The Latest GOP Civil War Is About Stopping Ted Cruz In Iowa. Or Is That Just A Rubio Sneak Attack?
Something that's been circulating on the fringes of the political right, a new plan to undermine progressive accomplishments-- everything from consumer protections, health care, safe air and water, marriage equality... you name it-- is a crackpot scheme, called Convention of States to rewrite the Constitution. Someone told Marco Rubio about it and he endorsed it yesterday, hoping that can help him win over extremists in Iowa next month. Rubio isn't the first to sign on to this crackpot scheme, which has been embraced by the whole panoply of right-wingers including all the usual suspects like Hate Talk Radio hosts Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and politicians like Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Tom Coburn, Allen West and even the relatively "mainstream" John Kasich. (As soon as Cruz got wind of Rubio using this against him, he had a spokesperson go out and say he's into it too, of course.) I guess no one has mentioned it to Herr Trumpf yet.
Interestingly, it's now part of the GOP establishment's Stop Cruz "movement" in Iowa, where they are desperate to derail him and Trumpf-- who together have the support, according to the latest CBS poll of Iowa Republicans, of 71% of likely caucus participants. The Anybody But Cruz attack was exposed by the Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson at the National Review yesterday, though it sounds like a lot of pointless noise by backers of also-rans from the failed Santorum and Huckabee campaigns, rallying around a Rubio campaign they have equal disdain for. Republicans are weird!
As the Texas senator solidifies his front-runner status with just over a month to go before the February 1 caucuses, a loose network of social-conservative activists has undertaken a quiet effort to defeat him by any means necessary-- even if that means rallying together behind a more electable rival to their own preferred candidates.Of course.
Many supporters of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the last two winners of Iowa’s Republican presidential contests, are grappling with a pair of grim realities as the 2016 caucuses approach. Not only have their candidates been stuck in the low single digits for months in Iowa, but they also view Cruz, the new front-runner, as a phony opportunist who has pandered to Evangelicals for political gain, particularly in Iowa. And they fear that if Cruz notches a win in the Hawkeye State-- especially if he does so by a wide margin, which many Republicans now view as a distinct possibility-- he will emerge as the overwhelming favorite to capture the nomination.
These assumptions have led to a pair of common conclusions: First, that preventing Cruz from winning Iowa is more important than promoting their own preferred candidates. And second, that if the only way to accomplish that is by throwing their support to another candidate, it should be Marco Rubio.
“This is real. There exists this feeling that Senator Cruz is only the most recent Christian conservative presidential candidate, and that the two individuals who preceded him in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses have not been given the respect that they deserve as voices in the Christian conservative movement,” says Jamie Johnson, a former member of the Iowa GOP state central committee who supported Santorum in 2012 and has not thrown his weight behind a candidate after supporting former Texas governor Rick Perry earlier this cycle.
“It is absolutely clear to me that many Huckabee and Santorum supporters are going to swing toward Marco Rubio, because he is a Christian conservative who they feel embodies more of the character traits that Huckabee and Santorum embody,” Johnson says. “That’s what I’m hearing from both camps.”
Why the antagonism toward Cruz from those who largely agree with his message? Some of it can be chalked up to sour grapes; backers of Huckabee and Santorum are angry and disappointed that their candidates have been unable to rekindle the magic of elections past. Yet sudden talk of an anti-Cruz effort has echoed in many recent conversations with Iowa Republicans, some of whom are supporting different candidates and others who are unaffiliated.
...Cruz, says Santorum’s senior adviser Matt Beynon in response to the recording, “makes Mitt Romney and John Kerry look consistent.”
...“Ted Cruz is not your classic social conservative,” says Craig Robinson, the former executive director of the Iowa Republican party. “Ted Cruz is fine with 50 different marriage laws. Ted Cruz is fine with 50 different laws defining when life can begin. Ted Cruz has been extremely fortunate that a guy like Rick Santorum hasn’t been on the debate stage with him, because Santorum would flesh out those differences.”
There’s also the matter of experience, which has likely exacerbated frustrations. Cruz is brand-new to the national stage, having served just three years in the Senate with no legislative accomplishments to his name. Santorum and Huckabee are both prior winners of the Iowa caucuses and runners-up for the Republican nomination. During his House and Senate tenure, Santorum fought for the passage of legislation banning partial-birth abortion and worked to draft a major welfare-reform bill. Huckabee, a celebrated figure in social-conservative circles for two decades, is a past chairman of the National Governors Association and remains the longest-serving governor of Arkansas.
Rubio has ties to Huckabee’s political apparatus: He endorsed Huckabee for president in 2008 and served as his Florida co-chair, a decision he attributed at the time to Huckabee’s standing on social issues. “I want the Republican party to be the party of life and family, and Mike Huckabee is the best candidate on those issues,” Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times in 2008.
The Florida senator lacks any such connection to Santorum, but that has not kept some Santorum supporters from privately voicing their admiration for Rubio. In public, Santorum has sided with Rubio in recent spats with Cruz over immigration and foreign policy, two issues on which Cruz has faced nagging questions about his consistency and authenticity. “There isn’t a substantive policy difference between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz,” Beynon says of the immigration dispute. “The difference is, Marco Rubio is honest about his position. So while Senator Santorum disagrees with both of them, at least Senator Rubio is being honest with the American people about what his position is.”
If they’re serious about it, time is running short for Cruz’s opponents to orchestrate an effort to stop him. Neither Huckabee nor Santorum is expected to make the main debate stage in South Carolina on January 14 or in Iowa on January 28, robbing two of Cruz’s chief antagonists of high-profile platforms from which to attack him directly.
The most obvious way for Huckabee and Santorum to swing the race against Cruz would be to drop out and throw their support behind Rubio. But according to sources familiar with the candidates’ thinking, it’s highly unlikely that either would do so before Caucus Day.