Turns out there is a silver lining to five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court committing what amounts to cultural self-immolation last week — it winnowed the crowded field of 2016 GOP presidential candidates considerably.
After analyzing the historical demographics of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, along with the overall environment on the ground, I’m confident we already know who can win here next February and who cannot.
Given the demographic dominance of evangelicals in the Iowa Caucuses, where they’re about 60 percent of the vote, as well as Iowa Republicans’ documented disdain for activist judges (see Iowa’s historic 2010 judicial retention election), a candidate who responded timidly to last week’s unleashing of the Rainbow Jihad isn’t going to win the Iowa caucuses.
Unfortunately, most of the field wasn’t exactly a profile in courage.
That means one of these four candidates, who responded strongly and forcefully, is going to win the Iowa caucuses.
Ted Cruz — His weeks-long dalliance with so-called “Obamatrade” cost him momentum with activists here, so he’s hoping he rediscovered his mojo on this issue. He remains the only candidate who could potentially receive both of the most coveted endorsements in the state — Rep. Steve King and pro-family activist Bob Vander Plaats.
Mike Huckabee — He is certainly speaking conservative activists’ love language with his tough talk on the courts and the U.S. Constitution. But would he really follow through on what he’s saying as president? Consider he publicly criticized and undermined the fight to defund Obamacare in 2013, and that wasn’t nearly as radical as defying the system’s judicial supremacy canard would be.
Rick Santorum—The defending caucus champ isn’t gaining much ground, but he’s also not going away.
Scott Walker — He wasn’t the strongest, but he was strong enough given his strong resume in Wisconsin. Still, there remains plenty of skepticism about Mr. Walker among national Christian conservative leadership. He’s got a few months to shore that up.
The Finalist Tier
Historically, if you don’t finish in the top three in Iowa you have no chance to be the GOP nominee. The following candidates will not win the Iowa caucuses, but might still be able to finish in the top three and thus live to fight on from here.
Ben Carson — Referring to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vain imaginings as “the law of the land” is a face-palm to Iowa conservatives. As a result, there is little chance he will win here. However, he may still have enough residual star power to finish in the top three.
Bobby Jindal — Iowans like him, but he would need both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Huckabee to fail to win, and that’s unlikely to happen. Especially because he missed a golden opportunity to vault himself to the forefront by saying he had “no choice” but to comply with the Supreme Court. Iowans know better than that. After all, what if the Supreme Court ordered we stop adhering to the religious liberty in the First Amendment that Mr. Jindal is so passionate about preserving? Is there anything the Supreme Court could order that we should not comply with? And where in the Constitution does it say the Supreme Court makes law and is the final word on the Constitution? Maybe that’s in there right next to the words “separation of church and state.” Mr. Jindal is going to have to take chances to make up ground, and there are only so many chances to take.
Rand Paul — He said nothing for three days, and then his response was frankly a joke. He continues to run a campaign that doesn’t sincerely compete for the support of the majority of the people who actually vote. His strategy makes no sense, and he’s lost considerable ground in Iowa in the past year. Still, he could potentially eke out a top-three finish with what remains of his father’s loyalists if conservatives severely splinter their support.
Marco Rubio — His double-minded response to the court was widely panned by conservatives. However, if he becomes the establishment’s choice when all is said and done (as I predict he will), then he will finish in the top three in Iowa.
Donald Trump —Iowans really want to like him and he has the best grass-roots organizer in the state working for him, but he didn’t come strongly against the Supreme Court disenfranchising more than 50 million voters.
The Also-Ran Tier
These candidates may have a moment in the sun, or perhaps already have, but they will not be factors come February.
Jeb Bush — All you need to know about his prospects here is the fact Doug Gross, perhaps the ultimate Iowa GOP establishment insider, was on the Laura Ingraham show last week basically telling him to not even bother competing.
Carly Fiorina — Everybody loves her until they find out where she stands on most of the issues, like the fact she agrees with Justice Kennedy on marriage.
John Kasich — The GOP establishment will look at his record of electoral success in the key swing state of Ohio and flirt with the idea of giving him their nod — until they realize they can have a much more talented candidate like Mr. Rubio instead.
Rick Perry — He’s got a phenomenal record, but people just don’t see him as presidential timber. His clichéd “I’ll appoint strict constructionist judges” response to the court was a talking point only 1989 could love. I believe the same people who appointed Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts promised the same thing.
The “What in the Sam Hill are they thinking” Tier
Only Allah knows why these people are running.
Chris Christie — Word on the street is this is who Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad likes, which makes Mr. Christie’s task of wooing skeptical conservatives even tougher.
Lindsey Graham — Iowans have already gotten their Caitlyn Jenner fix.
George Pataki — Iowa conservatives much prefer fake pro-life Republicans to openly pro-killing Republicans.
Oh, and if you think winning Iowa doesn’t matter, you might want to go back and read my column from last week.
(Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)
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