Texas Sen. Ted Cruz handily won the first contest of the Republican nomination process last night in Iowa, picking up eight delegates to Donald Trump's and Marco Rubio's seven delegates a piece.
What pushed Cruz over the top? According to entrance and exit polls, it was both the size of the record turnout and the character of the folks who turned out. Specifically, nearly two-thirds of Republican voters last night described themselves as "born-again or evangelical Christian." With the possible exception of non-factor candidates (and past Iowa-caucuses champs) Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, Cruz is by far and away the most socially conservative and rhetorically born-again among the GOP contenders. "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country," Cruz has said, and he pals around Kevin Swanson, a death-to-the-gays pastor, and Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue any marriage licenses once same-sex couples were given the ability to marry publicly.
Toss in Cruz's anti-immigration sentiment along with his relgiosity and there you have it. Forty-four percent of Trump supporters said that immigration was their top concern. Cruz's supporters had the second-highest total in that category, with 34 percent.
Notes Johm McComack of The Weekly Standard:
In 2012, 57 percent of Iowa GOP caucusgoers were evangelical Christians, but the final Des Moines Register poll that showed Trump winning indicated that only 47 percent of 2016 caucusgoers would be evangelical Christians. "When re-weighted as a scenario test for the higher evangelical turnout seen in 2012 entrance polls, the race is closer, with 26 percent for Trump and 25 percent for Cruz," Bloomberg reported.
Well, OK then. The race is on for New Hampshire, where RealClear's aggregated polls show Trump up by 25 points and Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tied for second (before last night, Rubio was showing fourth in New Hampshire, behind Jeb Bush).
One question for the Republicans is this: How do you win a national election with leading candidates who are at odds with the bulk of the country over immigration? Seventy-two percent of Americans favor some path to legalization, while leading GOP contenders accuse each other of being "pro-amnesty." When asked about abortion, 55 percent say it should be "legal in all/most cases," while Republican candidates say it should not be. Something similar goes for pot legalization too, though not as extreme (Cruz, for one, has channeled his situational federalist lately and now says it's a state issue). The point isn't that culture war issues decide national elections, but that exactly what puts Republicans over the top in Iowa is likely to alienate them from centrist voters in the general election.
So how do you win a general election if you're a Republican? Well, you run against a Democrat, especially Hillary Clinton, whose negatives rival those of Trump and Cruz. RealClear's tally of head-to-head matchups is less up-to-date than its other polls, but the site currently shows both Trump and Cruz either in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton or slightly ahead.
Clinton barely eked out her own "win" over Bernie Sanders, an independent who calls himself a "democratic socialist." That spells bit trouble for the former senator and secretary of state even if and when she ultimately secures the Democratic Party nomination (more on that in a separate post). But the 2016 general election is already shaping up to be a battle between two incredibly rightly unlikeable candidates who nonetheless perfectly represent all that is awful about the Republican and Democratic Parties. Which is its own sort of victory when you think about it.