It once seemed unthinkable, but Donald Trump may be positioning himself to sweep the early GOP primaries if he manages to prevail over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the all-important Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.
As Trump said in Cedar Falls on Tuesday, “If we win Iowa, I think we’re going to run the table.”
Trump has surged ahead of Cruz in Iowa and now leads him by 11 percentage points with less than two weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, at least according to a new CNN/ORC International poll. The survey contradicts earlier polls showing Cruz ahead by a few points, including one highly regarded survey by The Des Moines Register.
This latest poll has Trump ahead of Cruz, 37 percent to 26 percent, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio the next closest contender with 14 percent of the vote. The survey shows that Iowa Republicans think Trump could best handle the economy, illegal immigration and foreign policy. However, Cruz has the upper hand on questions about who would best represent voters’ values and who would be strongest on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
The new survey also contains some bad news for Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who trails democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Iowa, 51 percent to 43 percent, with former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley bringing up the rear with 4 percent.
Trump and Cruz are locked in mortal combat in Iowa, the one state in the early presidential going that offers the Texas senator – a favorite of the Tea Party, conservative ideologues and evangelical Christians -- a springboard to victory in South Carolina and many of the other early Southern states.
However, a loss to Trump in Iowa, where until now Cruz appeared to be leading the pack, would be immediately followed by a loss New Hampshire among more moderate Republicans. That would provide Trump with a tremendous opening to power through the South on Super Tuesday, March 1, when a dozen delegate-rich states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia are up for grabs.
Unless Cruz or another contender can find a way to block Trump, the GOP frontrunner could lock up the nomination by early spring.
Trump campaigned with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in Oklahoma on Wednesday and has strategically targeted Southern states since last summer, when he drew one of his largest crowds of his campaign at an Alabama football stadium. As The Washington Post reported at the time, Trump walked on stage to “Sweet Home Alabama” as he tried to demonstrate that his candidacy “has broad and lasting appeal across every region of the country.”
At the same time, Cruz will likely do well in the Bible Belt and is far more convincing discussing his religious convictions and conservative views on abortion, gay-marriage and other social issues than the New York businessman who mangled his reference to “Second Corinthians,” calling it “Two Corinthians” during his recent speech at Liberty University.
Until recently, Cruz has carefully avoided confrontations with Trump and instead picked his fights with some of his nearest rivals, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. But the odd “bromance” between Trump and Cruz blew up recently. Now Trump is calling Cruz a “nasty” guy who can’t get along with anyone in the Senate while Cruz is portraying Trump as a phony conservative with liberal “New York values.”
As the Iowa campaign heats up, the two men are vying for the mantle of true political “outsider” and bane of the Republicans establishment. Cruz has described Trump as “someone who’s a dealmaker, who will capitulate to the Washington establishment,” according to The New York Times, while Trump is portraying Cruz as a conservative fringe candidate who would never be able to get anything accomplished in the White House with so many enemies on Capitol Hill.
Or as former GOP Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said on MSNBC on Thursday, “I think there’s a sense perhaps that Trump is more pragmatic at some level – but who knows?”