2016: The GOP’s Four Faces

Finding Iowa’s Cyclone

Cyclones, as any Midwesterner knows, are devils. They pop up out of nowhere, wreak havoc and destruction, and leave just as suddenly as they came. They are more than the nickname for Iowa State University’s sports teams: they are the perfect metaphor for what can happen in the final two weeks of the Iowa caucus.

Just as John Edwards and Rick Santorum popped up out of nowhere to destroy the Presidential dreams of Dean, Gephardt, Gingrich, and Perry, so too might someone emerge this year to damage or destroy Ted Cruz’s, Donald Trump’s, or Marco Rubio’s dreams. Who might that person be, and can we predict their rise beforehand?

Just as cyclones arise out of predictable weather patterns, so too do political cyclones arise because of consistent electoral phenomena. When two or more front runners start to engage in political combat, that gives an opening for someone else to emerge as the positive alternative. That positive alternative can become the Iowa Caucus Cyclone if he or she plays their cards right.

The end of the Cruz-Trump detente is the necessary climactic precondition for the cyclone warning to be issued. Now that the two front runners are hammering each other, soft supporters of each man will have reason to defect. If they do, when they do, they will look for someone who shares their values but has avoided the taint of negative campaigning. That person can become this cycle’s cyclone.

Marco Rubio clearly hopes to be that man. In fact, his campaign has banked on it. His campaign and its Super PAC have reserved the bulk of Iowa airtime, especially in the Cedar Rapids market that covers the eastern, less conservative part of the state. He has stepped up his appearances in Iowa, shrewdly targeting the eastern part of the state where “somewhat conservative” and moderate Republicans dominate. (See my article on Iowa’s political demography, “State of Play: Iowa,” for the nerdy but important details.) He’s even started to focus more on social issues and faith, clearly an effort to make himself acceptable to voters rethinking their support of Cruz or Carson. Rubio seems to have the best shot of being the 2016 GOP cyclone.

If not him, then who? Cyclones tend to be candidates who have not yet had their day in the sun, people who have not been examined and found wanting. That pretty much rules out a Carson or Fiorina revival. And Jeb Bush’s favorability ratings have been sinking for months in every Iowa poll.

Evangelical voters rethinking Cruz might find Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum more palatable if they are worried about Carson’s lack of experience, but the real space for a cyclone is if Trump declines. His voters tend to be more moderate and clearly like a strong personality. If Trump starts to take on water, and if Rubio isn’t the main beneficiary, don’t be surprised if Chris Christie rises from the dead to close fast.

A Christie win in Iowa seems fantastic to contemplate, a bridge too far, and I doubt he would pull it off. But then again, at this point in 2012 Rick Santorum was running sixth in most Iowa polls. Iowa might not be heaven, but for some candidates it is the place where dreams come true.

Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at UnHerd.com, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

Most Popular

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More
Elections

Hell, No

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National Review editorial ... Read More
Elections

Hell, No

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National Review editorial ... Read More

Hunter Biden on Tape?

In a newly released recording, a man purported to be Hunter Biden is heard rambling about (a) his legal representation of Patrick Ho, a convicted former Hong Kong official he refers to as “the f***ing spy chief of China”; (b) his business dealings with Ye Jianming, the corrupt Chinese high roller, whom Hunter ... Read More

Hunter Biden on Tape?

In a newly released recording, a man purported to be Hunter Biden is heard rambling about (a) his legal representation of Patrick Ho, a convicted former Hong Kong official he refers to as “the f***ing spy chief of China”; (b) his business dealings with Ye Jianming, the corrupt Chinese high roller, whom Hunter ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
Elections

Vote Your Conscience

At the 2016 Republican convention, Senator Ted Cruz spoke a controversial phrase: “vote your conscience.” I think about this phrase, this idea, fairly often. I’m not one to give advice on voting (or much else). But when asked for advice, I usually say, “Vote your conscience.” Sweet conscience! One of ... Read More
Elections

Vote Your Conscience

At the 2016 Republican convention, Senator Ted Cruz spoke a controversial phrase: “vote your conscience.” I think about this phrase, this idea, fairly often. I’m not one to give advice on voting (or much else). But when asked for advice, I usually say, “Vote your conscience.” Sweet conscience! One of ... Read More
Music

Stevie Nicks, Like Springsteen, Preaches and Preens

In the 1970s, Stevie Nicks and Bruce Springsteen made impressions on pop-music culture with romantic rock landmarks, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. But their new 2020 releases, Nicks’s single “Show Them the Way” and Springsteen’s Letter to You film and album, make the ... Read More
Music

Stevie Nicks, Like Springsteen, Preaches and Preens

In the 1970s, Stevie Nicks and Bruce Springsteen made impressions on pop-music culture with romantic rock landmarks, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. But their new 2020 releases, Nicks’s single “Show Them the Way” and Springsteen’s Letter to You film and album, make the ... Read More