“Three tickets out of Iowa.” It sounds like a movie starring, say, Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda (or Peter in the remake), and Van Heflin. Actually, it’s the conventional wisdom regarding Iowa caucuses. When there’s a large field, Iowa punches three candidates’ ticket to New Hampshire and beyond, or so they say.
The conventional wisdom happens to hold up well this year. As John says, after Iowa it looks like a three-man race for the GOP nomination among Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio.
I believe a fourth ticket will be punched in New Hampshire if Jeb Bush, John Kasich, or Chris Christie manages to finish in the top three there. But that ticket would be unlikely to take its recipient far. Cruz, Trump, and Rubio all have the potential to make to the end of the line.
Trump’s ticket is a bit tarnished, though. To be fair, I wouldn’t have dreamed nine months ago that Trump could garner 25 percent support in a state like Iowa, where evangelicals and nice people dominate Republican politics. In fact, I wouldn’t have dreamed that he could capture a quarter of the GOP vote in any state.
On the other hand, the polls suggest that Trump is viewed unfavorably by an awful lot of Republicans (probably around half). Thus, it seems to me that he needs a bigger base of support than 25 percent. By contrast, Rubio has a low unfavorability rating and he appeals to both moderates and conservatives. Potentially, he could build considerably off a 24 percent base.
My seat of the pants view is that Trump needs the support of at least one-third of Republicans in the early, multi-candidate phase of the race if he is to have a good shot at the nomination. The polls suggests that he has one-third support in New Hampshire as of now. We also need to keep in mind that many states permit cross-over voting in one form or another.
So Trump’s 25 percent share in Iowa — which always seemed like a difficult state for him — hardly dooms his candidacy. His ticket has been punched. But it’s not for the first class seat he expected.