory.

With the Iowa caucuses less than a week away, the Republican race is the strangest nomination process in memory. After the flame-out of both establishment favorites and conservatives with experience, the race is quickly coming down to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, though Marco Rubio may still have an outside shot. How did we get here?

Late last year, Scott Walker was the presumptive front-runner until he declared, after which his campaign slowly imploded. Jeb Bush was likewise a presumed leader, but having spent well over $100 million he is down almost within the margin of error in most polls. Other experienced governors like Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal are long gone. Rubio was a uniquely suitable candidate to both conservatives and the establishment, but his participation in the Gang of Eight amnesty effort has damaged him, perhaps permanently for some voters. Ben Carson is imminently likeable and moral, but his near-comatose demeanor does not inspire confidence that he is ready for a dangerous world.

Chris Christie has been dogged by his anti-gun stance and his post-Sandy tarmac bromance with Barack Obama. Rand Paul has not been able to recreate the fervor among his base that his father was able to. Carly Fiorina has great debate performances but is invisible in between. John Kasich comes across as an angry scold having a seizure. Rick Santorum? Mike Huckabee? No chance for either, but maybe they’ll get a good book deal for their efforts.

Cruz is loathed by the GOP establishment as a “whack job” because of his unbending allegiance to conservative principles, and for calling out the GOP leadership and establishment for their failures to govern according to the promises on which they campaigned.

Trump is the circus sideshow, a lifelong liberal Democrat with New York values, a reality TV star and casino mogul supposedly without a chance of winning the more conservative Southern states — an absolute must for any Republican. He’s the narcissist who can’t stand to be out of the limelight, and he’ll insult anybody and everybody to get attention. He’s proclaimed he won’t participate in Thursday night’s debate moderated by Fox News, all because he’s seemingly afraid of Megyn Kelly, whom he’s already grossly insulted. Instead, he claims, he’ll host an event to raise money for veterans. We’ll believe it when we don’t seem him on stage, but has there ever been a politician with thinner skin?

But a funny thing happened along the way. Cruz quietly built up an impressive campaign war chest that made him a force to be reckoned with, and his principled conservative record and message, plus his refusal to attack Trump, led to a steady rise in the polls. Trump has defied all political wisdom and held a perpetual lead in the polls based almost entirely on his unapologetically un-PC rhetoric and his brash (if inconsistent) populism on illegal immigration, combating Islamic terrorism, and the economy. Angry voters consider him the best vehicle to express their outrage.

Cruz took the lead in Iowa about a month ago, and he immediately became the target of the GOP establishment — to whom he has been a huge thorn in the side. The establishment clearly prefers a “dealmaker” like Trump. That began to take its toll, and was compounded when the Trump/Cruz détente ended shortly before the last debate. Trump concern trolled about Cruz’s eligibility and began calling him a “nasty” person who can’t get along with anyone in DC. We thought that was a virtue to Trump supporters, but apparently not. Because out comes Trump, boasting that he can get along not only with the GOP establishment, but with Democrats like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

It’s a testament to just how much blinding hatred there is among the GOP base for the party’s leadership that Trump — who is seen by the vast majority of his supporters as a stick in the eye to the GOP establishment — is the frontrunner. He is the establishment’s creation. Trump is the byproduct of a base that had to watch government grow under George W. Bush, grow even more under Obama, and see two historic wave elections in the last two mid-terms wasted when Republican majorities in the House and Senate caved again and again to the demands of Obama and the Democrats. Trump is seen by his supporters as a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners candidate who will do whatever it takes to win.

Nothing The Donald says or does seems to bother his supporters — he brags, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” — even when those things would render any other candidate unsupportable to the conservative base. Conservatives were outraged at John Boehner for not doing enough to repeal ObamaCare, and they drove him out of office. Yet just a few months ago Trump came out in support of single-payer health care, just like avowed socialist and Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders. In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley, in response to a question about fixing the problems with ObamaCare, Trump responded, “There’s many different ways [to fix it], by the way. Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say. … I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now. … The government’s gonna pay for it.” Later in the interview, Trump declared that he wants to raise taxes to pay for these and other plans.

Trump was also for defunding Planned Parenthood one week before he was against defunding Planned Parenthood.

The GOP establishment, which not too long ago warned that Trump would be the death of the Republican Party, is now coming out of the woodwork to extol Trump’s deal-making virtues, saying he is someone they can work with to get things done, unlike Cruz. But weren’t grassroots conservatives furious at all of the bipartisan deal-making being done by the GOP establishment, which raised the debt ceiling repeatedly (and suspended it until Obama leaves office), almost gave us amnesty, and that gave us a full funding of Obama’s agenda for the rest of his time in office?

In recent days, Trump has received endorsements or de facto endorsements from such GOP moderates and former losers like Bob Dole, or from Republicans like Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who are fearful of losing their special privileges under a President Cruz (Cruz has come out against subsidies for ethanol, which brings enormous federal money into Iowa, and Branstad’s son runs an ethanol lobbying group). Even evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. have endorsed Trump.

Strange indeed that with an angry, frustrated conservative base, the frontrunner should be a man who holds liberal positions on a number of issues, who brags about how he can make back-room deals with Democrats and Republicans alike, and who thinks his ultra-liberal, pro-abortion sister (a federal judge) would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice.

One would think that Cruz would epitomize for the conservative base the ideal candidate. He is constitutionalist and a strict constructionist who has argued before the Supreme Court nine times as Texas’s solicitor general. He has been unwavering in his conservative, constitutional principles, even when that means enduring the slings and arrows of not only the Leftmedia and the Democrats (we repeat ourselves), but the GOP establishment and its go-along-to-get-along ways. He is a family man who clearly loves America as the Founders envisioned it. Yet he is trailing Trump in the polls.

Iowa is a strange animal, and the caucuses take much more time, effort and commitment by each candidate’s supporters than just voting in a primary. It is the die-hards who turn out. Will Trump’s supporters turn out for him and seriously hamper Cruz’s run at the presidency? Will the embrace of Trump by the GOP establishment as a willing partner to their schemes erode support among Trump’s base? Has Cruz slipped in the polls as much as the media claim? Is Trump inevitable at this point?

We’ll know in less than a week.

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