Now that Iowa is in the books, and the pundits and pollsters have packed their bags for New Hampshire, weâ€™ve being treated to every imaginable scenario of where the Republican nomination is headed.
With the first â€œcutâ€ made, the dynamics of the election process will now turn from â€œkicking the tiresâ€ candidate-shoppers to actual buyers. The battle lines that appeared to exist before Iowa are now very clear.
Two candidates represent the insurgent change agents who are willing to break eggs to drive policy changes; Ted Cruz, a more traditional conservative and internationalist, and Donald Trump, an outsider nationalist, who presents himself as a â€œpopulistâ€ conservative.
Marco Rubio, unless there is some dramatic shakeup that doesnâ€™t look likely at this point, appears to be consolidating the so-called â€œcenter-rightâ€ positions staked out by the Bush, Kasich, Christie crowd, as the big government conservative in the mainstream of Washingtonâ€™s aggressive internationalism of the last twenty years.
Now the question is: whatâ€™s next?
If Cruz is to make a real dent in Trumpâ€™s campaign, he needs to pivot; heading into the final days of New Hampshire and then to South Carolina, he must merge into a full-on attack on amnesty and immigration â€“ and their devastating effects on the economy along with the undemocratic, bureaucratic-run managed trade agreement pending in the Congress, the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The problem is that such policy sharpening by Cruz, where he has been fuzzy, separates him further from the internationalist business community, whose primary interest is in transnational business, and to whom the messy business of Constitutional government and self-government are a problem to be â€œfixed.â€
For Trump, the next weeks will be a test of his political focus. He has the ability to â€œemotionalizeâ€ issues into a few sentences and he clearly touches the nationâ€™s deep angst about the future. He gets it; a disintegrating economy, open borders, and unfair trade agreements have run the nation into the rocks.
His great challenge now is to bring discipline to his outsider message, moving away from personalities, and demonstrating that he has the capacity to govern.
By attacking and reaffirming those positions, Cruz and Trump force Rubio into a difficult corner. Rubio seems to inheritor of the Washington â€œruling classâ€ mantel. It is hard to tell exactly, but he seems to believe in the open boarders, â€œwilling workerâ€ concept, as evident by the â€œGang of Eightâ€ plan. His attempt to move away from that position doesnâ€™t seem to be plausible. He has already been an enthusiastic supporter of the TPP, and has not defined himself as a reformer in the sense that he is willing to cut spending.
And if Rubio cannot withstand those policy arguments, then the election will turn into a two man race.