I should start off by saying I want Cruz to win the nomination, but I have two ways of viewing things: the way I want things to turn out, and the way I think things will turn out. I consider myself an unofficial political analyst, and if I’m being objective, I have to say that I think Rubio will end up winning the GOP nomination, which is what I’ve said from the beginning of the race.
Yes, Cruz has some advantages conservative candidates haven’t had in the past, like having the most money in the bank, having a large grassroots army of volunteers, and having the best ground game out of all the candidates.
But I just don’t think all that will be enough, because in the end all that matters is what the voters think, and there have always been more pragmatic voters in the GOP electorate than principled voters.
For evidence of this, just look at our past 6 nominees.
I just don’t see a party that recently nominated Mitt Romney, the man who created the state version of Obamacare, suddenly do a 360 degree turn and nominate Cruz, the man who led the fight to repeal Obamacare in the Senate.
But the differences are not just on policy. When it comes to temperament and personality, these two men are night and day.
So have the demographics or attitudes of the GOP primary voters changed in the past 4 years? I see no evidence of that. Therefore, if they haven’t changed, and they’re presented with a choice between a candidate who they think is the most likable and electable (Rubio) vs the candidate who is the most principled and the most conservative (Cruz), they’re gonna choose Rubio.
Up until the Iowa caucuses this was just a theory, but now that the caucus is done with, we have some data to test the hypothesis, and I believe the polling data supports it.
Before I get to that, let me give you the data that helped me come up with my hypothesis in the first place.
As this article points out, there are 4 factions within the GOP electorate.
They are: moderate-liberal, somewhat conservative, very conservative evangelicals, and very conservative secular voters.
If you combine the first two categories, even taking the low estimates of 25% and 35%, they add up to 60% of the entire GOP electorate. That means the “very conservative” voters, which are split up into evangelicals and seculars, only make up around 40% of the electorate or less.
The implications of this data are huge. It means that a candidate can win the nomination if they simply get more than 50% of that 60%, even if they don’t get 50% of the 40% bloc.
So let’s apply this hypothesis to the data we now have from Iowa.
As it turns out, Rubio won the “somewhat conservative” bloc fairly easily over Cruz. Likewise, Cruz won the “very conservative” bloc easily over Rubio.
The problem for Cruz is that even in a state that gives him a big advantage with the electorate being made up of more evangelicals than any other group, he didn’t dominate Rubio in the final tally.
Cruz won because in Iowa there are more evangelical voters than there are somewhat conservative voters and secular/moderate voters.
But even in Iowa if you combine the moderate and somewhat conservative groups, according to the exit polls of this year’s GOP caucuses, they make up roughly 60% of the total vote, compared with 40% for very conservative voters.
The only reason Cruz was able to win was because he dominated among that 40%.
However, there are several things going against him after he moves on from Iowa.
1) Nationally and in upcoming states like NH and FL, this trend flips, with those states having a lot more somewhat conservative voters than very conservative voters.
2)The typical “somewhat conservative” voter in Iowa is more conservative than such a voter in NH and FL, which means Rubio will likely do even better among those groups in the upcoming states.
3)Even given this, among somewhat conservatives in Iowa, Rubio beat Cruz 29-19, and among moderates he beat Cruz 28-9. Keep in mind that in Iowa moderates made up 14% of the vote, but nationally they make up anywhere from 25-35% of the GOP electorate. You can see how that math works against Cruz. Also, Rubio beat Cruz 26-18 among secular voters in Iowa, which bodes well for him if he continues that trend nationally.
I expect Rubio’s establishment competition to all be gone by FL, at which point the GOPe will rally around Rubio as their candidate. This gives the advantage to Rubio over Cruz for the nomination.
What else does Iowa tell us?
Of the voters who made up their minds at the last minute, Rubio won decidedly with 30%. If this trend continues, it means the current polls are completely wrong, and that Rubio will do much better in all of the states he currently trails Cruz in.
Furthermore, when the Republican voters of Iowa were asked who they thought had the best chance to win in November, Rubio destroyed the competition, including Cruz, doubling his support 44-22%.
Now, in Iowa, this quality was seen as less important than the quality of “who shares my values” by exactly half (42–21), but again, nationally this trend flips upside down, with more GOP voters in upcoming states caring more about who can win than about who shares their values. Once again this gives Rubio the advantage.
The bottom line, in my humble opinion, is this: unfortunately for us principled conservatives, the average GOP primary voter, based on the data, is a pragmatist, not a principled conservative. They put more importance on electability than principles. Sadly, there are more of them than us.
When the contest for picking a president becomes a popularity contest, which sadly it has in modern times, it no longer is a battle of ideas and principles.
And if all a candidate has to do is win a popularity contest, then he doesn’t have to win the argument or every debate. He also doesn’t have to have the most conservative record, which is why I think the gang of 8 bill Rubio sponsored won’t hurt him as much as my fellow conservatives think it will.
The average GOP voter will go into the voting booth and think “when I look at all the candidates, who can I most easily envision as being president?” For these pragmatists, they just can’t see Cruz being president. He comes off as too passionate, too partisan, too ambitious.
There are elements of truth to that critique of Cruz, as other conservative writers have pointed out. But that’s kinda my point. Even if those things were 100% true, it shouldn’t matter because the presidential race shouldn’t be a popularity contest, it should be about electing the candidate who is most qualified, has good character, and is the most conservative candidate who can win in November. Using that criteria, Cruz is the clear choice to me.
But to the moderates in the GOP, that’s not the criteria they use. They ask themselves the question I mentioned above, and I believe this time around the answer to that question in their minds is Rubio. He’s calm, articulate, doesn’t get easily flustered, has an inspirational story, is charming, has a moderate tone that appeals to them, and in most polls does the best in a head to head matchup with Hillary Clinton.
Combine this with the momentum he’ll likely have coming out of NH as the consensus choice of the GOPe once the governors all drop out, it’s easy to see why he has the advantage over Cruz in the long term.
Many voters are sheep, and when they see a candidate with momentum and a higher chance of winning the nomination, even if he was their 2nd choice, they’ll make him their first choice cause they wanna feel like they were part of history and helped pick the winner of the race. They don’t wanna feel like they wasted their vote on a candidate who ends up losing, even if that candidates shares more of their values and principles than any other candidate.
Just look at our recent history. In 2008, who did we nominate? The guy who wanted to pass immigration reform and grant amnesty to millions of illegals. For some bizarre reason the party as a whole thought he had the best chance to beat Obama.
Then in 2012, who did we nominate? The guy who was the architect of the health insurance mandate that became the core behind Obamacare. The guy who ran as a moderate/liberal governor of MA and flipped on big issues like being pro-life, immigration, and healthcare. Although to be fair to the pragmatist/establishment GOP voters from 2102, and even conservatives, we didn’t have much of a choice with Gingrich and Santorum. But still you get the point.
Think about it this way: Iowa was tailor-made for Cruz. It has a bigger percentage of evangelicals making up the GOP electorate than pretty much any state in the nation. Cruz spent more time there than anywhere else, and far more time than Rubio did. He had a much better ground game, and more money in the bank than Rubio. Yet despite these advantages, he could only beat him by 6 points, which ends up being 8 delegates for Cruz and 4 for Rubio.
As I mentioned previously, in more upcoming states than not, Cruz doesn’t have those advantages. I hope I’m wrong about this, because I will be voting for Cruz in my state’s primary. I want Cruz to win, even though I’d be happy if either him or Rubio were the nominee.
But I just don’t see it happening because I don’t believe I represent the average GOP primary voter. If my fellow Cruz voters can come up with arguments to disabuse me of this notion, I’m open to hearing them.