If the 2016 Iowa Caucuses Were Today…
By Steve Deace
It’s never too early to talk about the future, especially if you’re one of the 83% of Americans that presently believe the country is headed down the wrong track.
And I’ve already received numerous media inquiries about where things stand in my home state of Iowa, which is host to the first in the nation presidential caucuses. Iowans will again become the first Americans to officially cast a ballot for president in 2016, and just like in 2008 both parties will have open nomination fights. Because of my perceived influence in the Iowa Caucuses, thanks in no small part to this Fox News feature on my radio program’s role in past Iowa Caucuses, I’m on a short list of people the media often calls to get the lay of the land.
Before I share with you what I’ve told them, I’d like to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the Iowa Caucuses.
One misconception is the Iowa Caucuses are irrelevant because the winner here doesn’t always go on to win the nomination. But that’s not Iowa’s role. Iowans are way too humble to believe they ought to pick the party’s nominee before the rest of the country gets to have its say. Iowans view their role as a winnowing fork, if you will.
Because of the way you have to campaign person-to-person in Iowa, a state without any major media markets, we get a chance to really test the sincerity of the candidates, eye-to-eye. You cannot buy the Iowa Caucuses with television ads. You have to engage the voters directly here, and if you ignore them they will ignore you.
Iowans use that unique access to separate the pretenders from the contenders, while also giving underdogs the ruling class would prefer to ignore a chance to be heard in the process. After they’ve had good year to size up the field, they narrow it down to who they believe is the best slate available, and send them on to the rest of the process for further scrutiny.
Furthermore, only one person that failed to finish in the top three of the now-legendary Iowa Straw Poll, held the summer before the Caucuses, has ever gone on to win the Iowa Caucuses. And the only person to win the GOP nomination that didn’t finish in the top three in the Iowa Caucuses was John McCain in 2008, and he finished fourth behind Fred Thompson by just 0.3%. Translation—Iowa doesn’t always decide who the nominee is, but often decides who the nominee won’t be.
The other misconception about the Iowa Caucuses that needs addressed is the makeup of the electorate. It is true Evangelicals like me heavily influence the eventual outcome, but Evangelical voters in the state are changing somewhat. We are becoming much more “conservatarian” in their ideology. We now seem almost as interested in hearing a real plan to substantially reduce the size and scope of government, as we are hearing a candidate’s courage of conviction on traditional hot-button issues like life and marriage.
For example, Ron Paul went from 10% in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses to 22% in 2012, and more than doubled his overall vote total as well. And it wasn’t because there was suddenly that many more libertarians in Iowa. It’s because the Paul campaign did a credible job convincing some social conservatives that the growth of government, and the loss of freedom that results from it, is just as big of a threat to their worldview as are issues like the sanctity of life and the protection of the family.
With all that in mind, if the 2016 Iowa Caucuses were today, here’s how I believe the first tier would finish and why:
1. Senator Ted Cruz (40%)
Right now he is seen as the one most willing to fight back against the status quo, if there’s one thing I keep hearing from Iowans over and over again (as well as patriots I talk to across the country), it’s that they’re looking for a fighter. If the Caucuses were today he would lap the field, coalescing substantial numbers of both social conservative and liberty-minded Tea Party voters. As long as Cruz is seen as the most willing to fight on behalf of the grassroots, he will be tough to beat.
2. Senator Rand Paul (15%)
At the start of the year the story in Iowa was how many more Evangelical voters can Rand Paul successfully woo into his father’s leftover organization. But now the story is how many liberty voters will Rand Paul lose to Ted Cruz. Since his March filibuster piqued interest in his presidential aspirations, Rand Paul has made a series of missteps that cost him in Iowa: his endorsement of Ditch McConnell, his praising of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s anti-Christian polemic disguised as a Supreme Court opinion, and his lackluster speech in front of more than 600 key Iowa pastors. I was at that event, and saw and heard for myself just how much Rand Paul was overshadowed by Cruz in front of the same audience. Rand needs to get back to being a revolutionary.
3. (tie) Governor Chris Christie & Congressman Paul Ryan (12.5%)
The establishment Republican demographic in the Iowa Caucuses is usually about 25% of the final vote, and right now the establishment seems torn between Christie (whom establishment donors like) and Ryan (whom Iowa’s establishment governor seems to favor at the moment). So for now we’ll split that 25% between these two until the establishment figures out who it wants its puppet…err…proxy to be.
4. Former Senator Rick Santorum (10%)
The reigning Caucus champion has lost considerable support to Cruz, which might explain why he went after Cruz on Meet the Press recently. But if there’s one thing we learned about Santorum last go-around, it’s that he’s at best when counted out. He’s still the most willing champion for social conservatives, and if it turns out Cruz is not as willing to talk about social issues (which he avoided at his recent Reagan Dinner speech in Iowa), then Santorum could certainly stage a comeback.
5. Others (10%)
There are still some very capable Republican governors like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker that have made brief appearances in Iowa, and that Iowans are interested in hearing more from. However, at the moment they are so little known to Iowans that if the Caucuses were today they wouldn’t have significant support.
For those of you that think it’s too early to be talking about this, Republicans interested in running for president are already having their people reach out to Iowa activists to get the lay of the land, as well as make appearances in the state to raise their profile. The race will get going in earnest about one minute after the votes are counted in the 2014 mid-term elections, which is just a year from now. By February 2015, which is just 15 months now, Iowa Caucus campaigning will be in full bloom.
Please keep in mind this is just a snapshot in time. We’ll check in again six months from now and see if these numbers have changed at all.
(You can friend “Steve Deace” on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow)