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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump goes beyond “angry white voters”

It’s often said that Iowa will not reveal who will win a party’s presidential nomination, but it will definitely expose who won’t win. In other words, the first state to vote has basically taken on the task of beginning to winnow the field.

Donald TrumpOne particular subgroup of Iowa’s voters will be crucial in helping the Hawkeye State separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but its role is a little different this year.

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner reports, “Iowa evangelicals could play an unfamiliar role in 2016: Putting down an insurgent Republican candidacy rather than boosting one. This is a crucial demographic in the country's first nominating contest. According to the 2012 entrance polls, 57 percent of last time's caucus-goers were evangelicals or born-again Christians…

“Polling suggests Trump's relative vulnerability in Iowa stems from evangelicals viewing other candidates, such as Carson, as more trustworthy and more faithful Christians.”

Antle points out evangelicals were behind Mike Huckabee’s unexpected win in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s equally surprising victory in 2012. Since religious conservatives often go against the grain in choosing long-shot candidates, the fact they may turn away from Trump this year would be like reversing a trend.

This has been the popular theory for some time now, namely that Donald Trump cannot possibly win in Iowa because of the state’s high numbers of evangelicals. Polls have remained fairly steady in the state, however, and Trump still enjoys an almost seven point lead in the Real Clear Politics average there.

Any disadvantage Trump would appear to have with the group isn’t materializing.

Maybe it’s because Trump puts his faith forward at every campaign stop and maintains that The Bible is his favorite book – which is open to everyone’s interpretation as to his veracity. But the point is, Trump’s religion or perceived lack thereof hasn’t made much of a difference on his level of support.

If anyone has an Iowa problem right now it might be Ben Carson, who looks to be slipping a bit with evangelicals. If Ben continues the slide, Ted Cruz would be the likely beneficiary.

And Cruz is doing so despite not being a true “outsider.”

Matt Flegenheimer of the New York Times reports, “In an election season that has rewarded political outsiders like Mr. Trump and Ben Carson, placed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on the defensive over his congressional record and tormented the current and former governors in the field, Mr. Cruz has proved the exception: He seems to have persuaded an electorate deeply skeptical of its government that his time in Washington has been an asset.”

Flegenheimer’s article includes snapshots from one of Cruz’s recent trips to Iowa, chock full of adoring Ted supporters and happy campaign staff. It’s actually kind of surprising how positive the story sounds, considering it’s the New York Times.

Aside from the fluff, Cruz is gaining in Iowa because people are starting to see him as the most credible conservative in the field, not just because he’s catching on with evangelical voters. Cruz certainly does appeal to those folks – but he resonates with Trump’s anti-Washington establishment people as well.

I don’t want to downplay it -- Iowa evangelicals will definitely be important on Caucus Day – but whoever ends up winning will do so because they’re convincing people across the range of issues… not just because they’re believing Christians.

Republican senators like Rubio; voters prefer Ted Cruz

Marco Rubio has all-but removed himself from his day job as a senator from Florida, but that hasn’t stopped his Republican colleagues from favoring him over Ted Cruz.

It’s no secret Cruz would not be a finalist for “Mr. Congeniality” among his fellow senators. Cruz has consistently put distance between himself and the stodgy, slow-moving compromise-at-all-costs leaders of his own party and is seen as ambitious and arrogant by the people who campaigned and were elected on basically the same set of issues that he did.

He’s upset the apple cart and they’re punishing him for it.

Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim of Politico report, "The movement toward Rubio appears to be as much about anxiety over the possibility of Cruz going up against Hillary Clinton as it is affection for the Florida senator. The idea of Cruz as the nominee is enough to send shudders down the spines of most Senate Republicans.

“Mainstream elected Republicans now see Cruz as a bigger threat than Donald Trump or Ben Carson to clinch the nomination — but equally damaging to their party’s chances of winning the White House and keeping the Senate next fall.”

Here we go again – another “Cruz isn’t electable and he’s going to take us all down with him” argument. These same people forget they’re the ones who endorsed John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 because those candidates were seen as “electable” and would help them gain a majority in the Senate.

It didn’t happen.

While it’s not a shock that anonymous Republican senators are bad-mouthing Cruz behind his back, it is somewhat surprising they’re so enamored with Rubio, given his disdain for the institution and lack of any real accomplishments. What has Marco done that’s earned him the mythical “electability” label from his colleagues?

It certainly wasn’t his failed attempt to cram through amnesty. And now, even his tax plan is drawing criticism for its emphasis on credits versus growth-inducing rate cuts.

Joseph Lawler of the Washington Examiner reports, “Even as he has to defend himself from other charges that his plan is a huge tax cut for the rich, as he did in a notorious tangle with CNBC debate moderator John Harwood, Rubio inevitably will have to fight [Sen. Rand] Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over the idea of the tax credit.”

Paul called Rubio’s proposal a “welfare transfer payment” during the last presidential debate.

Lawler’s article delves into the different approaches of Cruz and Rubio and doesn’t take sides with either. One thing’s for sure, Rubio’s plan represents a departure from traditional conservative thought on tax reform and keeping budget deficits to a minimum.

All the candidates will argue over think-tank driven projections of the impact of their tax cuts. The average person won’t understand them and there’s a host of things that would need to happen in order for any plan to eventually become law.

At least in terms of the primaries, it boils down to who’s credible to argue the issues. Rubio is a guy who largely ignores his elected duties, doesn’t lead on anything except amnesty and has the backing of establishment in Washington. Cruz has fought the good fight on behalf of the American people, spoken truth to power, led on restoring constitutional authority and grassroots conservatives prefer him.

Which group would you rather have with you?

Establishment braces for three-candidate race

Lost in the seemingly eternal search for the eventual two finalists in the Republican race is the increasingly good possibility that at least three candidates could remain viable leading up to the Republican convention next summer.

Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal writes, “[M]any Republican strategists now see a pathway for three candidates to advance deep into the process, each drawing from distinct pools of voters. ‘Historically we have had two lanes: a center-right lane and an ideologically right lane,’ said Tom Rath, a long­time New Hampshire-based GOP strategist.  ‘Now, we seem to have a third lane: the angry, nontraditional lane.’”

Of course establishmentarian Rath lumps Donald Trump’s voters into the “angry” lane. As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s much too simple to classify The Donald’s support as simply ticked-off. Plenty of others are mad at the way things are going these days and they’re not considering Trump at all.

But the overall point is correct. With Trump staying on top of the polls with no sign of weakening, Cruz taking the backing of principled conservatives and one of the others – most likely Rubio – looking to corral the mushy-moderate establishment people, there very well could be three contenders with a healthy amount of delegates (and no winning tally) heading to Cleveland.

If that’s the case, look for the establishment to come unglued in its efforts to push its chosen candidate. It will be a scene unlike any we’ve encountered in our lifetimes and could determine whether the Republican Party continues as a functioning party.

The Democrats will look on with amusement, but an intra-party Republican brawl doesn’t guarantee them anything. It’s a fight that needs to happen and will take place eventually, one way or another.

It’s time to take sides, folks.

Trump meets with black pastors, claims success

Finally today, Donald Trump is reaching out beyond the “angry white” voters referenced in the previous section. In doing so, he met with a group of black pastors and all agreed it was helpful.

Lisa Hagen of The Hill reports, “The GOP presidential front-runner had canceled a planned press conference on Sunday where he was to have highlighted the endorsements of 100 black religious leaders. He did so after several of the pastors denied they were endorsing Trump for president.

“Darrell Scott, a pastor at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, stood by Trump’s side on Monday, saying that the meeting was ‘productive’ and ‘constructive’ and that the group of religious leaders are a ‘united front.’”

Such outreach should be taken into consideration before people declare Trump as “unelectable.” Will it win him many votes in the primaries? Not likely. But it’s more than a mere gesture.

Other Republican candidates would be wise to follow Trump’s example.

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