Donald Trump may have hit a ceiling of support — at least that’s a prime storyline coming out of the Iowa caucuses where he came in second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But an equally significant story is that the roof crashed in on Jeb Bush and the Republican establishment.
For Trump, Iowa will be a mere blip on the radar if, as predicted, he wins the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday. For Bush, though, it appears the race is all but over. Nearly $15 million was spent to sell Jeb to Iowans. That turned out to be more than $2,800 for each vote won and an embarrassing sixth-place finish for the man who, a year ago, was assumed to be the party’s most likely nominee.
All the money and conventional wisdom invested by the billionaire and millionaire donors, congressional leaders, party operatives and campaign gurus who comprise the GOP establishment have failed to pay dividends this year. Bush was supposed to be the Mitt Romney of 2016 and, if not him, then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (remember him?). Instead, the rebellious Republican base has flocked to Cruz, the much loathed Senate maverick, and Trump, the rude, rich celebrity outsider, both of whom treat the establishment crowd like lepers.
By default, establishment hopes have shifted to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who came in a surprisingly strong third in Iowa, nearly edging out Trump for number two. Rubio was not the ideal choice for GOP insiders because he is actually an outsider, having won his Senate seat by leading a tea party rebellion and beating the establishment favorite, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, in the 2010 Republican primary. Nevertheless, Rubio is not as belligerently off the reservation as Trump or Cruz. He has proven to be much more of a team player in the Senate. Unlike Cruz and Trump, he is not running on anger and resentment. His campaign is built around his own inspiring immigrant story and his well-spoken, uplifting rhetoric has led some to call him the Republican Obama.
It is true that Rubio is as right-wing as Cruz, but that is no handicap in today’s GOP. There are no moderate Republicans anymore; there are only uncompromising conservatives and pragmatic conservatives who care more about winning than maintaining ideological purity. It is the pragmatists who cannot stomach the self-righteous disdain of Cruz. They dislike him so much, they have even shown a willingness to accept Trump as their nominee if it means Cruz loses.
Of course, having Rubio as an alternative makes the pragmatists far happier. Not as happy as they would have been with Bush, certainly, but that horse never even made it out of the barn as the angry voters burned it down.