One thing was very clear last night from CNN’s latest debate that I watched on commercial breaks of Fixer Upper and followed on Twitter. It changed nothing. The favorites remain Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie got feistier, Rand Paul was more communicative and confident, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina were invisible and John Kasich as ninja hands – but none of them changed the dynamic of this race one bit. Forget your usual silly/generic winners and losers columns written by national media lightweights looking for clickbait, what is going on in the Republican Party right now is represented by these three men. Marco Rubio is the bright young star of a depressed GOP establishment that has seen its leaders fall one by one from Cantor to Boehner to Jeb. Rubio, young and energetic, is the new vessel to fill with the old ideas and the old money that has traditionally run this party. Ted Cruz is the tea party darling, an angry voice inside Washington rebelling against is centurions that so many grassroots supporters see as the real enemy, sellouts to Obama’s agenda and weaklings who were afraid to take the President on directly. Then there is Donald Trump, the voice of the throw-your-hands-in-the-air voters who simply don’t trust anyone anymore. Trump’s support is probably broader than anyone wants to admit and comes from traditional Republicans as well as outside voters attracted to his celebrity, clarity and anger.
This is the Republican Party today. An establishment reeling and looking for a new leader, a grassroots tea party looking to finally take over rather than simply fight from within and angry outside voices fed up with our entire political institutions willing to trust a man of oversized personality and success outside of politics to this time really change the system. As the debate wore on and I started watching more and more of it, it became clear that these three are the top tier for a reason. These three, when combined, are the Republican Party. Second tier candidates are a mix of the past, the never was, and we-don’t-care anymore. Jeb Bush is a walking talking reminder that the 00s are over, Rand Paul and libertarians in general I’m afraid vastly overestimated their appeal within the party, Chris Christie and John Kasich’s bellicose executive experience means less and less when the issues are more ideological and even cultural within the party, and the outsider status of Fiorina and Carson melt underneath the celebrity limelight of Trump. Running on “getting things done” means nothing when the party at it’s core distrusts the institutions of government to begin with. Running as someone who can make the trains run on time won’t work anymore.
What is interesting is we see this manifest itself here in Virginia with who is leading these respective campaigns. Ted Cruz has cultural conservatives and tea party leaders like Dick Black and Bill Stanley. Marco Rubio has existing party leaders who are up and coming like himself, lead by Barbara Comstock and Tim Hugo. Donald Trump is being lead by a bombastic outsider who has never served a day in Richmond, Corey Stewart. I won’t pretend to know who it’s laying out in other states but it is remarkable the synergy here in Virginia with the overall breakdown of the candidates nationally.
So where do we end up? I have no idea. I’ve said from day one that Marco Rubio is the favorite because he checks the most boxes for the most Republican primary voters. I’m beginning to doubt that, but not enough to change any prediction. Ted Cruz has been much stronger and disciplined then I thought he would be. He’s actually run the best campaign of any of the Republicans thus far. As for Trump, who the hell knows. Every week he says or does something that is supposed to end his campaign and yet he’s still here polling (substantially) ahead of everyone. And some bomb could drop, like this thing about Cruz accidently leaking confidential information. But as we stand right now, this minute, these three are on top because they collectively represent the GOP. We must choose wisely.