US Republicans caught between a Trump and Cruz place

Rubio’s third-place vote positions him to lobby for campaign finance as a candidate who can appeal to traditional conservatives and head off the populism of Trump and Christian fundamentalism of Cruz

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 2016, 12:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 3:08pm

The Iowa Republican Party caucuses were the first test of whether front-runner Donald Trump’s unconventional populist appeal would fully translate into actual votes. It did not, although the tycoon and television personality remains well in the race for the party’s presidential nomination ahead of the New Hampshire state primary vote on Tuesday.

Trump polled 24 per cent of the vote behind Texan senator Ted Cruz’s 28 per cent. That sounds like bad news for Republican establishment leaders and moderates, who fear that the nomination of either man would be an electoral disaster that would gift the November elections to their Democratic Party opponents. After all, Trump is a political unknown who has outraged sections of the electorate with controversial proposals on border security, including a temporary suspension of the entry of all Muslims to the US. And Cruz has put ideology ahead of party loyalty, making distrustful enemies of many fellow Republican politicians.

It says something about how troubled party leaders are that they took heart from a surprisingly strong showing by Florida senator Marco Rubio, who finished a close third with 23 per cent of the vote. He is now their hope to head off Trump and Cruz and mount a credible challenge for the White House. That is not to say Rubio would normally be seen as a moderate, only that he seems relatively so in the party’s lurch to the right.

The result in Iowa reflected Cruz’s appeal to Christian evangelicals and “tea party” supporters, Trump’s conservative blue-collar constituency and Rubio’s mix of pragmatic conservatives and Republicans, plus his youthful appeal. Rubio’s vote positions him to lobby for campaign finance as a candidate who can appeal to traditional conservatives.The New Hampshire vote will test that assumption. The race for the Democratic Party’s nomination has come down to Hillary Clinton and self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. Despite a near tie in Iowa, Clinton remains well ahead in polls in the big states.