Will any elected Iowa Republicans vow to #NeverTrump?

In an effort to halt Donald Trump’s momentum and also to preserve some self-respect, a growing number of Republicans are vowing never to vote for Trump, even if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee. As Megan McArdle reported for Bloomberg, the #NeverTrump faction represents "all segments of the party — urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made."

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said she would consider voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump. At a funeral in Des Moines this past weekend, the daughter of the deceased (like Whitman a moderate Republican) struck a chord with some of the mourners when she joked during her eulogy that she was a little envious her mother would not have to vote in the presidential election now.

At the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum, staunch conservative U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first member of Congress to take the #NeverTrump pledge, laying out his reasoning in a long Facebook post.

So far, the most prominent Iowa Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp is right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace, who explained his stance in a column for the Conservative Review website. Deace worked hard to persuade fellow Iowans to caucus for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio endorser and former Waukee City Council member Isaiah McGee described himself to me as a "founding member" of #NeverTrump.

Early signs suggest that few, if any, elected GOP officials in Iowa will join the club.

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Throwback Thursday: When Bob Vander Plaats asked for money to promote his Iowa caucus endorsement

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National Organization for Money graphic created by Rights Equal Rights and used with permission.

Donald Trump targeted Bob Vander Plaats on Twitter this week. He speculated that Ted Cruz, who landed Vander Plaats’ personal endorsement last month, may not know about past "dealings" by one of Iowa’s leading social conservatives. The billionaire called Vander Plaats a "bad guy" and a "phony," claiming the FAMiLY Leader’s front man had asked to stay in Trump hotels for free and tried to secure a $100,000 payment for himself after "begging" Trump to do an Iowa event. Jennifer Jacobs confirmed that Trump received a $100,000 fee for speaking to a real estate conference in West Des Moines last year, but Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register "he was paid nothing" for introducing Trump to the head of the company that organized the event, and "no donation was made to the Family Leader."

The spat reminded me of big news from the final two weeks of the 2012 Iowa caucus campaign, when Rick Santorum confirmed that Vander Plaats had asked for money to promote his endorsement.

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Cruz finally going after Trump as Iowa polls show tight race at the top

For months, Ted Cruz deliberately did not engage with Donald Trump, positioning himself well to inherit the support of voters who might lean toward the Republican front-runner. But since Cruz emerged as the primary threat to him in Iowa, Trump has hammered the Texas senator during his media appearances and at his campaign rallies. Trump has attacked on policy grounds ("Ted was in favor of amnesty") and repeatedly raised doubts about whether Cruz, born in Canada to a U.S. citizen, is eligible to become president.

Over the last few days, Cruz finally started hitting back at Trump during public events and media availabilities. A poll in the field this week is testing numerous anti-Trump talking points with Iowa voters, and signs point to the Cruz campaign or an aligned group commissioning that survey. I enclose below Simpson College Professor Kedron Bardwell’s notes on the message-testing poll; look for Cruz to employ some of those lines during Thursday night’s presidential debate.

The Iowa Republican caucus polling average shows a tight race between the top two contenders here, with all other candidates well behind. But a closer look at the Iowa findings, particularly the latest from Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News, suggests that Cruz could easily exceed his topline numbers on caucus night. Meanwhile, Trump seems more likely to underperform his polling numbers, hampered by a much less competent ground game.

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Weekend open thread: Conflicting Iowa Republican caucus polling edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. The big news for Iowa politics watchers is the new poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, which shows a surge for Ted Cruz since October, a stable second-place position for Donald Trump, a big drop for Dr. Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio the only other candidate in double digits among likely Republican caucus-goers.

It’s the second poll this month to show Cruz in first place here. Like the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, Monmouth University found Cruz gaining most from Carson’s falling support. Last month’s endorsement by Representative Steve King has helped the Texas senator consolidate the most conservative parts of the Republican base, and he has an enormous lead among evangelicals. Some will attribute that development to backing from the FAMiLY Leader’s front man Bob Vander Plaats, but for months now, Cruz has had the largest number of evangelical pastors supporting him, as well as major social conservative voices like radio host Steve Deace and Dick and Betty Odgaard, the so-called "religious liberty ambassadors" because they shut down their business rather than buckle to pressure to allow same-sex marriages there.

Trump and his supporters have been touting a CNN poll released on December 7, which had him ahead of Cruz in Iowa by 33 percent to 20 percent, but I don’t believe that for a second—and not only because Ann Selzer has the best track record for polling this state. The CNN poll showed Trump does much better among no-party voters than among registered Republicans. An Iowa State University/WHO-HD poll that was in the field during early November found that a disproportionate number of Trump supporters have not voted in a Republican primary during the last ten years.

I don’t believe that Iowa State/WHO-HD poll reflects the current state of the race (it had Trump running behind Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and "don’t know," with Cruz in fifth place). But I do agree with those pollsters that whether someone has voted in a recent Republican primary should be factored into a likely caucus-goer screen. Attending the caucus takes considerably more time and effort than casting a ballot in a primary. You have to find your precinct caucus location (usually different from where you would vote in a November election) and go out for an hour or more on a cold night in February. Trump doesn’t have anything like the massive organization Barack Obama’s campaign built to identify and turn out supporters who had never caucused before January 2008.

I enclose below highlights from the new Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register as well as the main findings from the latest Monmouth University and CNN polls of Iowa Republican caucus-goers. Steven Shepard’s profile of Ann Selzer for Politico is worth a read.

A Bleeding Heartland post in progress will consider whether Cruz is now firmly in position to win the Iowa caucuses, or whether he is on track to peak too soon. I’m on record predicting Cruz would not win here, but that view was grounded in several assumptions that have turned out to be false.

Trump claims the Des Moines Register is biased against him, and speaking to a rally in Des Moines on Friday night, he characterized the Register’s chief politics reporter Jennifer Jacobs as "the worst." For the record, I do not agree, even though I’ve had some serious issues with Jacobs’ reporting. But I did find something strange in her Sunday Des Moines Register piece about "the skinny" on each candidate. Jacobs called Carly Fiorina (at 1 percent in the Selzer poll) an "also-ran," described Mike Huckabee (3 percent) and Rick Santorum (1 percent) as "yesterday’s news," and said Rand Paul had "little opportunity" after dropping to 3 percent. Yet she put a positive spin on Chris Christie’s 3 percent showing:

After some of the best days of his campaign, the tell-it-like-it-is New Jersey governor has seen a slight bump in support, up from 1 percent in October.

And his favorability rating is no longer underwater. In the October Iowa Poll, it was 39 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable. Now it’s 46 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable.

I had a feeling that securing more friendly coverage in the Register was the one thing Iowa Republican elites could deliver for Christie’s campaign.

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Bobby Jindal accepts reality, ends presidential campaign

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal suspended his presidential campaign today, acknowledging that "this is not my time." I enclose below the full text of his "thank you" message.

Jindal had visited Iowa 27 times, spending all or part of 74 days here since the beginning of 2013. Republican audiences generally received him favorably, despite his disastrous record as governor. His riff on "hyphenated Americans" was a crowd-pleaser, as was his assertion that "Immigration without assimilation is an invasion." But in a crowded field with at least half a dozen candidates targeting the social conservative niche, Jindal didn’t have a lot of money to raise his profile through direct mail or paid advertising. Nor did he have a path to the main debate stage, since television networks have made the cut using national polls rather than surveys of Iowa Republicans.

Jindal had been scheduled to visit Iowa again this week, including an appearance at the FAMiLY Leader’s Presidential Family Forum. I suspect Representative Steve King’s endorsement of Senator Ted Cruz yesterday factored into the governor’s decision not to waste his time on that event. Although the FAMiLY Leader has showcased Jindal’s illegal efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in Louisiana, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Bob Vander Plaats will jump on the Cruz bandwagon.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Douglas Burns interviewed Jindal for his latest "Political Mercury" column in Cityview. It’s a good read and a reminder of why some had speculated Jindal might become this cycle’s social conservative peaking at just the right time before the Iowa caucuses.

UPDATE: Added below some reaction and commentary to Jindal dropping out.

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Steve King: Ted Cruz is the "constitutional conservative" who can "restore the soul of America"

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Representative Steve King endorsed Senator Ted Cruz for president a few minutes ago, calling the senator from Texas "the answer to my prayers, a candidate God will use to restore the soul of America." After going through several key issues, including the need to stop President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and to repeal "root and branch" the 2010 Affordable Care Act, King said his candidate would need to be committed to those policies. In addition, King said a successful candidate needs to be able to appeal not only to establishment Republicans, but also to "constitutional Christian conservatives" and libertarians. The candidate must be able to raise enough money to run a strong campaign, and must be able to inspire Christian conservatives for a large turnout. In King’s view, one reason Republicans lost the 2012 presidential race was millions of Christian conservatives staying home.

King argued that Cruz is "unmatched in his tenacity to take on the Washington cartels" and has "consistently stood on principle" against the D.C. elites. He "does listen, and he does think." Asked how much he will do to support Cruz before the Iowa caucuses, King joked that "if they’ll let me," he is prepared to hit the campaign trail, adding, "I’m in with both feet, I’m in all the way." Asked to sum up his reasoning in one sentence, King said, "Ted Cruz is the full package, the constitutional conservative that can restore the soul of America."

King didn’t endorse a candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, and didn’t take a stand the previous cycle until shortly before the 2008 caucuses, when he endorsed Fred Thompson. I suspect that coming out so early for Cruz reflects King’s concern about Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s long ride at the top of the Iowa and national polls. During the Q & A, King said he hopes his endorsement will add "clarity" to Cruz’s position on immigration, and asserted that some others are trying to distort Cruz’s stance on that issue. When a reporter asked King why he doesn’t see Carson as a candidate who can restore the soul of America, King praised Carson’s intellect but suggested that Washington, DC is not "a zone that he is familiar with." Later in the Q & A, King made a similar point about Trump—he doesn’t know enough about how Washington works. He made clear that he would support Trump if he became the GOP nominee and said he appreciated that Trump has raised some of the issues King has worked on for a long time.

UPDATE: Added below some reaction to today’s news and the official video of King endorsing Cruz, which the senator’s campaign sent out a few minutes before King made the big reveal at his press conference. One of the pro-Cruz super-PACs also announced King’s endorsement before the congressman did.

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