In the Iowa caucuses, backers of Santorum and Huckabee may desert their candidates and support Rubio to deny Cruz a victory.
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.
Many supporters of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the last two winners of Iowa’s Republican presidential contests, are grappling with a pair of grim realities as the 2016 caucuses approach. Not only have their candidates been stuck in the low single digits for months in Iowa, but they also view Cruz, the new front-runner, as a phony opportunist who has pandered to Evangelicals for political gain, particularly in Iowa. And they fear that if Cruz notches a win in the Hawkeye State — especially if he does so by a wide margin, which many Republicans now view as a distinct possibility — he will emerge as the overwhelming favorite to capture the nomination. These assumptions have led to a pair of common conclusions: First, that preventing Cruz from winning Iowa is more important than promoting their own preferred candidates. And second, that if the only way to accomplish that is by throwing their support to another candidate, it should be Marco Rubio.
“This is real. There exists this feeling that Senator Cruz is only the most recent Christian conservative presidential candidate, and that the two individuals who preceded him in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses have not been given the respect that they deserve as voices in the Christian conservative movement,” says Jamie Johnson, a former member of the Iowa GOP state central committee who supported Santorum in 2012 and has not thrown his weight behind a candidate after supporting former Texas governor Rick Perry earlier this cycle.
“It is absolutely clear to me that many Huckabee and Santorum supporters are going to swing toward Marco Rubio, because he is a Christian conservative who they feel embodies more of the character traits that Huckabee and Santorum embody,” Johnson says. “That’s what I’m hearing from both camps.” Why the antagonism toward Cruz from those who largely agree with his message? Some of it can be chalked up to sour grapes; backers of Huckabee and Santorum are angry and disappointed that their candidates have been unable to rekindle the magic of elections past. Yet sudden talk of an anti-Cruz effort has echoed in many recent conversations with Iowa Republicans, some of whom are supporting different candidates and others who are unaffiliated.