Josh Kraushaar rethinks a presumption or two:
The winner-take all rules for many of the more moderate “blue” states on March 15 and beyond should favor a more pragmatic Republican down the stretch — at least on paper.
But these calculations are based on a premise that I’m having a bit more trouble accepting these days — that blue-state Republicans are more likely to support the establishment candidate than their red-state counterparts. It’s an especially shaky assumption to make with Trump, given the political pedigree of his strongest supporters. To put it another way, many of Trump’s supporters are self-described moderates and view him as the more centrist candidate. (Based on his history of holding liberal positions and past donations to prominent Democrats, they have a point.)
The ordinary rules of the political game haven’t applied to Trump so far, and if he lives up to the hype early on, there’s little reason to believe he’ll fade as the race moves into more moderate territory. If Trump wins Iowa—the one state where he hasn’t led in many public polls—it’s hard to see where his momentum stops.
Ted Cruz currently leads in Iowa, and if he fails to win there it’s difficult to see how he picks up momentum against Trump’s media machine in the bigger, more moderate states. And if Cruz does win Iowa, keep in mind Iowa’s long and storied history of picking losers. In seven contested caucuses since 1976, Iowa has correctly picked the eventual nominee three times (Ford ’76, Dole ’96, Bush 2k) and only one (Bush) went on to win the general election. Iowa has never been all that it’s cracked up to be, and yet it’s the basket where Cruz has put most of his eggs.
Harkening back to a report of mine from last week, Kraushaar adds:
As The New York Times’s Nate Cohn concluded, Trump’s strongest voters are “self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats” and are well-represented in the industrial North and Appalachia. There’s a reason why Trump spent time last week in Lowell, Massachusetts and Burlington, Vermont—in two New England states that hold primaries on Super Tuesday. And polls show Trump’s favorability steadily improving among GOP voters, countering the widespread belief that he’ll flame out when the field narrows.
If Trump doesn’t flame out — and there’s not much time left for that to happen — then his victory is gonna be yuge.