Monday night I stood before about a hundred of my Republican neighbors in rural Iowa, as my wife encouraged our neighbors to cast their ballots in favor of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
As I listened to her speak, I thought to myself that this had to be the first time I’d ever heard a candidate pitch framed around “hey, look at all the people who hate my guy”. Typically, candidates roll into Iowa touting their endorsements and looking to appeal to the widest possible spectrum of voters, but there was one notable exception this time.
As she read the list of Republican establishment figureheads who had gone out of their way to showcase their disdain for Cruz, heads began nodding and smiles began to erupt throughout the crowd.
And thus began the improbable victory of Cruz Conservatarianism.
Tonight’s record-shattering Iowa Caucus win for Team Cruz is more than just the results of months of hard work and organization on the ground – though it is certainly that as well.
The monumental coalescence that the Senator from Texas had preached for months leading up to the caucus actually came about, and the repercussions within the GOP could echo for years to come.
Here are just a couple of the ways Cruz’s Iowa win is a game-changer for the Republican Party.
- Cruz’s win was a funeral for the Iowa ethanol kings.
Back in May of last year, Cruz walked into the lion’s den of the Iowa establishment – an agricultural summit that featured a looping ad warning Republican candidates not to oppose the federal ethanol mandate known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Though a 2014 congressional race made it clear that ethanol lobbyists were losing their sway in the state, it was still widely considered political suicide for a prospective candidate to walk into Iowa and challenge the RFS and its chief defender, Iowa’s six-term establishment governor-for-life, Terry Branstad – doubly so for a Senator from oil-rich Texas.
Cruz shocked Iowa politicos by choosing to challenge the RFS at the summit, and became an instant sensation with Iowa’s subsidy-weary conservatives and libertarians.
Cruz’s convincing win toppled King Corn’s tower of power, and blazed a trail for future conservatives to run in opposition to mandates and subsidies in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
- Cruz’s win exposes the Republican establishment as a paper tiger.
To build on the previous point, Cruz’s win exposed the shockingly rapid fade from relevance of both the Iowa and national Republican establishment.
Branstad’s anti-Cruz crusade was only one piece of a coordinated onslaught by moderate Republican figureheads in the final weeks before Caucus night.
Former Senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole dogpiled on Cruz in December, declaring that he preferred a Trump nomination to a Cruz win.
Add to this the fact that virtually every powerful moderate Republican in the country has held Cruz in public disdain since he announced his candidacy, and you’ve got the recipe for what should have been Ted Cruz’s political demise.
Instead, Cruz’s campaign has leveraged his feud with Senate leadership, flaunted his public lashing by former House Speaker John Boehner, and proudly owned the scorn of moderate fixtures like Dole as proof of his conservative bona fides.
That gambit paid off Monday night.
The Washington establishment’s unrestrained vitriol toward Cruz served as water on his political grease fire – the more they poured it on, the more the flames spread.
Coupled with the existential threat posed by the populist buffoonery of Donald Trump, the Republican establishment now have great cause to worry.
Conservative voters who had accepted defeat after years of discouraging policy losses at the hands of deal-making sellouts in the GOP now boast a candidate who has endured everything the establishment had to throw at him, has raised fifty million dollars, enjoys deep ties to each of the disparate branches of conservatism, and built a grassroots army to rival the political Legion of Boom that was the Ron Paul Revolution.
The helplessness of the political class before this grassroots surge has slowly brought conservatives around to the fact that we are not, in fact, helpless before Wall Street, K Street, and the mainstream media.
Iowa was the conservative coalition’s first taste of winning since Reagan, and as Charlie Sheen can attest, winning is addictive.
There’s blood in the water.
- Cruz’s win is a blueprint for consolidating evangelicals, tea partiers, and libertarians into a functional coalition.
Cruz launched his campaign last April promising to rebuild the Reagan coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, libertarians, and Reagan Democrats – a promise he seems to be making good on.
Cruz’s caucus win may have looked competitive in percentages, but the fact that he carried more votes than any other winner in caucus history shows the incredible breadth of both his appeal and message among Iowa’s oft-warring conservative sects.
Cruz’s vote total eclipsed the prior wins of his socially conservative competitors, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rick Santorum, with help from an obvious infusion of libertarian votes wrested away from the flagging campaign of Sen. Rand Paul.
Those two groups, combined with the non-Trump portion of the Tea Party, became a powerful cement, and proved to be an effective wall against nearly two solid months of wilting attacks from the establishment, jealous underdogs, and of course, the Donald.
Future conservatives looking to run in Iowa need no longer look exclusively to evangelicals to fuel a last-minute anti-establishment victory. Cruz’s innovative approach to coalition-building in the state proved that Iowa conservatarians can be brought together on common ideological ground, despite varying political identities and backgrounds.
Monday’s caucus changed the political landscape of both Iowa and the nation. The reshaping of the Republican Party is on in earnest, and it is up to the other 49 states now to decide whose image the new party takes.
But for now at least, the GOP appears bound to Cruz in a new direction.