In Iowa, is Cruz the front-runner, or Trump’s chump?

You look marvelous.

Good morning Austin:

 

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If it’s Thursday, this must be Storm Lake, Iowa. And Pocahontas, Humboldt, Webster and Goldfield.

It’s Day Four of Ted Cruz’s six-day, 28-county tour of Iowa in advance of the Feb. 1 caucuses.

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My time in Iowa has left me presumably better informed, but ultimately less certain about the likely outcome here. Less certain, because while everything seems to be breaking Cruz’s way, it is impossible to discount the possibility that Trump will trump.

From my story in today’s Statesman.

Both Cruz and Trump promise to upend the old order, and Cruz has taken great pains to align himself with Trump’s break-the-china spirit. But while Trump appears to operate from his gut and on the fly, and his draw and promise is that you never know what he’s going to do next, the strength of Cruz’s appeal is that he says exactly what he’s going to do, and he then does it.

Trump enters 2016 still the master of all the surveys — with a commanding lead in national polls, and Cruz a distant second. The sole exception is in Iowa, the nation’s first presidential nominating contest, where most polls place Cruz first, ahead of Trump.

We’re in uncharted territory because of Trump,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader conservative group. A kingpin among Iowa evangelicals, Vander Plaats backed caucus winners Santorum in 2012 and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008. He endorsed Cruz late last year, and he began traveling with the Cruz entourage on Tuesday along with U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a right-wing icon and ardent Cruz backer.

“In a lot of ways Trump has been fantastic for the campaign because he’s blown up the establishment lane. He’s blown up politics as usual. He’s blown up what I call the mainstream media and all their predictions,” Vander Plaats said. “And, quite frankly, I think he’s provided a lot of cover for Ted Cruz. It used to be Cruz is so far out there, now he’s pretty moderate.

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Cruz seemed to be closing the deal Monday with Judy Schapman at Charlie’s Steakhouse in her hometown of Carroll. But, she said of her spouse, “Tom really likes Trump, he does, and we know quite a few people that do.”

True enough, said Tom, her husband, a retired funeral director standing close by: “Anything we can do to turn everything upside down I’m for.”

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Santorum and Huckabee won Iowa both based on late surges that made them the premier choice of evangelical voters. But neither had the money or organization to fully exploit their wins in Iowa.

“With Santorum it was, he wins the Iowa caucuses and then what,” said Tom Berkheimer, a chemist from Johnston who was at Cruz’s town hall meeting Monday night in Winterset, at which Cruz was interviewed on stage by Dr. James Dobson, the national evangelical leader who has given Cruz his blessing.

The difference with Cruz, Berkheimer said, is that, “he’s got the organization and he’s got the money” to go all the way.

And, said Berkheimer’s wife, Melissa, “Trump has been blocking for Cruz,” knocking establishment candidates to the side and clearing the field.

“I love what Trump has done to tear down the GOP, and Cruz can now rebuild it to new heights,” she said.

Right now, Cruz ought to win, complicating Trump’s trajectory. But there is also a possibility that Trumpmania will burst through here and make him hard, maybe even impossible, to stop.

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From Trump to the Washington Post on Tuesday:

“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem. It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”

 Trump added: “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it, and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”

From Jennifer Mercieca,professor of communication at Texas A&M University, on The Rhetorical Brilliance of Trump the Demagogue:

Trump will also employ a rhetorical technique called paralipsis to make claims that he can’t be held accountable for. In paralipsis, the speaker will introduce a topic or argument by saying he doesn’t want to talk about it; in truth, he or she wants to emphasize that very thing.

For example, in New Hampshire on December 1, he said, “But all of [the other candidates] are weak and they’re just weak – I think that they are weak generally if you want to know the truth. But I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to…I don’t want to have any controversies, no controversies, is that okay? So I refuse to say that they are weak generally, okay?”

Cruz’s initial response was light.

Then yesterday, at a gaggle with reporters, a more sober response:

As a legal matter, the question is quite straightforward and settled law. The child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen. People will continue to make political noise about it, but as a legal matter it’s quite straightforward.

But there’s the rub. Trump is a “political noise” machine. Cruz can blame the media for letting Trump dictate the day’s news, but the fact is, he can.

Last night on Fox, it was no less than Geraldo Rivera saying that Trump may have Cruz in a bind on this.

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Switching to MSNBC, same story.

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Ay yi yi.

OK. So maybe, even if it is clearly not his intention, Trump really is doing Cruz a favor by getting this out now, early, so Cruz can effectively dispose of it.

But probably not.

No definitely not.

Is Cruz handling Trump effectively?

And so, one big unknown here is whether it is a correct reading of this political moment to locate Trump’s support in his celebrity and to extrapolate from that the notion that it may prove fleeting on its own. As Tyler puts it: “The question is, are fans supporters? I don’t know.”

From Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times:

ONAWA, Iowa — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas insists he does not want to be seen as the front-runner in the Iowa caucuses. “The only way I know how to run is as an underdog,” he said here after a speech on Tuesday, waving off any Joe Namath-style guarantee of victory.

But try as he might to hold down expectations, Mr. Cruz has plainly become the candidate to beat in the caucuses. Barring new and damaging revelations, many Iowa Republicans now say the only thing standing between him and a victory on Feb. 1 is a groundswell of first-time or infrequent voters turning out for Donald J. Trump, of the sort that materialized for Barack Obama in 2008.

Cruz’s six days in Iowa ends Saturday. Trump will be here for one day – Saturday – and hold two rallies. Cruz’s crowds have been consistent and impressive. But, will Trump in a day draw as many or more people than Cruz  has in a week? I don’t know.

Cruz’s crowds have greeted him warmly, but – unlike the reception he received in Cisco, Texas, in advance of this week in Iowa – with some reserve.

For Sen. Ted Cruz, Tuesday’s teeming event at the Myrtle Wilks Community Center in this tiny town in the Big Country region between Abilene and Fort Worth was both a prayer meeting and a pep rally sendoff for the frenetic last month before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, where he now looks like a front-runner.

The passion in Cisco was close to a 10. Almost every applause line lifted the crowd from its seats. Those same lines – and they are the exact same lines – delivered in Iowa have won applause, but it was often tepid, pro-forma applause. More 5 than 10 on the applause meter.

Maybe it’s the Iowa persona. Maybe Cruz’s campaign is still building toward its emotional climax. Maybe it’s as Matt Schultz, the chair of Cruz’s Iowa campaign, told me Tuesday after what was probably Cruz’s largest event of the trip so far at  Dordt College in Sioux Center, “We haven’t peaked.”

“This is going to be an amazing ride,” Schultz said.

But America really hasn’t seen a candidate like Trump before. That has been an amazing ride.

From my story in today’s paper.

Both Cruz and Trump promise to upend the old order, and Cruz has taken great pains to align himself with Trump’s break-the-china spirit. But while Trump appears to operate from his gut and on the fly, and his draw and promise is that you never know what he’s going to do next, the strength of Cruz’s appeal is that he says exactly what he’s going to do, and he then does it.

My guess is that the Trump crowds Saturday will be ecstatic, will be at a fever pitch. Eleven on a scale of ten.

But, as Rick Tyler put it: The question is, are fans supporters? I don’t know.”

I don’t know either.

How many of those who thrill to Trump aren’t even registered to vote?

As the Times reported, “”state party records indicate only modest gains in the numbers of registered Republicans over recent months, a pattern little different from that in past election years. There are now a little more than 612,000 registered Iowa Republicans. In early August, there were about 609,000.”

As I write this, Rudy Giuliani, who knows the perils of ever being labeled a front-runner as well as anyone, is on Morning Joe talking about Trump.

Is it celebrity or is it real voting. If it’s real voting, Trump will be the nominee.

Here in Iowa, it may be a head-heart thing. For many potential caucus-goers, their head is with Cruz, but their heart is with Trump. They just want to see what would happen if he got in – how great would that be – even if they have a lurking concern that it could all go terribly, horribly wrong.

A few days in Iowa have left me impressed with the state-of-the-art Cruz operation, and open to the possibility that Trump may yet lay waste to their best-laid plans.

 

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