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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Ted Cruz and Donald Trump head for a showdown

With Thanksgiving now behind us, it’s time to look forward to Christmas and then the new year.

It’s a time of hope and reflection, but also a time for getting serious about the important political decisions we’re all facing in 2016. For much of the summer and fall we’ve enjoyed the sometimes playful back-and-forth between the Republican presidential candidates as they vied for favor and financial support to fuel their Trump and Ted Cruzcampaigns.

We’ve seen the ups and downs and even a few withdrawals from the race.

What we haven’t witnessed is much tension between the normally combative Senator Ted Cruz and frontrunner Donald Trump. But there are signs that could be changing.

Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg reports, “Twice in recent days, the Texan has seized opportunities to distance himself from Trump's policies and rhetoric.

“First, Cruz disagreed with Trump after the New Yorker expressed openness to setting up a registry of Muslim Americans in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks…Then over the weekend, he politely chided inflammatory rhetoric from fellow Republicans on immigration, when asked about Trump during an interview with the Associated Press…

“Cruz's campaign said to expect more distinctions to come.”

Some sort of a collision between Cruz and Trump was inevitable. Both men are dedicated torch-carriers of the anti-establishment movement that’s burning in the grassroots. Both have dedicated support that is probably more solid than any of the other candidates in the field.

And both have the type of personality that begs for confrontation. Each wants to show he’s the better man.

Neither will back down when presented with a challenge. There’s a mutual respect between them for sure, but there can only be one winner. Cruz’s subtle jabs at Trump are probably just the beginning. Conservative voters need to see a distinction between all of the candidates… look for the respective campaigns to provide it.

Carson tops Iowa poll, but is it an outlier?

The media has been filled lately with bad news for Ben Carson, but a new poll finally may bring him some relief.

From WHO-HD in Iowa: “A poll released Wednesday from Iowa State University and WHO-HD shows Ben Carson in the top spot among Republicans seeking their party's nomination for president.

“The poll shows 27.2 percent of Republicans likely to participate in the Iowa Caucuses would support Carson, a former neurosurgeon. With 16.7 percent, Marco Rubio comes in ahead of businessman Donald Trump, who is in third place with 14.7 percent. Ted Cruz comes in fourth with 8.9 percent.”

One note – the poll was conducted Nov. 2-15, so most of the sample was likely collected before the Paris terrorist attacks. Add the fact that the results of this particular poll skew widely from others in the same time period and it brings up several issues.

For example, Iowa State University and WHO-HD gives Carson more than a ten point lead in the Hawkeye State. While it’s conceivable Carson could still lead within the margin of error of some of the other polls, he’s over five points behind Donald Trump in the Real Clear Politics Average.

Marco Rubio’s numbers are also five points higher in this poll than in the RCP average.

It certainly looks like this survey is an outlier rather than a new trend in Carson’s direction, partly because the former neurosurgeon has been under siege of late for a series of statements and subsequent clarifications that put his overall credibility in question.

Maeve Reston of CNN reports, “In a presidential race where the old tropes of politics don't seem to apply, Carson's quirky statements and the lack of clarity about his positions on key issues didn't seem to have harmed his candidacy as he cruised atop the GOP polls, vying for first place with Donald Trump. Targeting the ‘liberal media’ and the ‘secular progressive movement’ was a strategy that clearly resonated among his supporters.

“But Carson's rocky few weeks have raised questions about the durability of his brand, particularly as the terrorist attacks in Paris have heightened voter interest in the foreign policy strength of the candidates, and their comfort on the world stage.”

Reston details Carson’s off-the-cuff remarks on whether New Jersey Muslims celebrated on 9/11 (as Trump had asserted) and the Terry Schiavo case as examples of how Carson blamed the media for mischaracterizing his statements, the meaning of which certainly seemed clear when he made them.

Carson still receives high marks for honesty in all of these surveys, so people aren’t calling into question whether he’s lying to them. Rather, Carson appears to be having trouble with remarks that aren’t thought through thoroughly and then must spend time later fixing the damage.

One of the great things about Ben is his lack of polish in the political sense, but there’s little doubt he needs to avoid these types of mistakes if he’s going to remain viable going forward.

As for the poll showing him way out in front…? Take it with a grain of salt.

Establishment plots Trump takedown

Finally this week, Rush Limbaugh recently said Donald Trump is not a conservative -- when compared to Ronald Reagan -- but there’s one thing the two entertainers-turned-politicians have in common: they both scare the Republican establishment to death.

And party elites are channeling that fear into actions, such as New Hampshire’s Fergus Cullen trying to prevent Trump’s name from appearing on the state’s primary ballot (he failed).

Again, similar to the 1970’s establishment, today’s elites are arguing Trump as the nominee will destroy the GOP’s chances in not only the general election against Hillary Clinton, but in down ballot races as well. The Donald may be no conservative – compared to Reagan – be he sure evokes fear from the powerful in just the same way as The Gipper once did.

Tracy Jan and Annie Linskey of the Boston Globe report, "The concern, party leaders and strategists say, is not just winning the general election and reclaiming the White House. In a year when the GOP is hoping to maintain control of the Senate, party leaders are increasingly worried about the impact Trump’s campaign could have on down-ballot candidates in purple states such as the reelection bids by Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio.”

And then there’s the “his rhetoric will turn voters off” line of argument.

Again, Jan and Linskey report, “Many party leaders fear that Trump’s threats to corral and deport undocumented immigrants and his vows to spy on American Muslims have especially alienated minority voters — a critical demographic the GOP must woo to remain competitive, according to a Republican National Committee post-mortem of the 2012 election after Mitt Romney lost.”

The journalists did point out later in the article that Trump would actually bring some voters over to the Republican column, such as conservative Democrats (if there are any left) and blue-collar workers. So it can’t be all bad, right?

The establishment’s paranoia over Trump would be humorous if it weren’t so dangerous. When the elites get riled up they start changing the rules of the game and running character-assassination campaigns. We can only wonder what’s coming down the pipe for Trump in the next couple months.

(Note: One such campaign has already started, courtesy of John Kasich’s Super PAC.)

Or, in the alternative, Republican elites will rely on non-traditional means to take down The Donald.

Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics reports, “[O]utside groups are rallying against Trump, hoping an effort with actual money behind it, instead of just speeches or statements, will take down the giant—or, if nothing else, diminish his support…

“The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Republican strategist Liz Mair is launching Trump Card LLC, a group leading a ‘guerilla campaign’ against the businessman that doesn’t have to disclose donors under Federal Election Commission rules. The group plans to sponsor unconventional television and radio ad buys, along with Web ads and opposition research. The group is soliciting donations from all sources, including other campaigns interested in seeing Trump fall.”

Huey-Burns details other efforts aimed at driving opposition to Trump – most of it, again, centered on fear.

Even those conservatives who don’t favor or even like Trump would probably admit the whole anti-Donald campaign is over-the-top. My question for those sponsoring these endeavors is, what makes you think these things will work, and, even if they do, what comes after?

Many have said next year’s will be a national security general election. I would argue the Republican race is an anti-establishment primary. The elites may eventually take out Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean one of their chosen candidates is going to take his place.

The message from polls and voters ever since the race began earlier this year is conservatives want something different. Some have gravitated towards Trump, some to Ben Carson and others to Ted Cruz.

If the anti-establishment voters get too discouraged, they won’t bother participating at all rather than vote for someone like Jeb Bush. And I’m guessing that as more is known about Marco Rubio, he’ll be just as unpalatable to those demanding a thorough cleansing of Washington.

Be careful what you wish for, establishment elites.

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