In the aftermath of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump, conventional wisdom says that Trump is back on top in the first primary state of Iowa after Ted Cruz jumped ahead in the state polls a few weeks ago.
Charles Krauthammer said, “I think this could be decisive… not because it helps Trump or it brings him additional support, but that it hurts Cruz. The one thing standing between Trump and success in Iowa is Cruz. He attributes his success in becoming a Senator to her. She now turns against him.” Mark Halperin of Bloomberg said on MSNBC, “I think at this point, if you said, of all the people in the race, who’s the one most likely to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, today you’d have to say it’s Trump.” John McCain’s top 2008 strategist, Steve Schmidt, says, “If you were betting on who’s going to be the Republican nominee today, you’d put your money on either Trump or Cruz… And with the odds favoring Trump.”
But Ted Cruz can still win Iowa.
The current RealClearPolitics poll average has Trump in the lead with 32.2 percent of the vote, followed by Cruz at 27 percent. The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll had Cruz leading at 25 percent, and Trump at 22 percent; the Gravis poll has Trump leading with 34 percent and Cruz at 28 percent. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, has Trump leading with 28 percent and Cruz in second with 26 percent.
In other words, we’ve got a dead heat.
Which means it all comes down to turnout.
On February 1, at 900 sites around the state, supporters for particular candidates will make the case for their candidates. Then, ballots are privately marked and counted, at which point local caucus organizers send the information to the state party via smartphone app. Caucus organizers are not appointed by the state; they’re set up by the state parties and run by volunteers. Delegates, as ABC News reports, are not bound by the votes here – they’re “determine[d]… at county and district conventions later in the year.” But for all intents and purposes, caucuses simply require you to sit for a longer period of time and then vote. That means coming out, often in nasty weather, for caucus voters, and volunteering to count ballots and spend hours doing so for organizers. This means that the most motivated voters win.
And nobody is more motivated than the Ted Cruz crowd. Trump’s support comes from heretofore alienated subgroups, many of whom haven’t voted before. They have no history of high voter turnout. Cruz’s support comes from the traditional base in Iowa: Evangelicals and conservatives. Cruz has support from Evangelical pastors in every single Iowa precinct. He’s done the ground work. Trump hasn’t.
Beyond that, Trump has the highest negatives of any candidate in Iowa outside of Jeb Bush – he’s at 54 percent positive and 45 percent negative. Cruz, by contrast, has the highest positives: 76 percent to 19 percent. This means that Cruz is everybody’s second pick – so as the field narrows, Cruz should gain.
In short, Donald Trump must turn out every Donald Trump backer to beat Cruz. Cruz must only turn out a solid segment of his base, and then hope that the other candidates who have been flagging down the stretch continue to do so, with their voters bleeding over to him. There’s a reason that just days ago, fivethirtyeight.com forecast Cruz with a 51 percent chance of winning Iowa, with Trump at just 29 percent – although fivethirtyeight.com also estimates Trump with a 43 percent to 42 percent advantage when endorsements are taken out of the game.
Ted Cruz must continue to pound away the message that Trump isn’t conservative enough and that he reflects “New York values” in order to win Iowa. Palin’s endorsement of Trump makes that more difficult, but the establishment’s sudden move to back Trump against Cruz makes Cruz’s job easier. Yet days ago, establishment mainstay Bob Dole – a Jeb! endorser – said that Cruz would suffer “cataclysmic” losses while Trump would do better. Why? “I question his allegiance to the party,” said Dole. “I don’t know how often you’ve heard him say the word ‘Republican’ – not very often.” Dole complained that Cruz says “conservative” instead and called Cruz an “extremist.” He then echoed Trump’s argument: “I don’t know how he’s going to deal with Congress. Nobody likes him.”
In Iowa, that’s a pitch for Cruz. As it should be.
The Cruz campaign is organized and determined. They have a real advantage in Iowa. But they’ll have to keep their noses to the grindstone.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.