For anyone inclined to view the 2016 primaries as the people’s election, the results in Iowa had to come as a mild disappointment. No conservative can question the integrity and commitment of Ted Cruz, but even with his unofficial reputation as the most hated man in Washington, he is, after all, a sitting senator. And while there would presumably be some historical significance to a Hillary Clinton victory, Bernie Sanders has hijacked all of that first-woman excitement with his dreams of turning America into a European-style socialist democracy. Thus, while a Clinton/Cruz victory night has undoubtedly brought relief to those who fear the respective runners-up, it’s hard to ignore that sound off in the distance. It’s quiet. It’s vague. But if you listen closely, it’s there. And it sounds a lot like air being let out of a balloon.
But now is the time for optimism. Iowa was the one state Donald Trump was never supposed to win. In fact, were it not for a late-stage surge in the polls, his loss Monday night would have come as no surprise at all. His supporters still have ample reason to believe he will be the last man standing when every state has had their say.
As for Cruz, he’s facing an uphill climb. His brand of Christian conservatism will not find a more welcoming home than it did in Iowa. He is the man of the moment in nearly every corner of conservative media, but there’s a vast gulf between readers of National Review and the general Republican electorate. A Cruz presidency has the potential to truly undo the evils of the Obama administration…but can it actually happen? A Trump nomination, at least theoretically, could open doors to victory that a Cruz nomination will leave closed. What good does an ideologically perfect candidate do us if it leads to a Clinton landslide?
Then there is Marco Rubio. His 3rd place finish in Iowa – only 1% behind Trump – could be the biggest story of the night. With the writing on the wall for Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, the big-time Republican donors will see in Rubio their best shot at an establishment victory. A Rubio nomination is not going to energize conservatives the way Trump or Cruz might, but there are certainly more dismal outcomes to imagine than a President Rubio. He’s smart, capable, and conservative. Is he going to fix the mess that is Washington? Nah. Can he set this country on a path better than the one we’re on? God, yes.
“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz said Monday night. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”
That’s a good way to look at it. If we can assume from the Iowa results that the Republican nominee will be one of these three men, conservatives have plenty of reasons to stay excited. None of them are flawless, but let’s keep one thing firmly in mind: We’re not replacing an ineffective Republican incumbent. For all of the (justified) criticism of the establishment, we must not forget what it is we’re really fighting against. A Clinton victory in November would have dire, long-lasting effects on the United States. At some point, the entrenched liberalism will be irreversible. The divide between what is written in the Constitution and what is seen in modern America will grow perilously wide. A Republican victory can, at the very least, stop the bleeding. Compared to the alternative, what more can we reasonably ask?