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Presidential Horse Race 2016: 7 reasons why a Trump win in Iowa isn’t the end of the campaign

There’s still half a month (and two more debates) to go until the Iowa caucuses and already some people are starting to panic about a potential Donald Trump victory there. They’re freaked out by the notion that if Trump can win in a conservative state like Iowa, he simply can’t be stopped further down the road when more liberal states weigh-in.

It’s amazing to me that these folks appear willing to concede the race literally before it even starts.

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal writes, “The ordinary rules of the political game haven’t applied to Trump so far, and if he lives up to the hype early on, there’s little reason to believe he’ll fade as the race moves into more Iowamoderate territory. If Trump wins Iowa—the one state where he hasn’t led in many public polls—it’s hard to see where his momentum stops.”

Kraushaar then provides analysis of the primary calendar where less-conservative dominated states vote in winner-take-all contests after the initial wave of delegate apportioned early states. With Trump’s popularity among so-called Reagan Democrats as well as taking a good share of more traditional conservative groups, Kraushaar reasons The Donald would seem to be virtually unstoppable as time goes on.

“But it’s dicey to use polls to handicap this type of nomination fight. With Trump as the race’s defining figure, this is a race about momentum. Trump either has it, or he doesn’t. Iowa is a potential launching pad. If Trump wins the first-in-the-nation caucuses, he’s positioned to succeed across the primary map—in blue states and red ones. But if he disappoints in Iowa, his bubble is likely to burst,” Kraushaar concludes.

As a political observer I share Kraushaar’s opinion on the value of momentum. But he seems to be mixing the concept of momentum with a more empirical examination of delegate counts. Sure, Trump would look strong if he prevails in Iowa, which would then likely be followed-up with a good sized win in New Hampshire (again, if polls are correct).

But it’s somewhat ridiculous to suggest it will be over on February 2 if Trump wins on February 1.

Here are seven reasons why. First, even if Trump wins in Iowa over Ted Cruz, it will likely be a very narrow victory, reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s “win” in 2012 (which of course was later switched to a narrow loss to Rick Santorum). Therefore, Cruz will still carry some momentum into South Carolina, since the winner of the New Hampshire primary isn’t necessarily a lock to win down south.

Two, because Cruz is positioned to do very well in the “SEC primary” on March 1, when Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia (with Louisiana just a few days later) will vote, Ted will generate some solid momentum of his own. Granted Trump looks to pick up delegates in these regions as well, but by mid-March the contest could very well be close to a tie or even show Cruz in the lead.

Three, Cruz still enjoys a significant advantage in on-the-ground organizing in Iowa and other places. Trump’s foot-soldiers may be numerous and motivated, but without a professional “officer corps” to steer them to the polls, they’re certain to lose votes. Cruz, on the other hand, has concentrated from the beginning on maximizing data and voter contact, reminiscent of Obama’s strategy in 2008.

His campaign knows where the voters are and his volunteers can get them where they need to be.

Four, Cruz has the fundraising might to maintain a first-rate campaign apparatus throughout the primary season, which basically means a setback or two won’t derail the train. Trump is self-funding, true, but there isn’t a lot of evidence he’s spent large sums on organization and data. Catching up to Cruz in mid-season just isn’t going to happen.

Five, there’s the “not-Trump” factor. Donald Trump’s net favorability ratings have been steadily improving but there’s still a considerable slice of the Republican electorate who swear they won’t vote for him under any circumstances. Thinking logically, those votes have to go somewhere. If people are motivated enough not to vote for Trump at all, they’ll try just as hard to stop him by backing someone else.

Meanwhile, Cruz’s net favorability ratings are the highest in the Republican field. He’ll certainly get a good many of those “not-Trump” votes, especially as the field narrows. (Note: Only Jeb Bush has a higher unfavorable percentage than Trump.)

Six, Cruz leads the field in smarts and strategy. Trump has relied heavily on “earned media” to carry his message to this point. His strategy seems to be putting himself forward as the candidate who will “Make America Great Again” without offering many policy specifics. This plan may be enough for his supporters, but others are going to demand a lot more.

In contrast, Ted Cruz provides that policy beef. He knows the issues inside and out, has been in the trenches fighting the fight even when seemingly everyone – including the members of his own party – worked against him.

Additionally, the Cruz campaign has certainly planned for the contingency of early Trump success. We don’t yet know what Ted’s answer will be -- the only thing we can bet on is there will be one.

Finally, Iowa traditionally has told us a lot more about who won’t be president rather than who will be. Iowa winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum didn’t go on to win the nomination, much less the presidency. But we knew after Iowa voted in 2008 and 2012 that Rudy Giuliani and Michelle Bachmann didn’t even have a glimmer of hope.

So Donald Trump will certainly gain a leg-up on his competitors should he win in Iowa – but it’s hardly over for the Republican race if he does.   

With conservative lane potentially open, Cruz storms New Hampshire

Iowa may be getting the bulk of the attention as far as Cruz and Trump are concerned, but we shouldn’t forget that the Texas senator plans to compete vigorously for the conservative vote in New Hampshire as well.

Katie Glueck of Politico reports, “Few in Republican New Hampshire circles expect him to win here, a state where Trump has a wide lead over everyone else in the crowded field. Yet there’s a sense that Cruz could capitalize on a splintered establishment GOP vote, and assemble a coalition of tea partiers, libertarians and social conservatives – enough to beat expectations in a state that has favored more ideologically moderate candidates at the presidential level.”

Glueck’s article lays out the ways the Cruz campaign is now ramping up ahead of the primary.

With all the consideration Ted’s devoted to Iowa, it’s almost looked like he’s written off New Hampshire. Not true. He’ll spend a ton of time up there before the February 9 Primary Day.

From a strategy standpoint, it all has to do with momentum. As discussed in the last section, a candidate doesn’t necessarily have to win a state in order to generate positive press. If Cruz were able to finish a solid second there, it would squelch a lot of the negative stories about it turning into a one-man Trump race.

Cruz currently sits in fourth place according to the Real Clear Politics average, behind Trump, Rubio and Kasich. With three more debates (tonight, January 28 and February 6) and a campaign blitz of the state it’s easy to see how Ted could do as well as second place in New Hampshire.

He’s already got almost 11% of the New Hampshire support, not bad for not having been there in two months prior to this week. Statistics show many voters don’t firmly decide whom to back until the final days – so he’s likely in good shape.

A first or close second in Iowa followed by a very realistic shot at second or third in New Hampshire puts Cruz in good position heading into South Carolina. The Palmetto State chose Newt Gingrich in 2012, a surprise to many. There may be another surprise on the horizon this year as well.

Establishment tells Bush to leave Rubio alone

With Jeb Bush mired in the depths of the Republican race, everyone – except for him, perhaps – realizes he’s a lost cause.

As a result, some in the establishment are telling Jeb to lay off Rubio lest the Florida senator be so badly damaged that he won’t be able to carry the establishment torch against Trump and Cruz.

Eli Stokols of Politico reports, “[I]ncreasingly, establishment Republicans worry that Bush’s campaign is little more than an ego trip. With the former Florida governor now sitting stagnant in the middle of the pack and his super PAC ratcheting up its attacks on Marco Rubio, a growing number of Republican centrists are coming to view Bush’s campaign as a distraction — one that could hurt their ability to keep the nomination away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz…

“Beyond the implications on the primary itself, many lifelong Republicans, those who have offices decorated with photographs of themselves standing beside the country’s last two Republican presidents, worry about Bush’s difficult 2016 campaign tarnishing his family’s political legacy.”

I couldn’t help but smile when reading about the elites turning on each other. It was truly heartwarming.

As I’ve said all along, there simply aren’t enough voters for the establishment candidates to flourish this year. Even if there was one clear leader, they’d still only be challenging Trump (35%) for the national lead – and that’s assuming 100% of the establishment vote would consolidate behind one candidate.

The “outsiders” have consistently polled at around two-thirds of Republican support. The establishment four (Rubio, Bush, Christie and Kasich) combined total 21% in the Real Clear Politics average. Ted Cruz has 19% in second place to Trump.

Bush is bombing the crap out of Rubio on TV, but the pie they’re all dividing up is pretty small.

Jeb Bush may be permanently tarnishing the family legacy, but it’s the elites themselves that are truly doing the long-term damage to their power base.

“Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson chooses Cruz

Finally today, just ahead of tonight’s sixth Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz picked up another key endorsement. This time it wasn’t from a prominent politician or conservative leader – it was straight from a champion of good old fashioned American culture.

Todd Starnes of Fox News reports, “The star of one of the nation’s most popular reality television shows just made Sen. Ted Cruz a happy, happy, happy presidential candidate.

Duck Commander Phil Robertson announced Wednesday that he has endorsed Cruz for the White House, Fox News has learned.”

In true Robertson style, the world’s most famous duck-call designer discussed the endorsement with Cruz while in a duck blind on a hunting trip, then made a video explaining his decision, complete with camo face paint.

Due to the success of their TV show, the Robertson clan is well known in conservative circles. Robertson’s nod might not bring Ted many extra votes but it does make Ted look like a cool dude.

Ted’s a lucky guy -- it must be fun to go hunting with Phil and the gang.

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Phil Robertson

Come and listen to a story
About a man with facial hair,
A reality show
A&E put on the air.

Then one day
He was doin' an interview
And hell broke loose
'Cause he said something true.

About sin, bad deeds, depravity.

Well, the first thing you know
Old Phil's a miscreant.
Queerfolk said,
"That man's intolerant."

Said "Callin' sinners sinners
Is a kind of bigotry."
So they gave poor Phil a dose
Of their reality.

Tried to, that is. Didn't work. Backfired.