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Good News From Iowa, Bad News From The Republican National Convention

A year ago few would have predicted that the battle for the Republican nomination for President would come down to outsiders Senator Ted Cruz and billionaire entertainer Donald Trump. And that the main issue in the campaign would be which one of the outsiders was most likely to make good on promises to tear down the Washington establishment. 

Back in January of 2015 yet-to-be announced candidate Jeb Bush was the “frontrunner” and Jeb’s touchy-feely ryan-trump-bush-cruz“right to rise” through more government intervention in the economy was the preferred agenda of the Republican establishment who were intent on forcing another content-free candidate and campaign down the throats of rebellious grassroots conservatives. 

But those who think that the Republican establishment has thrown-in the towel and has become resigned to a Cruz or Trump victory don’t know who they are dealing with and are fooling themselves if they think the battle for control of the Republican Party and its agenda is over and populist or conservative outsiders have won. 

Today’s New York Times reports that “party elders” (meaning lobbyists, donors and elected officials) had hoped that one of their preferred candidates, such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, would be rising above the others by now and becoming a contender to rally around. 

Instead, they have a muddled field of battered mainstream candidates: Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. 

By The New York Times’ reckoning the establishment candidates have spent some $35 million fighting each other for what amounts to third place in the contest, with no sign of letting up. 

The New York Times described the state of play between the establishment candidates this way:

A super PAC supporting Mr. Bush is targeting Mr. Rubio on the air in Iowa and New Hampshire for reversing himself on an immigration overhaul. And late last week, the same group began broadcasting a commercial in New Hampshire assailing Mr. Kasich for expanding health care in Ohio under the Affordable Care Act. 

A super PAC supporting Mr. Kasich quickly swiped back at Mr. Bush, mocking him for a “campaign that sunk like a rock.” At the same time, a super PAC backing Mr. Rubio continues to blast Mr. Christie, reminding Republicans of the scandal involving the governor’s aides over the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge, and of his embrace of President Obama in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. 

That prompted Mr. Christie to lash out at Mr. Rubio on Sunday during a town-hall-style meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. The governor ridiculed Mr. Rubio at length for his incomplete attendance record in the Senate and noted that some of the ads aired on Mr. Rubio’s behalf were funded by a group that did not have to disclose its donors. 

The cumulative effect of all the ads and corresponding attacks through harshly worded mailings, say NYT writers Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, has been to stunt the growth of the so-called establishment candidates, keeping them clustered together in New Hampshire polls while Mr. Trump soars. 

“What’s wrong with that?” conservatives and populists might ask. 

Nothing.  

Being first is always better than being third or fourth, but as the Republican establishment has made clear, they are not giving up simply because they lose a few elections. 

Despite the many reports that Trump would be acceptable to the GOP’s Capitol Hill establishment, the party’s donor class is already envisioning another path to force one of their own on the restive conservative grassroots of the GOP at the Republican convention this summer, months after the primary elections have concluded. 

Burns and Martin quote Earle I. Mack, a real estate developer and former ambassador to Finland under George W. Bush, as saying the heavy bloodletting in the Republican race might prevent any candidate from clinching the nomination. In that case, he said, Republicans should turn to Speaker Paul D. Ryan. 

“In these horrible crossfires, with everybody shooting each other down, it would be good to nominate somebody uncontroversial, who could appeal to a broader electorate,” Mr. Mack said. 

Of course after the sellout of the 2015 Omnibus, Speaker Ryan is only “uncontroversial” to establishment figures like former Ambassador Mack, but conservatives and populists should take this as a warning that the Republican establishment isn’t going to go quietly and that they aren’t going to let a little thing like losing a few elections stop them from forcing their presidential nominee on a rebellious grassroots.

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