Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gather after speaking at the Homeschool Iowa's Capitol Day, April 9, 2015, in Des Moines, Ia.
Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP

Could Huckabee and Santorum backers derail Cruz in Iowa?

Updated
Throughout 2015, the Iowa caucuses were on the distant horizon, prompting endless talk about how the various candidates had “plenty of time” before the first round of voting actually began. That talk has now passed: the Iowa caucuses are four weeks from today.
 
And though there was a holiday-season lull in polling, 2015 wrapped up with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump looking quite strong in the Hawkeye State, followed by Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and a series of rivals who are struggling to keep up. Most of the political world seems to believe, at least for now, that the Texas senator is best positioned to prevail in the first nominating contest.
 
National Review published an interesting report the other day suggesting this doesn’t sit well with some of the less competitive candidates.
To a concerned and angry bunch of Iowa Republicans, their mission heading into next month’s caucuses is as simple as ABC: Anybody But Cruz.
 
As the Texas senator solidifies his front-runner status with just over a month to go before the February 1 caucuses, a loose network of social-conservative activists has undertaken a quiet effort to defeat him by any means necessary – even if that means rallying together behind a more electable rival to their own preferred candidates.
It’s a curious twist. According to the piece in the conservative magazine, “many” of Mike Huckabee’s and Rick Santorum’s Iowa supporters are not only discouraged by how their candidates are doing; they’re also skeptical of Cruz. And if the senator wins the caucuses in four weeks, his odds of winning the Republican nomination will naturally improve.
 
With this in mind, these Huckabee/Santorum backers are considering a plan to offer support to Marco Rubio, not necessarily because they love him, but because they see this as a way to slow Cruz’s ascent. Jamie Johnson, a former member of the Iowa GOP state central committee, said the burgeoning scheme “is real.”
 
National Review added that Nick Ryan, “a prominent Iowa strategist who leads the pro-Huckabee super PAC,” is apparently a key player in the anti-Cruz efforts, and has “longstanding ties with operatives in Rubio’s orbit.”
 
So, is this the sort of behind-the-scenes planning that’s likely to make a difference?
 
To be sure, Huckabee and Santorum – the winners of the 2008 and 2012 caucuses, respectively – appeal to the same socially conservative evangelical voters that Cruz is eager to reach, and who hold considerable sway in a state like Iowa.
 
But I’m a little skeptical of the scheme. For one thing, New York’s Ed Kilgore explained there’s a potential procedural issue.
Under Republican caucus procedures, there’s no way the disgruntled social conservatives can achieve their alleged goal without damaging their own candidates, who will probably drop out if they don’t do surprisingly well in Iowa.
 
The reason Democrats are usually featured in these Iowa intrigue stories is that their caucus procedures encourage tactical alliances via minimum thresholds for “viability” (i.e., the opportunity to elect state convention delegates, which is the only measurement of success), meaning that support can be loaned to favored candidates and denied to disfavored candidates on a precinct-by-precinct basis. Republicans, by contrast, have a simple candidate preference vote at their caucuses, so there’s no way for would-be tacticians to loan or borrow support without hurting their own candidate’s statewide tally.
Sure, it’s possible that some Huckabee and Santorum supporters are so concerned about (and opposed to) Cruz that they’d directly undermine their own preferred candidate, but it’s hard to imagine those numbers being especially large.
 
Which leads us to the other potential pitfall: the Huckabee and Santorum contingents are already pretty modest. The polls may yet change, but for now, Huckabee and Santorum combine for 2.8% of the Republican vote in Iowa. If “some” of those folks hatch a scheme to back Rubio as part of a tactical effort to slow down Cruz, the impact probably won’t amount to much.
 
Still, it’s a reminder that we’re reaching a new stage in the race, where alliances are considered, formed, and occasionally broken. Buckle up.
 
 

Iowa, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz

Could Huckabee and Santorum backers derail Cruz in Iowa?

Updated