We are now moving into that period of time when the early state polls really start to matter. Both Iowa and New Hampshire will happen in the next thirty days. A new poll out today on New Hampshire shows Donald Trump remaining in a wildly dominant position in New Hampshire, at 32%. But the runners up are just as important. Cruz is at 14%, a good showing for him considering his politics are not terribly well-suited to New Hampshire. But John Kasich is also at 14%. And that strikes me as a big deal. (Rubio is close at 12%.)
As I noted several times recently, I see very little reason not now to see Donald Trump as the favorite to win the GOP nomination. But the GOP now finds itself in the weird and not good position of seeing Ted Cruz – in many ways hated by establishment Republicans every bit as much as Trump – shaping up as the alternative to Trump.
In the same poll, when you look at people’s second choice, Cruz is in a dominant position with 21% calling him their second choice compared to Trump (8%), Rubio (11%) and Christie (12%).
It’s getting harder and harder to see how this isn’t a Trump-Cruz race, which is a nightmare for Republicans and a dream for Democrats. But establishment, non-hard-right Republicans have to coalesce around someone. Or at least try. And it’s starting to seem at least possible that that person – improbably – could be John Kasich. Equally notable is that that position looks less and less likely for Marco Rubio. And that again is bad, bad news for Republicans since of all the candidates in the race he seems like the one who could run the strongest race against Hillary Clinton (or maybe Bernie Sanders? Those polls are tightening too).
Meanwhile, two polls over the weekend show Cruz and Trump basically neck and neck in Iowa. NBC/WSJ shows Cruz with a 4 point margin. Quinnipiac shows Trump up by 2 points – Trump 31, Cruz 29. There Rubio is far back in third with 15%.
Again, in my mind the big thing to see here is that the the door is closing on Rubio being able to emerge as the “establishment” candidate who goes head to head with Donald Trump and beats him. At the moment, he’s reduced to getting in fights with Chris Christie, another no-chancer. If that’s true, it looks like Republicans will nominate one of two candidates who most Republicans doubt can win a national election: Trump or Cruz. I’ve seen too many of these shows to tell you that this is how it will be. It could change. But these are the dynamics to look at. See if they hold up in polls that come out over the next few weeks.
One other point to mention. Note what I said about Cruz being far out ahead as people’s second choice in New Hampshire. If that number is solid and representative, it suggests that he could gain a lot and maybe a lot more than Trump as people get knocked out by bad showings in Iowa.