Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
Now that America’s first Presidential nominating contests, it’s worth reassessing the chances of the 15 remaining Republican and Democratic candidates.
Over the past two to three months, the Republicans have winnowed their field down to an even dozen – with casualties including the least-known runner, former New York Governor George Pataki; the most two-faced anti-immigrant candidate in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal; and the most principled Republican aspirant in South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Meanwhile, the much smaller contingent of Democratic contenders has remained three going into the 1 February Iowa caucuses and 9 February New Hampshire primaries. However, some of their poll numbers have changed substantially over the last 75 days.
Much to his chagrin, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was not a beneficiary of Vice President Joe Biden’s decision to forgo another Presidential bid, because his poll numbers remain mired in the two-to-five-per-cent range. On the other hand, Vermont Senator Bernie Sander’s numbers show he has either pulled even or ahead of political heavyweight Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Does that mean Sanders is on the verge of repeating the political upset of the Bill and Hillary Clinton machine that President Barack Obama pulled off back in 2008? I don’t think so. I could be wrong but I think Bernie’s improved numbers are a reflection of the more polarised base of the Democratic Party, leaning further to the left of Hillary Clinton. Their support for Sanders is a sign of their support for his liberal politics instead of an indication of a rising tide in favour of an upstart candidate.
As a senator from the neighbouring state of Vermont, Sanders has been running neck-and-neck with Clinton in the polls for months because he is so well known to Democrats in New Hampshire, but his recent surge in Iowa does have to worry his rival. And yet, while a Clinton loss in Iowa would be a signal that her path to the Presidential nomination will be more difficult than she had anticipated, it does not mean she is in danger of being swept away like she was in 2008.
On the Republican side, there have been similarly substantial changes in the poll numbers of several candidates. Probably the biggest surprise was the implosion of former Republican front runner Dr Ben Carson’s campaign during the past two months. Back in November, Dr Carson led all led the charge in Iowa with the support of 30 per cent of the state’s Republicans, 10 points ahead of Donald Trump and 20 points in front of the next closest runners Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Today, Dr Carson ranks fourth with only eight per cent support.
The news is even worse in New Hampshire, where Dr. Carson was in second place on 1 November, but where he has now fallen to ninth place with less than three per cent support among Republican voters. Dr Carson’s national poll numbers among Republicans have followed the same downward trajectory, and he’s now dropped into a fourth-place tie overall with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Unfortunately for the Republican Party and the American public, the primary beneficiary of Dr Carson’s electoral demise has been Texas Senator Ted Cruz – the most dangerous, divisive and narcissistic Republican presidential candidate I have ever seen. Many Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have accused Trump of being a narcissist based on obvious traits, such as his grandiosity, his need to be the centre of attention and his overbearing comments. But Ted Cruz is actually much worse, because he is also extremely dishonest and totally lacking in empathy.
Make no mistake, Ted Cruz is a very gifted orator who excels at retail politics and has also run a very savvy presidential campaign. His ‘Super Pac’ has preserved its campaign funds and avoided the mistake of spending millions on TV ads early in the campaign that was made by Jeb Bush’s camp. But I have noticed Cruz tries to sell his position on every political issue with the exact same apocalyptic zeal. This is a characteristic of televangelists who, instead of being authentic with their audiences, are only interested in taking their money from them.
Both nationally and in Iowa, Ted Cruz appeared to pick up the support of the evangelicals who had initially provided the foundation of Dr Carson’s support. I find it ironic that evangelical Christians would be drawn to support a narcissist who has never publicly demonstrated the Christian virtues of compassion, humility or mercy. But even though Cruz has a stronger organisation than Trump and all of the other candidates in Iowa, he may have peaked too soon, because the most recent polls show his support starting to erode both nationally, and among Republican voters in the Hawkeye State.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.