First, everyone knows there will be a winnowing. Rick Perry has already dropped out. Grahm, Jindal, Santorum, and Walker have all registered at 0% in at least one recent poll and so probably will end up dropping out before votes are cast (additionally Walker vendors are apparently owed $100k that hasn’t been paid). Christie and Kasich can do no better than Bush and so will likely get 0 delegates as well. Going into Iowa the field would be:
In the last poll Carson and Trump together were down by 13% and Fiornia was up by 12%. I suspect this does not represent hard support but is more people who want neither an establishment hack (Bush) nor an arrogant blowhard (Trump). People who jump candidates by 13 points in a week are clearly open to persuasion. It is likely that either Carson or Fiornia will remain in the race into February, but not both, since niether appears to have hard support. Paul has been drifting downward and seems to have no base level of support. I expect him to start hitting 0% in the polls in the next month. Huckabee appears to have a base level of support somewhere around 5%, enough to be a viable candidate, but he trails dramatically in fundraising. By the time South Carolina votes Paul and Huckabee will likely run out of money unable to compete in the high cost Super Tuesday. I honestly think this will be Rubio’s issue as well. I doubt that he will get enough support to compete against better funded candidates post Super Tuesday.
This is in contrast to a very consistent band of support for Cruz that moves around 7% or so. Cruz has a base level of support that will allow him to appear viable even as other flame out. Also, his fundraising is substantial and will allow him to finance a campaign through the primaries. So assuming Trump stays in (big if there) Super Tuesday will be down to
- Trump (if he stays in)
- Carson or Fiornia (not both)
- Possibly Rubio
By this stage having a debate stage with 3-5 people will play to Cruz’ advantage. He can show his ideological breadth, demonstrate his proven record of fighting the establishment, and intelligence. He can raise the question of whether any of the other three has a demonstrated ability to go against the wishes of [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] and pursue conservative ideals even when in the jaws of DC.
Last cycle we saw several candidates rise, peak, fade. If Cruz were to climb right now there is a good chance he would peak in October or November then fade by January. If he wants to peak in late February then he would need to start climbing in late December or early January. This would involve getting endorsements from Walker, Jindal, Perry, etc. It would also involve beginning substantial spending in 2016, not before. It would also involve refraining from attacking until then. Cruz’ best chance at success is to remain in the top 4 while allowing the field to shrink. If Walker runs out of money, the bit players drop out, and those who had a rapid climb face a rapid fall then Cruz is positioned to win in a post Super Tuesday race. This is why he is setting up offices in late voting states.
Also, consider the potential of a brokered convention. Early contestants (Rubio, Huckabee, Carson, etc) will have some delegates. These will eventually go to Trump, Bush, or Cruz. There is a reason Cruz is not going around offending anyone’s supporters right now. He may be planning on asking them for their support in Cleveland.