The Republican presidential primary has been like a long distance bicycle race with a single rider leading the field while fending off occasional challenges by others who break from the trailing pack. The leader, of course has been Donald Trump, but try not to picture him in Lycra. (Oops. Sorry.)
In the summer, ever so briefly, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and then Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made runs at Trump. In the weeks following Trump’s announcement that he would run, Bush surged to his high water mark of 17.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics polling average, only to fall off rapidly in July. Walker made a push later that month, coming within six points of Trump before tumbling down to single digits and an early exit from the race.
In November, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson did what no other candidate had been able to do, briefly passing Trump in the polling average. Three days later, he was in second place again, and within a month, he was polling at less than half of Trump’s total.
As Carson was plunging, two more contenders broke from the peloton: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Rubio flagged quickly, dropping into third place. But Cruz began gaining on Trump, both nationally and in the all-important early voting state of Iowa.
A handful of recent polls, though, suggest that both nationally and in Iowa, Cruz may have peaked –like other would-be challengers to the frontrunner, Cruz just couldn’t maintain the pace.
According to RCP, Cruz’s polling average topped out at 20.7 in early January, and has been on a downward trajectory since, sitting at 18.8 as of Sunday.
More importantly for Cruz though is that with eight days remaining before the Iowa caucuses, the three most recent major polls in Iowa have all shown him trailing Trump. The Texas senator had briefly taken the lead in Iowa in December and early January. There was speculation that a victory there would provide momentum he could carry into New Hampshire and South Carolina, both states where Trump has a prohibitively large advantage.
However, on Saturday, Fox News released a poll showing that Trump had surged to a 34-23 lead over Cruz in Iowa, a significant change from just two weeks prior when Cruz was ahead of Trump 27-23 in the same poll.
Then on Sunday, CBS News released its latest finding, which showed Trump leading Cruz 39-34. Again, this was a major swing from the last time the same poll was in the field, in December. At that point in the race, Trump trailed 40-31.
The two releases came just days after CNN released its most recent Iowa result, which showed the billionaire up by a comfortable 11-point margin in the Hawkeye State.
Trump is plainly feeling very confident. At a rally in Iowa Saturday, he bragged that his supporters are so loyal that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
Considering all of the invective toward women, minorities, immigrants, and others that has come out of Trump’s mouth during his campaign, his assessment of his base is probably dead on.
When CBS asked Iowa voters who said they supported Trump if they would even consider voting for someone else, 67 percent said no. By comparison, only 33 percent of Cruz supporters said the same.
If Cruz really is on his way down, Trump’s not above giving him a few extra kicks to send him on his way.
In a phone interview with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday, Trump said, “Ted cannot get along with people. The biggest problem he has is he’s a nasty guy and nobody likes him. Not one Republican senator – he works with them every day – not one Republican senator has endorsed him.”