by Jordan Green
Up until now, the 2016 presidential campaign has seemed like a reality TV show, which is to say that it has seemed like contrived entertainment that is totally unreal, although with due respect, that unkind observation is directed mainly at the Republican primary.
But it’s getting real. And a little scary.
For those who find national politics beneath their dignity, consider that North Carolina voters will be going to the polls to weigh in on the party nomination in only 11 weeks. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 1, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, with 15 states following suit on Super Tuesday, March 1. This is going to go by fast.
With the campaign of soft-spoken neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson faltering with the bitter November of ISIS’ aggression as he found himself unable to match his rivals’ bellicosity, the field is left to whichever candidate can best position themselves as the anti-establishment crusader.
Despite Donald Trump’s ability to suck all the oxygen out of the room, it’s Sen. Ted Cruz who holds the advantage in Iowa, thanks in no small part to a conservative media machine that reinforces his brand.
Cruz is reviled by the GOP establishment, which is one of his greatest strengths. To mark just how far the party has traveled to the right in the past 20 years, former Sen. Bob Dole, the party’s presidential nominee in 1996, pondered the prospect of seeing Cruz’s name at the top of the ballot in November, and told MSNBC: “I might oversleep that day.”
As the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, Cruz is one of the most disliked men in Washington, for antics like filibustering to shut down the government and accusing the Republican senate leader of lying.
“You know when we launched our campaign, the New York Times promptly opined, ‘Cruz cannot win because the Washington elites despise him,’” he says in a super PAC ad published on Dec. 7, before thundering, “I kind of thought that was the whole point of the campaign.”
Meanwhile, consider the fate of poor Marco Rubio, the conservative darling of 2010, who made the unforgivable mistake of trying to broker a deal on immigration reform in 2013 — the same year Cruz was throwing his body onto the gears of government. Attempting to shore up his conservative bona fides, Rubio is traveling this week in Iowa with Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina lawmaker who presided over the embarrassingly inept Benghazi hearings that were designed as political theater to embarrass Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. That may not be all that impressive to the implacable base voters in Iowa and other Republican primaries.
Quoting here from Paul Waldman’s piece on the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog on Monday because it’s so astute and funny: “While everyone waits for the voters to finally figure out that they ought to be supporting Rubio, the only candidate who at the moment looks like he might be able to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz. From the perspective of the party’s fortunes in the general election, that would be sort of like being cured of your electoral syphilis by contracting gonorrhea.”
Which raises a curious matter: Why isn’t Trump going on the attack against Cruz, the one GOP candidate at this point that effectively stands between him and the nomination?
Mainline Democratic voters have been salivating with glee over Trump’s pledges to go on the attack against Bill Clinton for his sexism, as Hillary takes the former commander in chief on the road with her in Iowa. There’s a conspiracy theory floating out there that the Clintons created Trump to sew havoc in the Republican Party. Not to say there’s any credence to it, but stranger things have happened.
They were friends before they were enemies. It’s well documented that Trump has made donations to the Clinton foundation and Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign, and that the Clintons attended Trump’s wedding in 2005. The Washington Post reported in August that Bill Clinton spoke with Trump by phone about the latter’s political prospects in the week before the real-estate mogul announced his presidential bid.
Whatever the status of Trump’s relationship with the Clintons, Jeb Bush, whose campaign is all but dead in the water, is certainly capable of seeing something nefarious afoot. He tweeted in early December: “Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy Hillary Clinton. Continuing this path will put her in the White House.”
He has a point, if the early numbers in an Elon University poll in September are to be taken serious. The poll found that Clinton would lose to Carson or Bush in a general-election matchup in North Carolina, sacrificing black voters to the former and independents to the latter. But she would prevail over Trump in this crucial battleground state.
Meanwhile, buoyed by endorsements by the likes of Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader and conservative talk-radio host Steve Deace, the evangelical Cruz looks poised to carry Iowa. He could rack up significant wins in the Bible Belt states that comprise the core of the Super Tuesday cluster, and walk away with the nomination.
Who can say what chaotic forces have been unleashed before the first vote has even been cast?