A few parting thoughts or parting shots on the eve of the Iowa caucus.
1. Here's one potential way the wheels might fly off the Trump bandwagon:
Thus far he's been able to coast on free air time. But successful campaigns are about more than media coverage. You need a field operation in the "battleground states." And a turnout machine takes money. You must hire staff. Have campaign offices, &c.
From what I've read, Trump doesn't have a turnout machine in Iowa. If so, that's probably because he isn't prepared to invest his own money in the campaign.
Trump supporters say he's not beholden to the donor class. But is he willing to sink his own fortune into a presidential bid? Indeed, does he even have a legal way of doing that already set up? He can't write a company check. His conglomerate isn't his private piggybank. Corporate assets are sequestered from personal assets.
If he doesn't have a field operation in Iowa, that may be a harbinger that he has no intention of self-financing his campaign. If so, can he win primaries without spending money? Can he win the nomination without spending money? It's not enough to have air time. You need a ground game. If the wheels come off soon enough, a rival candidate might have time to overtake him.
But what if Trump gets the nomination? If he's unwilling to bet his personal fortune on his own campaign, then he will either limp along on free airtime or else he will need to rattle tin cup for the donor class to pitch in. If they do, he's beholden to the donor class, and if he doesn't, I don't see how he wins the general election on a shoestring. Increasingly, it takes a huge war chest to mount a competitive presidential campaign.
2. Rubio seems to have two basic problems:
i) He damaged himself with the Gang of Eight. However, I'm not sure how important the immigration issue is this election cycle. To some degree, I think the issue of Muslim immigration has eclipsed the issue of illegal Hispanic immigration. In addition, the looming threat of Hillary raises so many larger issues.
ii) Rubio is the ill-fated heir to the cumulative resentment of many GOP voters who are fed up with candidates like Dole, McCain, and Romney. (Some of them include Bush 41 and Bush 43 in their list of RINOs.) And they're taking out their pent up rage on Rubio.
He's at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's ironic because, from what I can tell, he's way to the right of Dole, McCain, and Romney. Why draw the line with Rubio, when he's so much better than Dole, McCain, and Romney? Why swallow hard and vote for them but not for him?
In my experience, Rubio detractors (in effect) tell Rubio supporters: "How low are you prepared to stoop to win"?
But Rubio is a pretty good candidate. Even Ben Shapiro says that immigration excepted, Rubio is a bona fide conservative.
So it's not a choice between bad and worse. This doesn't trigger the lesser evil principle.
That doesn't mean he's above criticism. He's been guilty of some serious misjudgments.
3. The Cruz conundrum
Cruz suffers from a dilemma: the very thing that conservative voters find appealing about him is the same thing that less conservative voters find off-putting. So he has a low ceiling. Rightwingers love him because he's so far right. But that's not enough to get elected. How does he make up the difference? What's his appeal to voters who aren't hard right? It's unclear to me how he expands his base of support.