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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Ahead of Donald-less debate, Ted Cruz dominating Iowa ground game

Donald who?

For months people from all across the ideological spectrum have pondered how it could possibly be Donald Trump has managed to completely dominate the discussion in American politics the way he has. We don’t know the ending of the story, of course, but it seems like political scientists will be busy for years examining how a celebrity political neophyte was so consistently able to shape the race with well-timed announcements Ted Cruzand unorthodox demands.

If he somehow ends up winning, I have a feeling many textbooks will need to be rewritten.

Certainly one of the future episodes of study will be Trump’s decision to skip tonight’s final presidential primary debate prior to the Iowa caucuses because of a personal feud with the network host and its moderators. Reaction has been varied, ranging from outright applause, to the ignorant (courtesy of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews), to the more predictable condemnation of the action as a big mistake.

It’s been shown time and again that Trump’s most ardent supporters will walk through fire for him. But I can’t help but think this last action will give some segment of them pause.

We’ll find out one way or another on Monday night.

Who’s winning the ground game?

Since no one can control what Donald Trump says or does, it’s probably more fruitful for the candidates to concentrate on the matters more within their grasp.

Managing the ground game is one of those, and Ted Cruz’s engine is apparently running on all cylinders. Bob Eschliman of Charisma News reports, “There are 1,682 voting precincts in Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claims he has 1,573 of them covered for Monday night's first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican Caucus…

“According to the Cruz camp, they have named a county chair for each of Iowa's 99 counties, and recruited 247 ‘notable activists, pastors and lawmakers.’ These include U.S. Rep. Steve King, The Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats, nationally syndicated talk radio host Steve Deace and former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz.”

In addition, Cruz can call on an army of 12,000 volunteers to make 20,000 phone calls and knock on 2000 doors every day.

The campaign has also arranged for transportation to the caucuses and childcare if needed. No stone is being left unturned, including honoring Ted’s pledge to visit all 99 counties in Iowa before voting begins.

Meanwhile, Steve Berman of The Resurgent sheds light on Donald Trump’s efforts. “Trump can pull together a rally in practically any size arena and fill it, and bring staffers to the event with very little notice. All he needs is an airport. Notably, his GOTV online caucus-finder is smooth, easy to use, and very competently done. None of the other candidates have this feature (they should).

“It’s yet to be seen how well this hands-off approach works, or if Trump has an out-of-state effort to move potential supporters on caucus day. But nothing works better than a knock on the door.”  

Berman adds that Marco Rubio plans to spend the remaining time between now and Caucus Night in Iowa, but Ben Carson is a virtual no-show.

Carson’s campaign exhibits all the signs of being finished. Considering he once led in Iowa, it’s a sad state of affairs for the retired neurosurgeon.

As I’ve reported of late, the Cruz campaign appears to be doing all the right things to get supporters to their caucuses. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests he’ll defy the polls and win in Iowa. There are some aspects of traditional campaigning that can’t be overcome by celebrity or big glitzy events.

This year puts that theory to the test.

Trump violates key tenet to know thine enemy

In any presidential nominating cycle – at least for the Republicans – foreign policy and national security play a crucial role. Conservatives like candidates who are solid on military matters and able to project a strong image of American power to the world.

Beyond these prerequisites, it’s the use of that power that divides the candidates.

Taking a look at the recent past as an example, Ron Paul was periodically booed during the primary debates in 2008 and 2012 because he advocated for complete non-intervention, arguing American troops would be better off bolstering our southern border instead of fighting unwinnable wars overseas.

Meanwhile, in this year’s field, his son Rand has advanced similar arguments with similar results, though few would label Rand an isolationist like his father (in fairness, Ron Paul was really a non-interventionist, not an isolationist).

Ted Cruz offers a Reagan-like vision of foreign policy, talking tough on battling terrorists while stopping short of calling for the American military to impose regime change in the Middle East.

The neoconservative faction – Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina – proposes returning to the philosophies of the George W. Bush years in trying to bring peace to the world’s hot spots by ousting dictators and attempting to build democratic institutions (and instill western values) in countries that have never had them.

One problem…as nice as this scenario sounds, it doesn’t seem to work in practice.

To the extent I can tell, Ben Carson falls somewhere in between the two viewpoints.

Finally, there’s Donald Trump. Trump’s foreign policy/national security views consist of saying he’ll build the strongest military in the world, bomb the s—t out of ISIS and make America the greatest nation on earth again by the sheer weight of his presence when confronting world leaders.

The Donald reiterates time and again his opposition to the Iraq War and that it’s a “mess” over there because of it. Also, he would be happy to let the Russians and Syrians take care of ISIS if they’ll do it. Trump says electing him will inspire fear in America’s enemies in part by going after terrorists’ families.

Along the way, he’s demonstrated an astonishing ignorance of who those adversaries really are.

Foreign affairs expert Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review says Trump doesn’t have a clue about America’s enemies. “The man who would be commander-in-chief was unfamiliar with Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader who has been murdering Americans for over 30 years; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy who has quite notoriously commanded al-Qaeda since the network’s leader was killed by U.S. forces in 2011; and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS) and a jihadist so globally notorious that many teenagers are aware of him…

“Donald Trump does not have a clue about any of this, careening wildly from vows to stay out of the fray (leaving it in Vladimir Putin’s nefarious hands) to promises that the earth will be indiscriminately scorched. The threat against us has metastasized in our eighth year under a president who quite consciously appeases the enemy. But the remedy is not a president oblivious of the enemy.”

It should be noted McCarthy has endorsed Ted Cruz, so we know from the outset he’s no typical Republican neocon.

Naturally, any candidate who comes from outside the political system will appear to be less experienced in terms of foreign affairs – probably even more so than a governor. But there’s a difference between being less experienced and being downright uninformed.

Trump’s simplistic and bombastic talk about foreign policy probably wouldn’t differ much from what you’d hear from the good ‘ol boys down at the local bar…after they’ve already had a few beers.

This isn’t to say Trump isn’t intelligent or is incapable of learning about the threats. But his level of knowledge right now should be fair game when assessing qualifications to be Commander in Chief.

Having general philosophies about America’s role in the world is one thing – not having a full plate of knowledge on our enemies is quite another.

More than a few have speculated Trump’s skipping tonight’s debate because he’s afraid of being asked to supply too many details of his plans should he be elected president. Thus far he’s avoided specifics like the plague. It can’t go on much longer…or at least you would think that would be the case.

Trump schedules competing event to show up his competitors

Finally today, Donald Trump announced yesterday afternoon that he will be in Des Moines tonight after all…he just won’t be on the debate stage with his fellow candidates.

Neetzan Zimmerman of The Hill reports, “The Republican front-runner, who said Tuesday he would skip the debate over a feud with the network, sent out special invitations Wednesday afternoon to a Donald J. Trump Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations. The event will be held at 9 p.m. EST at Drake University in Des Moines at the same time his rivals will take the main debate stage just three miles away.”

Notice how Trump bills it as a charity event. A man of his stature and means has the ability to hold charity events anytime, anywhere. In this instance he just wants to make himself look like a philanthropist instead of an idiot who’s blowing off arguably the most important event of the campaign because he’s mad at Fox News.

It might already be too late for that, but at least the RNC isn’t planning to show him up.

Harper Neidig of The Hill reports, “If Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump skips Thursday's GOP debate moderated by Fox News, there won't be an empty lectern for him on the stage.

“Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer…said it's an ‘unwritten rule’ that an empty podium would not be shown.”

Lectern or not, everyone will know Trump’s not there and he’ll go out of his way to convince voters that being three miles away is just as important.

I don’t think he’s fooling many people in the effort.

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