As we have predicted here since September, the race for the Republican nomination will eventually come down to a contest between [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] and [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]. It has taken a while for visible signs of that prediction to come to pass, but they are growing every week. As we further have said for months, the first step in this process will be for Carson to fade away, and for his support to split between Cruz and Rubio. The data continues to accumulate that this process is in full motion, with Quinnipiac releasing a poll today that for the first time in a long time does not have Trump and Carson as 1 and 2.
This latest Q-Poll shows Trump still in first at 27%, consistent with his more or less constant level of support between 22-28% that he has enjoyed since entering the race. In second place, however, is Rubio at 17%. Cruz and Carson are tied for third at 16%. The rest of the field has reached the point of utter oblivion, with Jeb at 5%, Fiorina at 3%, everyone else at 2% or below. Of the four candidates in the race, all four show significant levels of flexibility over the last 3 or 4 months, both up and down, with the exception of Trump, who has both an observed floor and an observed ceiling.
Despite Trump’s surprisingly persistent lead, he shows no ability to pull voters from the pool of 72-78% of voters who are not already in his camp, and it is difficult to see him securing a path to the nomination when the other candidates break up and fall apart. In the end, the last man standing between Cruz and Rubio will almost certainly consolidate the non-Trump vote and gain the nomination.
Either way, this is an extremely positive result for conservatives. A choice between Cruz and Rubio for the nomination is the absolute best choice conservatives have faced since.. well, ever. Cruz is probably the most ideologically sound Presidential candidate with a chance at the nomination in at least the last 50 years, and Rubio by all accounts would be more conservative than any Republican President we have ever had, with an added bonus of extra likelihood of beating Hillary to partially offset his extremely mild heterodoxy (in comparison to Cruz).
Speaking of, this Q-Poll strikes a cautionary note about general election matchups against Clinton. Republicans have been crowing for weeks about this FoxNews poll showing literally all the Republican contenders leading Hillary in the general. While that would be nice if it were true, I’m highly skeptical that this is where the race actually stands at this point, given the overwhelming name ID Clinton has against all the Republicans. The Q-Poll shows what I suspect to be true, which is that any Republican will face a long, hard slog against Hillary, who holds a slim (but manageable) lead against the Republicans in the field.
Ultimately, head to head polling at this point of the race is mostly for the talking heads; once the race truly becomes a two person contest, the dynamic will shift and current polling won’t be worth much. The eyeball test is frankly more useful than polls at this point. However, this Q-Poll is a useful reminder that the belief that any Republican who is nominated will win in a cakewalk is a fantasy that we dare not indulge in.