Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, appealing to his evangelical base and boosted by a massive “ground game,” must have enjoyed turning the volume down on Donald Trump.
And that’s exactly what Cruz did in the Iowa caucuses Monday, winning over Trump, who placed second, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who finished a close third. But even as the victory showed Cruz’s organizational strength, it also revealed Republican Party divisions that suggest it will be a long campaign before the GOP settles on a nominee.
Trump, for his part, talked about being “honored” (uh, huh) by his finish and said he hadn’t been in Iowa as much as the others, which is true. He also blamed the media, of course. Now he’s counting on recovering in New Hampshire, where he’s ahead and where the evangelicals who helped Cruz to a win Monday are not as strong a factor.
And it isn’t good for Cruz that pundits and some GOP observers saw Rubio’s strong finish as a sign that mainstream Republicans are looking for a winner, not an ideologue. That means the Texas senator – abrasive, unpredictable, seen as an extremist by many – will have to work to convince his party faithful that he can win in a general election.
Yes, Hillary Clinton had a squeaker against Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator. But she remains the Democrats’ best bet in a general election. Sanders has invigorated the Democratic fight, and he has stirred young people and others who believe the party of FDR should stick with its liberal history. He has forced Clinton to reach out to liberals more than she might have liked.
Rubio, while claiming the role of a candidate who can appeal to a broad electorate, remains extreme. He repeatedly talks about the dire straits into which President Obama has led the country and keeps saying, “We are not waiting any longer to take our country back.” Take it back from whom? From a president twice elected by the people? Rubio’s rhetoric may appeal to the right-wing base, but it’s not going to help him in an election in which he’ll need to appeal to mainstream voters. The same goes for Cruz. Evangelicals have been a strong part of Republican primaries, but they can’t take a candidate to victory in a general election.
Now all candidates go to New Hampshire, with even Jeb Bush, who had a weak but expensive showing, perhaps thinking the choice between Trump, Cruz and Rubio won’t be one that appeals to many Republicans. So the search goes on for a Republican who can win.