Key GOP party leaders are assisting Donald Trump by denouncing his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, just before the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1.
Recent developments show high stakes, intrigues, and back-stabbing as Trump seems to be winning one of the most remarkable momentum turnarounds in recent political history.
A new poll by Fox News Jan. 24 shows Trump with an 11 point lead in Iowa over Cruz, who was ahead by four points in the same poll just two weeks ago. A CBS/YouGov poll of likely voters shows Trump with a five-point lead.
Cruz opponents, some using harsh words far beyond normal criticism, include six-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole of Kansas, senior Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, New York Congressman Peter King, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley made a surprise endorsement Jan. 23 that generated coverage by a London newspaper half a world away under the headline Legendary Iowa senator speaks at Trump rally.
That followed former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s mid-week endorsement of Trump. as shown below (credit: Alex Hanson). Even a pro-Cruz SuperPAC fund leader, longtime GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, described the Palin endorsement as a plus for Trump.
Perhaps most remarkable, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (shown below in an official photo) trashed Cruz last week even though Trump had shocked conventional Washington last summer by questioning McCain’s Vietnam War record.
Even so, two major conservative opinion journals, the National Review with a cover shown at left and the Weekly Standard, are denouncing Trump in their current cover stories. Each assembled numerous pundits unified in opposition to a Trump nomination.
As recently as Jan. 12, the Republican Party’s national elected hierarchy attacked their party’s frontrunner Trump by orchestrating South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s sneers against Trump’s “siren call of the angriest voices” during her nationally televised response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
This was in the same spirit as the party leadership’s secret meeting in December to hold, in effect, a “Stop Trump” strategy session. Those attending included campaign representatives of GOP contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, a clearly unfair advantage for them.
That was then.
These days? GOP Party Chairman Reince Priebus, who vetted Haley’s veiled attack on Trump Jan. 12 (as did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan), responded to the National Review by dismissing the magazine from co-moderating the next GOP debate this week because of its coverage.
Nothing remotely like these kinds of gyrations have occurred in modern presidential politics, at least since the 1964 GOP internal jousting between the Goldwater and Rockefeller factions.
Today’s column is the second in our series on the GOP nomination contest, where Trump and Cruz are the current frontrunners in both Iowa and nationally. Our overview set the stage with, Cruz Campaign Peaks Early, Faces Brutal Counterattacks, arguing that Cruz’s campaign is doomed if he fails to win Iowa, given his advantages there.
What’s going on?
Many of these new Trump endorsers and Cruz critics see their party’s viability endangered if Cruz wins the nomination.
Yet Trump’s opponents see risk also. “If Trump were the nominee,” conservative syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post Jan. 7, “the GOP would cease to be.”