Off the Fence Before Iowa

Tomorrow night's Iowa caucus will give us our first true information about the GOP primaries. Donald Trump's been sucking up all the oxygen with a brilliant media campaign. The guy knows television and branding.

I can't believe --which is to say I absolutely can, but shake my head-- his pulling out of the most recent GOP tactic worked to get everyone talking about him for 72 hours. Goodness. He pulled that threaten-to-pull-out stunt already with the first two debates. If FOX news were a serious news organization and not a ratings gimmick, it would have responded with a simple, "We will have a podium ready for Mr. Trump and hope he'll come" and left it at that. But of course, it was to their advantage to play along and amplify his game, so they taunted him with a snotty news release instead. Fun reality tv: but unserious, and unfair to the other candidates.

I'll give Trump something else, an understanding to which I've been late in coming because I've been so put off by his personal vulgarity and long history of supporting Lefty causes (though he's probably not done so out of ideological commitment, but merely to grease the skids for business dealings -- something about which he's unapologetic). I watched his "speech" (really his random commentary) at Liberty University and realized that deep down, the man is motivated by a certain patriotism. His understanding of the Declaration, the Constitution, the rule of law, statesmanship, and the value of limited government is no better than the average American's in our age of college-teaches-you-nothing. But he at least loves his country in his limited way, and that plus the promise of jobs in an economy that's closing out a full decade of disastrous economic policy ON TOP of an economic revolution akin to the industrial revolution that not one single politician understands, much less addresses, is Trump's appeal.  People aren't fools and they aren't fooled by him. They're not loving his crassness; they're tolerating it in order to get some of these "wins" he promises.

He's been riding high in the polls, but the interesting question will be if those polls translate into actual voters in the caucuses. Reporters traveling with the various campaigns have said for months that Cruz has an excellent get-out-the-vote campaign and has been doing the hard work of retail politics, visiting every polling site.  Trump, by contrast, is said to have been relying on big rallies and events that are captured on camera. His poll numbers are good, but they're good with people who haven't been previously active in caucuses. So will they actually show up? If so, maybe we're a reality tv nation now, and retail politics means less than it once did. Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, I'm crossing my fingers for Marcomentum. Marco Rubio is also said to have a don't-count-him-out ground game in Iowa, and everyone's noticing that Ted Cruz' attack ads have suddenly gone viciously against Rubio rather than Trump, which suggests a Rubio surge.

I've decided I really whole-heartedly like Rubio. As I've mentioned previously, I see him as a more effective legislator than Ted Cruz --who, for all his vaunted constitutionalism, seems not to understand the body to which he was elected and how it works, and has spent his time helping to weaken it rather than shore it up against executive encroachment.  Polling continually shows that of the GOP candidates, only Rubio consistently beats Hillary and Bernie, and Cruz, whatever his merits, I think is too angry and too condescending a figure to appeal to the electorate at large. Trump TALKS angry and say horrible insulting things, but somehow he doesn't actually seem all that angry or condescending. Whereas with Cruz, something in his face just makes you want to slug him for being so smug -- even when you agree with him.

People who have worked with Rubio always remark on his sincerity, his transparency, his hard work in understanding issues, and that is what comes across to me when I hear him in interviews. I am always impressed with his detailed knowledge on defense issues in particular, but also on economic policy. He's been a champion of religious liberty and persecuted Christians (don't take my word for it, take a look at what Michael Cromartie has to say), and I love him for this:

It's not just that he cut a pro-life ad. That's what you do when you're running in Iowa and courting evangelical voters. It's that he didn't use the throw-them-some-red-meat boilerplate that insincere GOP politicians use: where they say they're pro-life and that they think Roe v. Wade should be overturned and would support a constitutional amendment to defend life.  That's what politicians say when they either know nothing about the issue or intend to do nothing whatsoever about it. The fact that Rubio tells you specific measures he'll support -- how he will advance the cause-- tells you he's given it some thought, understands the state of play, and actually means it.

Here's another Rubio ad I like. I'm not sure I fully get it, actually -- there seems to be an in-joke that I don't know about.  But it shows his sunny personality, and I'll tell you what's smartest about it: it shows his wrinkles, so he doesn't seem so young. His youthful good looks, along with his rushed, earnest delivery (even though he's capable of great eloquence), are weaknesses. They make him seem too young. But any time I hear him in an interview where there's time for an actual answer as opposed to a sound bite, I am impressed.