The Iowa caucuses are seven weeks away. Donald Trump is still the Republican front-runner. Sen. Marco Rubio is, for now, the establishment’s best (only?) hope. And Sen. Ted Cruz is the guy who looks best positioned to win.
Yes, you heard that right.
Cruz (R-Tex.), as of today, has the most direct route to the Republican presidential nomination — assuming that the past history of GOP nomination fights works as a broad predictor of where the 2016 race is headed.
Let me elaborate.
1. Cruz is positioned as the most conservative candidate in the race. Although Trump gets all the attention for his over-the-top statements, Cruz has staked out a position on the far right on virtually every major hot-button issue, including immigration, Obamacare, national security and the fight against the Islamic State militant group. And, tonally, Cruz comes across as aggressively and unapologetically conservative — a less controversial and more electable version of real estate magnate Trump.
A Washington Post-ABC News November poll showed that Cruz’s numbers are in the stratosphere among voters who identify themselves as “very” conservative; 69 percent had a favorable opinion of him, while just 21 percent regarded him in an unfavorable light.
In a Republican primary — particularly one in which the GOP electorate is mad at everyone (including those in their own party) for an alleged lack of commitment to conservative principles — being the guy all the way on the ideological right is a very, very good thing.
2. Cruz has raised the second-most money in the Republican race. Bet you didn’t know that! Yes, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is by far the fundraising leader in the race. Not only did we know that would be the case but we also know that it has done him, roughly, zero good. Cruz’s money, on the other hand, is — or at least was — unexpected.
Cruz’s nearly $65 million is all the more impressive because, unlike Bush, who raised the vast majority of his money with the support of his Right to Rise super PAC, Cruz has a relatively even balance between the funds raised for his campaign committee ($26.5 million) and those collected by a universe of supportive super PACs ($38 million). Having so much money in his campaign account means that Cruz will get more bang for his buck, because candidates get the lowest unit rate on TV ad buying, while super PACs have to pay full freight for their airtime.
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