A couple of points on the state of the race:
–At this juncture, I think I’d rather be Ted Cruz than anyone else. I believe he is the favorite in Iowa and if he wins, he’s going to come out of there like a freight train, with the wherewithal and organization to make the most of it. At the very least, he’d soak up a lot of delegates and, if things bounced right for him, he could go all the way. I don’t underestimate Cruz’s shrewdness (no one should underestimate Cruz’s shrewdness), but he’s gotten some lucky breaks to be in this position: Walker and Perry out of the race; Rand a non-factor (which is in part Cruz’s doing, but also owes a lot to the environment); Huck getting no traction; and Carson losing altitude. All of this means that Cruz is much closer to consolidating the right than would have seemed possible a few months ago.
–In the abstract, Marco Rubio is better positioned on the party’s spectrum to win–i.e, he’s strong with self-identified “somewhat conservatives,” but also has appeal to “very conservatives” and “moderates.” On top of this, he’s a winsome public persona who obviously could have some cross-over appeal in a general. But he has a path problem. It’s quite possible to see him not winning any of the first four states. He could do well in Iowa, but he’s not a natural match there and New Hampshire is very crowded. If he doesn’t win the first two, does he win South Carolina or Nevada? It’s possible, depending on whether he’s exceeding expectations and who is dropping out when, but Cruz has a much clearer path to becoming a finalist. By the way, the Rubio people have to be hoping at this point that Trump wins Iowa. It would be a major blow to Cruz and put even more of an emphasis on the party coalescing around a broadly acceptable alternative to Trump, with Rubio more of a natural fit for that role than other candidates.
–Finally, with regard to Trump, perhaps he looks different when we get closer to voting, but he’s not fading, in fact the opposite. I’m not sure what the establishment in particular (which is much less cohesive than advertised) can do to stop him, and if it somehow did deploy a clever anti-Trump device, it would only help Cruz in Iowa at this point. One big question to be answered in the next few weeks, by the way, is whether Trump goes after Cruz, and what that battle looks like. Unless Trump implodes, one of the other candidates is simply going to have to go out and beat him, which shouldn’t be too much to ask of someone who wants to the party’s nominee in a hugely consequential election.
(By the way, don’t miss Andy’s endorsement of Cruz on the homepage.)