Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rubio wins Iowa

Ted Cruz is my worst case scenario. I disagree with him on virtually every issue: his unwillingness to support any gun safety laws, his conflation of codifying Christianity with religious freedom, his opposition to gay marriage, his dogged attack on the Affordable Care Act, his proposed 10 percent flat tax (which would drive up the debt), his support of returning to the gold standard, his fight against net neutrality...you get the point. Every issue.

But I'm a liberal Democrat, so it's not unusual for me to be opposed to a Republican candidate's platform. What I find particularly distasteful about Cruz is the man himself, specifically his demeanor and his motives. He artfully packages his ideas ("Restore the Constitution) with total disregard for the truth value of his statements and his platform. According to Politifact, 67 percent of his claims are mostly false or outright lies.

While sad, that record is not particularly shocking. Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay once famously stated,  "I would rather be right than president." Cruz would rather be president than right.

His arrogance and egotism is excessive even for a presidential candidate. These are among the many reasons he's so hated by the Republican establishment in D.C. He's masterfully ridden an anitestablishment wave to brand his record -- which lacks legislative accomplishment and is characterized largely by contrarian temper tantrums and government shutdowns -- as something worthy of praise.

I would literally vote for any living human being rather than Cruz. Many Republicans feel the same way. Unfortunately, the most likely alternative is Donald Trump, who is equally hated, particularly among the intellectual branch of the party -- and I'm being generous with the word "intellectual" since this branch includes Glenn Beck and a host of other William F. Buckley wannabes.

On the Republican side, the media portrayal leading up to Iowa was almost entirely framed as Trump vs. Cruz. I can't say I blame these reporters. Who could resist such a narrative? The question was never who was better, simply who was less worse: Which devil do you want to dance with? The story had legs.

Thankfully, the Iowa caucus goers had legs too, and they used them, stepping to the tune of a record-setting turnout. In the final count, Cruz won the day. This morning, major media outlets trumpeted Cruz as the victor in his epic showdown with Trump. My initial reaction was, "Well, shit." Then my memory of recent history kicked in.

The Republican Party has been in disarray after the failures of George W. Bush's presidency. The Republicans haven't fully come to terms with it. They've distanced themselves from Bush to some extent, and the former president's absence at the last two Republican conventions has been noticeable. But exactly how to frame the narrative of the Iraq war and the Great Recession still remain major obstacles.

Iowa's voting record has reflected this identity crisis. John McCain, the eventual nominee in 2008, placed fourth in the Iowa Caucus, carrying only 14 percent of the vote. In 2012, Rick Santorum slightly edged the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. In short, a Cruz victory in Iowa may mean little, especially considering his unpopularity in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But chaos in the Republican Party isn't he only major political development over the last decade. The increased flow of money into politics, thanks in part to the Citizens United v. FEC ruling, will likely extend the primary season -- yet another reason to dislike the ruling. The growing influence of campaign donations is so vast that The New York Times has actively begun covering "the Money Race."

This race matters, and even more so now. While victory in Iowa may not mean much, abject defeat certainly does. Among Republicans, Jeb Bush has raised the most -- nearly twice as much as the next highest fundraiser, Cruz. Unfortunately for Bush, his campaign is faltering fast; he captured just 2.8 percent of the Iowa vote.

Marco Rubio, expected to finish somewhere in the teens, managed a strong third place showing, tying Trump in the number of delegates secured. Perhaps most important, he appears to have solidified his stance as the most plausible establishment candidate, increasing the likelihood that rank-and-file Republicans will back him moving forward. Donors eager to support a more mainstream conservative are likely to view him as the last great hope for this election cycle, meaning we'll probably see an influx of campaign contributions flow toward Rubio as donors abandon less plausible candidates.

While Cruz technically won the Iowa caucus, Rubio's strong finish is more consequential. If recent history holds, he'll make gains in states with fewer evangelical and social conservatives but more fiscally minded and, for lack of a better word, sane Republicans. With 100 percent of the vote tallied, I'm declaring Rubio the true victor in Iowa.