2 February 2016

Rubio recovers as Hillary disappoints


It was only the first contest in a marathon race but here are the big two takeaways: the most electable Democrat – Hilary Clinton – was exposed again as a weak candidate and the most electable Republican – Marco Rubio – exceeded all expectations.

Let’s briefly examine the two results, starting with the Republicans.

The people of Iowa did a remarkable thing. They humbled Donald Trump. The gold-plated billionaire hotelier threw everything at Ted Cruz – including the underhand accusation that he was a Canadian. And, remarkably, even the intellectual authority and eloquence of Sarah Palin couldn’t persuade more than 24% of Republican caucus goers to support Mr Trump. Ted Cruz deserves his victory and he owes it to a formidable ground operation. But the evangelical Cruz – like the two previous Republican evangelical victors in Iowa, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum – is not going to do so well amongst more secular electorates. The most important thing that happened in Iowa was that Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the most electable Republican according to all opinion polls, surged well ahead of every other of his half-electable rivals. Rubio’s 23% dwarves Bush’s 2.8%, Kasich’s 1.9%, Fiorina’s 1.9% and Christie’s 1.8%. One estimate suggests that Team Jeb spent $25,000 for every caucus vote that their candidate received. Rubio goes into the crucial New Hampshire contest next week with “marcomentum” and not just from exceeding expectations in Iowa. Politico is reporting that he has also picked up the support of the party’s only black Senator – Tim Scott. The danger for Rubio is that the establishment’s circular firing squad will reload and aim at him. $22million has already been spent targeting Rubio and Team Bush has the money to unload a great deal more. Iowa was characterised by a destructive fight between Trump and Cruz – to Rubio’s benefit. New Hampshire might be different with Trump, Bush and Cruz all targeting the man who is now, once again, the bookies’ favourite.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, Hillary Clinton could only win 49.9% of the vote against Bernie Sanders’ 49.5%. Sanders – a self-styled “Democratic Socialist” – is supposedly unelectable in the USA as a whole but the former First Lady could only secure the narrowest of victories over him. Massive union support, multiple establishment endorsements, Bill Clinton’s stumping, donations from big money and an effective blessing from Barack Obama didn’t stop Hillary’s 54% opinion poll lead from one year ago evaporating. The key fact is that most Americans don’t much like Mrs Clinton. If, if, if the Republican party can get over its bad case of Trumpism, it can win the White House, retain the Senate, retain the House of Representatives, retain most Governorships and have the opportunity to move the Supreme Court in a conservative direction. So, Governor Bush, it would be helpful if you didn’t use all that cash you raised to destroy the Republican who is best placed to lead that takeover.

Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for The Times, a Senior Fellow at Legatum Institute and co-founder of the new website The Good Right. His “reform of capitalism” report for the Legatum Institute was published on 4th November.