The pundits have been talking about it for several weeks now, but we’re now seeing it happen in Iowa. Monmouth University just put out a poll showing that Ted Cruz has passed Donald Trump and is now the GOP frontrunner in the Hawkeye State.
Cruz, who has been on a sharp upward trajectory in the polls in recent weeks, takes 24 percent of support in the Hawkeye State, according to a Monmouth University survey released on Monday.
Trump is in second place in the poll with 19 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) at 17 percent, and Ben Carson, who suffered by far the steepest decline of any candidate, clocking in at 13 percent.
Carson — who has been dogged by foreign policy blunders since last month’s terror attacks in Paris thrust national security to the forefront of the GOP campaign debates — is in free-fall.
He held a commanding lead in the Monmouth survey of Iowa from late October, taking 32 percent support over Trump, who at the time was a distant second place with only 18 percent support.
Carson has fallen 19 points in the last month-and-a-half, while Cruz has gained 14 points and Rubio has picked up seven.
Evangelical voters, who make up a strong majority of Iowa caucus-goers, have moved behind Cruz, who now has a two-to-one lead over Carson among this influential block.
Cruz takes 30 percent support from Iowa evangelicals, followed by Trump at 18 percent, Rubio at 16 percent, and Carson at 15 percent.
Last month, Carson had a two-to-one lead over Trump among evangelicals in the state, taking 36 percent support. Carson has lost 21 percent of his evangelical supporter in just over a month, according to Monmouth.
“As Ben Carson’s stock has fallen, Cruz has been able to corral most of those voters,” said Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray.
You won’t find a whole lot of national polls showing Cruz ahead of Trump, but the GOP primary race isn’t a national race. The national polls at this point are meaningless.
If Cruz wins Iowa and then cleans up in the SEC primary on March 1, he’s got an opportunity to put himself in a position to dominate the race. He’s already reeling in the runoff from the Ben Carson deflation, and if and when the Trump deflation starts Cruz could well get the majority of that.
Most of the smart money says the GOP race is going to come down to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, which is an assumption that Trump will fade. It could be, with Jeb Bush spending all his money now in an attempt to take Rubio out over rumors of marital infidelity, that Rubio has too many obstacles in his path to overtake Cruz for the nomination. And if that’s true, the Trump narrative of “either Trump or the GOP establishment” might end up as something nobody expected – namely, that instead of that narrative manifesting itself as Trump vs. Jeb Bush, the “establishment” candidate ends up being a guy whose criticisms of Washington are a lot more pointed and a lot more informed, and a guy with a stronger record of action against the Beltway elite, than Trump has.
Which might make a lot of Trump’s voters happy. It won’t likely make the GOP establishment crowd happy.
But the establishment can do business with Cruz. He would bring a great deal of energy to the cause of fundamental reform within the federal government, but when it comes to hiring his staff he would be drawing from the same think tanks and staffers that a more “establishment” candidate would. The difference is in standards and degrees; Cruz would make a stronger demand that his people be agents of change within the federal government than a Bush would.
In any event, it’s beginning to emerge that they’re going to have to make their peace with Cruz as a potential nominee. Because unless Bush is willing to drop his war on Marco Rubio and get out of the race, Cruz might just be the best opportunity to keep Trump out of the White House. The polls in Iowa are beginning to show that.