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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Force Karl Rove to choose between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump

The first Republican presidential debates are two weeks in the past and still the lower-tier candidates are griping about how they were handled – at least for the early forum.

Kyle Cheney and Katie Glueck of Politico report several of the participants in the Fox News “Happy Hour” debate complain the Republican National Committee took deliberate actions that made them look like losers.
Donald Trump
“From contradictory communications about who, if anyone, would be allowed in the arena, which was largely empty during the debate, to a since-deleted tweet by an RNC staffer of Chairman Reince Priebus peering down at the nearly deserted facility, to a decision by the RNC … to hold a rules session and two receptions while the seven candidates were onstage.”

For its part, the RNC says Fox and logistics are to blame for the empty arena. Who do you believe?

Improvements are supposedly being made for the next debate. We’ll see. With the CNN criteria for making the “varsity” debate including polls from mid-July on (which means pre-debate poll results), even “Happy Hour” debate winner Carly Fiorina is in danger of not making the cut.

If the RNC allows the networks to make it so difficult for the lower-tier candidates to bump themselves up, the contenders have a legitimate beef that they’re being unfairly excluded.

More speculation on the size of Trump’s lead

As noted yesterday, there’s near unanimous agreement that Donald Trump leads in the polls, with the remaining question – by how much? Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller takes his turn at trying to figure it out.

As Weinstein points out, most of the uncertainty concerns whether The Donald is appealing to people who don’t normally vote and therefore may be out of reach of some of the pollsters. Others say the national polls are more accurate than state polls, where it’s harder to measure who might show up. Still others think Trump’s reached his ceiling of support.

We have to remember it’s only August and the real voting doesn’t begin for over five more months. As the campaign moves on, we’ll have more polls and debate viewership numbers to examine ahead of the caucuses and primaries.

Just as the polls may be inconclusive on Trump, there’s a split among conservative commentators, too. T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner reports, “As one faction of the conservative commentariat cheers the rise of the former reality TV star's seemingly unstoppable candidacy, claiming he brings new life to an otherwise stale party, the other groans in horror.”

The cheering section includes Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and of course, Michael Savage (who says Trump is a personal friend) and a somewhat guarded Sean Hannity.

Those groaning in horror are National Review writers Kevin Williamson and Charles C.W. Cooke, Michelle Malkin, RedState’s Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck.

The “horror” group focuses on Trump’s apparent lack of core principles. The cheering group likes the enthusiasm that Trump engenders in conservatives and appears more willing to forgive The Donald’s former shifting issue stances in favor of getting it right now.

One can only imagine the argument will go on for quite a while.

In terms of whether Trump is a “real” conservative, he says that he is.

When challenged by Jeb Bush on his conservative credentials, (Nick Gass of Politico reports) Trump answered, “When you get down to it, I am a conservative person. I am by nature a somewhat conservative person. I never looked at putting a label on myself, because frankly putting a label on myself, it didn’t matter — I wasn’t in politics … It was something that absolutely had no bearing on me.”

It’s hard to predict whether the conservative movement will fully embrace Trump, but there’s no doubting he’s captured America’s attention with his anti-establishment campaign.

Trump draws Romney’s people’s ire on immigration

Yet another sign that Donald Trump’s immigration proposals will enjoy popularity with the conservative grassroots is the fact they’re being panned by Mitt Romney’s former advisors.

Alexander Bolton of The Hill reports that notable Romney backers such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake and advisors Eric Fehrnstrom, Katie Packer Gage and Vin Weber all say Trump’s positions are untenable with Hispanic voters, whom Romney lost badly.

More Republican consultant scare tactics, in other words. These same folks argued Romney’s position was too harsh, too – and contributed to his defeat in 2012.

Romney lost – in part – because he was seen as characteristic of the Republican business interests that would never do anything about the issue. And there’s past history to back it up, too.

For another view on Trump’s immigration plan, check out Rich Lowry’s column in Politico, where he argues that it’s okay to “pander” to The Donald’s position.

“Amid the bar-stool bombast about deporting all illegal immigrants already here (a logistical, economic and humanitarian impossibility) and other characteristically Trumpian excesses is the core of a program that is more sensible than the ‘comprehensive’ solution offered by the political establishment,” Lowry writes.

“In short, it takes a needed sledgehammer to the lazy establishment consensus on immigration.”

Lowry makes it clear he’s no Trump fan but appreciates that many of The Donald’s ideas are sound and should be implemented. Fair enough.

For what it’s worth, here’s a look at how each candidate in the GOP field stands on Trump’s proposals (from Jordain Carney of The Hill).

Lastly on Trump. According to Susan Jones of CNSNews, The Donald says if a border wall is eventually built and named after him, that it must be “beautiful.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rick Perry fights on in Iowa

It’s safe to say Rick Perry hasn’t enjoyed a very successful campaign thus far. Perry’s way down in the polls, didn’t do all that well in the “Happy Hour” debate and it’s been all over the news lately that he’s not paying his staff.

Still, he soldiers on. Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics presents a look at Perry at the Iowa State Fair, where at least outwardly, the candidate is showing no signs of quitting.

“People are going, ‘You know what? This dude’s like me. He’s out here humping his own bag, walking through TSA, doing the same things we do, so he kind of understands what the challenges are going to be. He’s had to cut back on his operation, just like I had to cut back on my business because of regulations that the government put on me. This is a guy that understands what I’m going through,’” Perry said.

Maybe it’s safer to say that we understand what he’s going through. If things don’t turn around soon, he’ll be out of the race.

Santorum hits Cruz… on immigration?

Rick Santorum is another candidate who’s struggling to gain traction and he appears to think it might come through mixing it up with Ted Cruz.

Alex Pappas of the Daily Caller reports, “Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, the former Pennsylvania senator mentioned the Texas senator’s name three times during a policy speech on immigration. Both Santorum and Cruz are angling for conservative and evangelical voters.”

Santorum emphasized how he differs with Cruz on allowing highly skilled workers to enter the country.

Most would see it as a minor point of distinction. Santorum has to combat the impression that his time is passed – and doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it.

The Donald vs. Ted – what would the elites do?

Finally today, we close with a little bit of fun speculation. What if the race narrows to Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz next spring? Who would the establishment choose?

Allahpundit at Hot Air first says they’d choose Cruz as the “devil that they know,” but then backtracks to argue the establishment donor class would never let it get down to a choice solely between Trump and Cruz.

It’s a scenario that must give the Karl Roves of the world nightmares, but with Trump’s populist appeal and Cruz’s strength in fundraising, a “final two” finish could happen.

One thing’s for sure, it would be a choice conservatives would relish.

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