Rich Lowry reported yesterday in National Review on the state of the Republican presidential race in Iowa, concluding, “It’s hard to exaggerate how much things have broken [Ted] Cruz’s way.”
Just 24 hours later, there’s some pretty compelling evidence that this assessment is correct. Here’s the new Quinnipiac poll out of the Hawkeye State:
1. Donald Trump: 25% (up from 20% in October)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (up from 10%)
3. Ben Carson: 18% (down from 28%)
4. Marco Rubio: 13% (unchanged)
No other candidate is above 5%, though it’s worth noting that Jeb Bush, who actually had the lead in Iowa in the early summer, is down to just 4% support – one percentage point lower than Rand Paul.
Nevertheless, it’s the top tier that’s the most striking. Politico’s Glenn Thrush characterized the Quinnipiac poll as the “most important development in the race in months,” which may seem a little hyperbolic, but don’t dismiss the point too quickly.
For the past few months, there’s been an obvious, two-person top tier in the race for the GOP nomination: Trump and Carson. Much of the media hype focused on Rubio, who shared second-tier status with Cruz and, by some measures, Bush. It was very much a short-head-long-tail dynamic: in a massive field, a handful of candidates were grouped at the top, trailed by a lengthy list of candidates hovering around the margin of error.
The question was when, if ever, we’d see a meaningful shake up, and these Quinnipiac results suggest that time is now.
Of particular interest, of course, is Carson’s sudden drop, Cruz’s sudden rise, and the relationship between the two. The Texas Republican has long believed that he’s best positioned to benefit if/when one of the frontrunners falters, and this poll offers proof that the assumption was true: as Carson’s wayward supporters look for a new favorite, they’re not flocking to Rubio; they’re rallying behind Cruz.
If this continues, and Cruz supplants Carson in the top tier, the nature of the race will fundamentally change.
There’s quite a bit of time left on the clock, but it’s now quite easy to imagine Cruz winning Iowa and Trump winning New Hampshire. It creates an interesting question for Republican insiders to kick around: the GOP establishment hates Cruz, but should we assume that it hates Trump more?