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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump is Mitt Romney redux

For those of us who live in the east, our attention the last few days has been focused on how big the “Snowzilla” blizzard of 2016 would end up being. As of press time, it’s in the top five all time in the Washington DC area. It’s a huge event…

Listening to all the blathering over climate change this century, one wishes our front yards really did look more like Miami Beach right now and less a scene out of Dr. Zhivago. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Trump RomneySnow has a way of taking our focus off of politics, if only for a few moments. If that’s the case you might have missed Friday’s version of National Review, which was devoted almost entirely to making the case against Donald Trump.

While it’s not possible to review all the essays, the one from conservative writer Yuval Levin makes some pertinent points from the conservative perspective. “Conservatives incline to take the weakness of our elite institutions as an argument for recovering constitutional principles — and so for limiting the power of those institutions, reversing their centralization of authority, and recovering a vision of American life in which the chief purpose of the federal government is protective and not managerial.

“Trump, on the contrary, offers himself as the alternative to our weak and foolish leaders, the guarantee of American superiority, and the cure for all that ails our society; and when pressed about how he will succeed in these ways, his answer pretty much amounts to: ‘great management.’”

In saying so, Levin breaks down the critical conflict in the 2016 Republican race. Do we want a principled leader who will defer to the brilliance of the Constitution or a would-be manager/dictator who will follow up Obama from a different perspective?

Trump isn’t the well mannered pol that Mitt Romney was, but his argument for why people should choose him isn’t all that different from the Massachusetts establishment candidate. Romney ran as a successful businessman who turned to politics as a form of selfless service and promised to correct all the problems inflicted on America by a bunch of Democrats who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag. Sound familiar?

Let’s not forget, Trump endorsed Romney early on in the last nominating cycle (early February 2012 after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina). He could’ve chosen Santorum or Gingrich as the “conservative not-Romney” choice at that time, but didn’t.

Trump uses his opposition to the Iraq War and free trade as examples of how he’d break with Republican leaders past and present. But notice how he rarely makes the argument government should be smaller as opposed to just inefficient. Instead, he calls people “stupid” and rails against incompetence.

The main difference between Trump and Romney is The Donald lumps in the Republican leadership as the source of the problem. It’s true… and music to the ears of many.

In this world, “competence” is the main argument. Listening to Donald Trump and his “it’s a mess” main selling point, you grasp his lack of ideology in full view.

Conservative? No. Popular, yes. What do we really need to make “America Great Again,” a manager or someone who will get government out of the “fixing” business?

Take that question with you to the booth (or the caucus) on Election Day.

Motivation and organization are key in Iowa caucuses. Advantage Ted Cruz

One week out from the Iowa caucuses, talk concerns who are gaining, who are falling behind and who might surprise on February 1.

The media discusses the event like it’s a “normal” election horse race. It’s not.

The reason is the caucuses themselves. There’s an aura of mystery surrounding the traditional Iowa voting system, which differs markedly from a primary election. Most of us who have never participated in anything other than one-person, one-vote elections wonder, what’s the difference?

Dave Weigel of the Washington Post helps shatter the myths. “Instead of heading to one of Iowa's 1,681 precincts and pulling a lever, voters will head to a caucus site that may toss several precincts together. Instead of seeing their votes tabulated by the state elections office, they'll see them reported to the state parties, which will in turn report them to the news media.

“Here's where the parties diverge. A Republican caucus is odd but simple, a peanut-butter-and-tuna-fish combination of a normal election and a PTA meeting. At nearly 900 caucus sites, voters will gather, then hear speeches from whichever campaigns have precinct captains assigned to whip up votes.(Presidential candidates can show up and do this for themselves, in one of the most intimate examples of democracy in all of politics.) Then they'll write their choices on paper and hand them in.”

Hope everyone has legible handwriting, though “Ted Cruz” doesn’t look much like “Donald Trump.”

Motivation and organization plays a big role here. Your voters have to be inspired to come to the caucus, sit through several speeches and then stay around to vote. And if you’re a candidate, your campaign has to have laid the groundwork necessary to seek out people to make those speeches and whip those votes.

Donald Trump would seem to have the advantage when it comes to drawing crowds to rallies. Ted Cruz appears to have the organizational edge. Which factor will ultimately prevail?

Unlike in a primary state like New Hampshire, opinion polls offer only suggestions on what the end result of the caucuses will be. In 2012, for example, nine days out from the Iowa Republican caucuses, eventual winner Rick Santorum was polling in sixth place at 7.7 percent according to the Real Clear Politics average.

He ended up winning with 24.6 percent of the vote (according to the Des Moines Register). By contrast, Ron Paul was polling at 22.3 percent nine days out and ended up with 21.5 percent.

In other words, the polls were correct in forecasting Paul’s share but way off for Santorum.

This year, Donald Trump’s lead is 2.5 points in the Real Clear Politics average in Iowa. One would guess he’ll get somewhere around his 28.7 percent total if only motivation is taken into account, but organization – or lack thereof – could make a big difference here.

With organization on his side, you would probably expect Ted Cruz to at least match his polling total (26.2 percent). His voters are at least as motivated as Trump’s and Cruz has put in the time to find quality people to represent him at the caucuses.

Whereas Trump could very well underperform his poll numbers, Cruz could easily over perform his survey support.

And then there’s the late ad barrage that Marco Rubio’s campaign is launching. Could that have any influence? I doubt it.

A lot will be determined by Thursday night’s Fox debate in Des Moines. Those who are still undecided after all these months will have one last good look at the candidates to see who they might favor. If they like what they see, they’ll make up their minds. If they don’t, they might stay home.

The people of Iowa are smart and discerning. If history is an indicator, they prefer solid social conservatives with an anti-establishment bent. Forget the polls – Ted Cruz would still look to be the most favorable candidate in Iowa.

One week from today, we’ll know for sure.

Yet another sign the establishment prefers Donald Trump

Last week Iowa’s big government-loving establishment Gov. Terry Branstad all-but endorsed Donald Trump in the upcoming caucuses by suggesting Ted Cruz should lose. He didn’t offer a candidate he was for, but indicated Cruz would be bad for his state.

Now it appears Republican senators are employing the same kinds of scare tactics against Ted and in favor of Trump.

Alexander Bolton of The Hill reports, “With the Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the 2016 presidential primary, just over a week away, some Senate Republicans are beginning to talk up Trump’s candidacy.

 

“’The bottom line is many people around here think Cruz would be worse for our chances of keeping the majority,’ said a senior Republican senator, who requested anonymity to speak about Cruz frankly. ‘He’s so polarizing, it could be a wipeout.’”

The same unnamed senator said Donald Trump isn’t mean -- but Cruz is.

Maybe they should ask Megyn Kelly for her opinion on that issue.

This line of argument isn’t new and is exactly the reason why no one can stand Republican senators, including their own voters. They know about as much about electability as they do about stopping Obama and advancing the conservative agenda. Basically, zero.

These guys beg for conservative votes every six years and then bash the base when it looks like the people prefer someone other than their anointed candidate.

One can only hope they’ll keep talking. It just shores up Cruz’s argument that he’s the one the establishment fears the most.

Santorum likely out after Iowa

Finally today, there are signs that a past Iowa winner who hasn’t caught on at all this year is about to hang it up.

Sarah Westwood of the Washington Examiner reports, “Rick Santorum said he will reconsider his presidential campaign if he fails to finish ‘ahead of the pack that's sitting in single digits right now’ in the Iowa caucuses next week.

“’If the people of Iowa put their faith in me, we're going to continue on,’ Santorum told the Des Moines Register Sunday.”

But if they don’t, Santorum said he would sit down and see if there’s a path to “get there.”

I’m not sure what further evidence Santorum is looking for. Sure, he surged near the caucuses in 2012, but the factors were completely different back then. There isn’t a leading establishment candidate this time, though Trump is emerging in that category.

Even if Trump takes over the establishment lane, conservatives still have better choices.

Santorum will need some humility, quickly. It just might be supplied a week from today.

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