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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Marco Rubio flies rhetorical sortie, drops bomb on Ted Cruz

When Ben Carson surpassed Donald Trump in Iowa polls back in October, it’s fair to say a lot of people wondered whether it was a true indicator of momentum.

Trump had led for so long, and although Carson was seen as a likable man with a tremendous life story, did the people really see him as a serious presidential candidate?

Marco Rubio Gang of EightWell, now comes news Ted Cruz is the top dog in a new Iowa poll and I’m guessing the reaction will be different this time around.

Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News reports, “Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has overtaken businessman Donald Trump in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Iowa, a new poll from Monmouth University shows.

“Cruz gets 24 percent support among likely Republican caucus goers, a significant lead over Trump's 19 percent. His fellow senator Marco Rubio of Florida comes in third with 17 percent support, and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson nets 13 percent support.”

Carson has dropped 19 percent in two months according to the Monmouth poll and those supporters certainly appear to have headed over to Cruz.

One other interesting tidbit – only 20 percent of the likely caucus voters who took part in the survey say they’re set on a candidate. This signifies the race is still fluid in the Hawkeye State and we could see more fluctuations ahead of the February 1 Caucus Day.

But a trend is a trend. Cruz’s grand campaign plan looks to be working. If he wins in Iowa he’ll get a boost going into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Then there’s the “SEC primary” on March 1.

The race won’t be over on March 2nd, but Cruz will likely have solidified a place among the finalists. The question now is who the others will be.

Marco Rubio flies rhetorical sortie, drops bomb on Ted Cruz

Many folks are predicting Marco Rubio will be one of the finalists too. Perhaps for that reason, the Florida senator has changed the focus of his operation. Whereas he’d earlier promised to run a campaign without attacking anyone (see his exchange with Jeb Bush in the CNBC debate), Rubio is now popping off on Ted Cruz.

Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times report, “In interviews, speeches and in stealthier ways, Mr. Rubio has abruptly changed course, zeroing in on Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in an urgent effort to halt his momentum with conservative voters in this state and beyond.

“With help from an allied group that is airing television ads in Iowa, Mr. Rubio is seeking to raise doubts on the right about Mr. Cruz’s toughness on national security — a potentially fatal vulnerability, should Mr. Rubio succeed, amid heightened concerns about terrorism. More quietly, he is trying to muddy the perception that Mr. Cruz is a hard-liner on immigration, asserting that Mr. Cruz supports ‘legalizing people that are in this country illegally.’”

Rubio is clearly desperate to stall Ted Cruz’s rise on all fronts, but the last point is particularly bogus. Conservatives are moving towards Cruz because he’s authentic and does what he says he’s going to do. Marco made promises that he simply didn’t keep.

Ted has explained his position on immigration many times, including his current thoughts on Muslim refugees and the national security threat they represent.

Rubio’s the one who’s muddied the waters on immigration, first being against amnesty, then joining the Gang of Eight and leading the fight for it.

Ted Cruz wasn’t the one standing next to Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez in that press conference advocating for “comprehensive” immigration reform in Spanish (video). It was Marco Rubio. Cruz was against the liberal-inspired “comprehensive” solution from the start.

Further, as Martin’s and Peters’ article explains, Cruz is relying on a more traditional ground-game based campaign to inspire his supporters in the early states. It’s a much more proven method in predicting how much support you can expect on Election Day. Rubio plans to rely on earned media and debate performances to rouse his voters.

It’s another way of admitting Marco doesn’t have the professionally built infrastructure to maximize turnout. Cruz does.

For his part, Cruz isn’t taking Rubio’s jabs sitting down. Katie Glueck of Politico reports, “Ted Cruz took the stage at a town hall here on Monday ready to counter a barrage of attacks from his rivals who have used his vote to curtail National Security Agency surveillance powers as evidence that he is weak on terrorism.

“In what was largely an audition for the role of the next commander in chief in a particularly hawkish, pro-military state, Cruz pulled no punches, presenting himself as a tough-talking pol willing to do ‘whatever is necessary’ to take on the Islamic State. He sought to minimize any concerns about his views on government surveillance from the right, casting his civil liberties position as one that falls within the conservative mainstream.”

Only John McCain and Lindsey Graham would consider Ted Cruz weak on national security. Rubio’s effort to paint Cruz as a lightweight is just blowing smoke.

If the fact Rubio is running scared is the main motivation behind his recent attacks on Cruz, it’s understandable. He should be afraid…very afraid.

Christie emerging as establishment’s last hope in New Hampshire

Last week I surmised that the increasing number of stories regarding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s rise in New Hampshire were much ado about nothing, the product of bored journalists sick of writing about Donald Trump’s latest odd utterances and desperately searching for something to break the monotony in the 2016 Republican presidential race.

I still think there’s something to that – meaning I’m not entirely convinced Christie is a real contender in the Granite State – but there are indeed a few signs indicating Chris is starting to move up. Could Christie emerge as the establishment’s challenger to the “outsiders?”

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner wonders the same thing. He writes, “A December survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Christie in the double digits and in the top four candidates among Republicans in New Hampshire. More importantly, from the perspective of his room to grow, there was a dramatic turnaround in his favorability ratings. Once among the least popular contenders with the GOP electorate, the poll showed him with a 39-point net favorable rating.

“The revival of Christie's campaign could also resuscitate the dormant ‘establishment primary’ within the larger Republican contest.”

It was bound to happen, namely someone the Republican elites could control was sure to corral enough wishy-washy moderates and party bluebloods terrified of change to confront the anti-establishment frontrunners.

I would say “conservative” frontrunners but Trump doesn’t really qualify as a conservative. But he does figure as “anti-establishment” with conservative elements to his message.

Of course Christie has been working overtime in New Hampshire and largely ignoring Iowa, knowing the latter’s evangelical conservative voting base would want nothing to do with the man who gave Obama a hug just before the 2012 election. New Hampshire, on the other hand, seems to be a good fit for his brand of tough-talking but content-free politics.

After all, the state loved John McCain, the captain of the “straight-talk” express. What a bunch of baloney.

Like McCain – and Trump -- Christie is known as a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy, but he’s yet to be fully vetted as a national candidate. Once people get past the personable side of Christie (which works well in an intimate setting like a town hall meeting in New Hampshire), would he stand up to scrutiny on his questionable record? He certainly wouldn’t be considered a principled small-government conservative boat-rocker, the kind so much in demand these days.

We know for sure he isn’t in favor of curtailing government’s power to collect private data – a big government initiative justified under the ever-present rationale of “keeping us safe.” As Rand Paul pointed out in an interview on Monday morning, Christie, Rubio and Bush don’t seem to mind porous immigration enforcement but they sure are fond of monitoring private phone conversations.

Would Christie take on the Washington establishment in other areas? And if Christie rises, who falls…? Marco Rubio?

We’ll find out in the next month whether Christie is a serious contender in New Hampshire. Here’s guessing Rubio will continue to lead the establishment contingent. But it might be fun to see Christie dig at Marco along the way.

Trump: No Muslims to enter the U.S…for awhile

Donald Trump’s done it again, calling for a temporary but complete ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Ben Kamisar of The Hill reports, “In a statement from his campaign, Trump called for a 'total and complete shutdown' of Muslims entering the United States until elected leaders can ‘figure out what is going on.’

"When asked by The Hill whether that would include Muslim-American citizens currently abroad, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks replied over email: ‘Mr. Trump says, 'everyone.'”

If you think Trump’s proposal to deport all illegal aliens generated backlash from the Left, just wait until this latest idea takes hold. Lay aside the potential constitutional issues on right to travel for American citizens – what he’s advocating is essentially a religious test.

I’ve said in the past that The Donald takes extreme positions only to start the national conversation on important matters of the day. It looks like he’s started one heck of a shouting match already on this one.

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