The Iowa caucuses took place on Monday night, the first of many elections in the presidential nomination process. In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were virtually tied, indicating that Clinton will not be running away with the nomination as many predicted as recently as a few months ago.
The horse race between Clinton and Sanders will be an interesting one to watch in the next few months. On the Republican side, it is now clear that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the last best hope for all conservatives opposed to both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Cruz led in Iowa with 27.6 percent of the votes, Trump followed with 24.3 percent, and Rubio earned 23.1 percent. The remaining candidates each earned less than 10 percent, with most receiving less than 2 percent. Alarmingly, Trump and Cruz supporters represented a majority of Republican caucus attendees. Republicans opposed to these two candidates should coalesce behind Rubio as the best option available. Those hoping their underdog candidate will be able to gain traction should disillusion themselves, and quickly. The threat Cruz and Trump represent to the already damaged brand of the Republican Party is too severe to admit of delay.
Undoubtedly, Rubio is not an ideal candidate. He is at times too hawkish on foreign policy, some of his statements and responses are poorly crafted, and he is relatively young and inexperienced. Yet, he has many advantageous qualities to recommend him. He is knowledgeable about government policy and he does not share Cruz or Trump’s radical and divisive views on immigration.
He is intelligent and thoughtful. He is respectful, yet direct and precise in explaining his views. Perhaps most importantly, he has traction in the polls. He is a candidate a large number of Republicans already support and at this point, appears to be the only candidate who could beat both Trump and Cruz to the nomination.
The defects of his chief rivals serve to amplify Rubio’s virtues. Trump has consistently exhibited a mad, unhinged and unpredictable demagoguery. His arguments have been facile, insubstantial and often, deeply offensive. He has riled up a base of support with empty and dangerous rhetoric, making the very potentiality of his election as president a harrowing thought for the future of American democracy.
Ted Cruz, on the other hand, has proven a strident, condescending, ideologue that cannot work well with others or treat them with respect. His responses to those with whom he disagrees are often petulant, childish and ill mannered. His outlandish stunts and antics is the United States Senate have been an affront to the dignity of that body. Yet, these are the two frontrunners in the Republican race for president.
If the Republican Party is to remain competitive in future national elections, it must avoid at all costs the shame and disgrace that is likely to be heaped upon it should it nominate either Trump or Cruz. Rubio is the only candidate who has any chance of preventing this embarrassment. Ben Carson, who followed Rubio at 9.3 percent Monday night, is ignorant on policy, has no charisma and entertains inexplicably strange views; in short, treatment from that doctor would be worse than the disease.
Rand Paul performed surprisingly well in Iowa, but only received 4.5 percent of the vote. Regardless, his dovish foreign policy views and libertarian ideas are simply too fair from the Republican mainstream to succeed in this primary contest. Jeb Bush netted a measly 2.8 percent and has been nothing short of an abominable disappointment to his donors and supporters. His horribly run campaign and lackluster debate performances have prompted many to question the traditional wisdom that money and a prominent surname were guarantors of success.
Either these factors matter less than many thought or Bush and his staff have so ham-handedly mismanaged these advantages as to make no difference. The remaining candidates all received below 2 percent and do not merit mention. Those hoping for any of the second-rate campaigns to rise from the dead and challenge the frontrunners should cut their losses and throw their support behind Rubio. Neither Trump nor Cruz should be allowed to gain any more momentum in the primary race. Now is not the time to take a principled stand or hope for a miracle. Should primary voters delay in coalescing behind Rubio, it may be too late.
Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.