Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have both changed positions — but Cruz claims perfect conservative rectitude.
In December 2011, the candidate who led in the Iowa polls was not Rick Santorum (who ultimately squeaked out a victory there), nor Michele Bachmann (who had driven Governor Tim Pawlenty from the race by winning the Iowa straw poll earlier in the year), nor Mitt Romney. No, the leader was Ron Paul, with 23 percent. Public Policy Polling provided this analysis in mid-December: Paul’s base of support continues to rely on some unusual groups for a Republican contest. Paul is . . . cleaning up 35–14 with the 24 percent of voters who identify as either Democrats or independents. Young people and non-Republicans are an unusual coalition to hang your hat on in Iowa, and it will be interesting to see if Paul can actually pull it off. He couldn’t. The final results were 24.6 percent for Santorum, 24.6 percent for Romney (34 votes separated them), and 21.5 percent for Paul.
It’s important to remember that the mid-December poll showing Paul in the lead was a mere two weeks before the caucuses, which were held on January 3 that year. This year, the caucuses will be held on February 1. In national polling in December 2011, the leader among Republicans was Newt Gingrich, with 37 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 22 percent. Everyone else was in single digits. On February 18, 2012, Rick Santorum was on top with 34.3, according to the RealClearPolitics average. All of this is by way of encouraging a certain amount of skepticism about the polls we’re seeing. Recent elections in Kentucky, Great Britain, Argentina, and Israel also featured outcomes that were not predicted by pre-election polling.
Does this mean Donald Trump’s standing is illusory? No, his lead has remained steady for six months. But to believe that he will be the nominee you must believe that Republican voters from Iowa to Pennsylvania to California to Michigan will choose as their standard-bearer someone who has favored single-payer health care, racial preferences, a ban on “assault” weapons, drug legalization, abortion, and eminent domain (oh, does he favor eminent domain), and who invited Hillary Clinton to his wedding (one of them). You must convince yourself that Republicans will choose a man who opposes entitlement reform, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, free trade, and elementary good manners. Above all, Republicans would be choosing someone whose policy proposals are essentially barroom blurts.