The sharp and rapid rise of Carly Fiorina is, for me at least, another indicator that polling right now is volatile and flawed. I actually think if primary season started tomorrow, we’d find the last men standing would be Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), with Cruz having a slight advantage — for now at least.
Polling has been largely wrong since 2010 and has been increasingly wrong after 2014. From showing many races in this country as too close to call to even missing the Tory blowout in Britain, something is wrong methodologically with polling. Likewise, the sharp spikes and declines, also too easy to predict, are too easily caught in flash polling. It does not make a lot of sense.
What does make sense and I think what remains are traditional campaign outlooks. I think Trump will fade, Fiorina will fade, and Carson is already fading. They are doing so because their momentum is based more on name identification and not on records or ground games.
If we look at traditional campaign data, which under the smoke and veneer of Campaign 2016 still matters, what we will find is that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is laying down a hell of a ground game and has tons of cash with not nearly the burn rate that even Jeb Bush has. Cruz stands to profit the most from the collapse of Carson, Fiorina, and Trump — all of whom are playing on the outsider advantages right now. Those advantages will start to go away as more traditional and necessary campaign tactics and strategies kick in like, for example, ballot access.
Cruz can get himself on ballots and get signatures collected. He can make a play through the SEC primary better than many of the other candidates can. He captures the conservative outsider angst while also being a more credible candidate long term than any of the other outsiders. Cruz has, after all, won an election and has a professional campaign team.
While conservatives will gravitate rapidly to Cruz, the more establishment oriented people who recognize the party still needs a fresh face and chage will likely go to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Already I’m hearing that both Walker and Bush donors are looking at Rubio as their next pick. Rubio has the highest positives of any of the candidates and is, in fact, the one Republican that the Democrats desperately fear because of his perceived ability to attract women, young voters, and Hispanics.
Likewise, Rubio has an experienced team that will be able to navigate ballot access laws, has consistently high polling in a volatile (and inaccurate) polling year, and did I mention just how positively people view him. Rubio also is running a tighter campaign with a slower burn rate than some of the others.
Being liked is a pretty big indicator of where people will head as their candidates start to fade. Rubio also has a pretty solid fundraising ability magnifying his nimble campaign’s ability to get out there the closer we get to the primaries.
I think over the coming weeks, the campaign vultures will circle the Scott Walker campaign, looking to see if he has a pulse and, if they find none, will begin in earnest to pull voters and donors away from him. I suspect we’ll see the more conservative elements head to Cruz and the more establishment elements head to Rubio.
Next month’s debate performance could rupture it. There’s still a lot that could change. But right now to me it looks like we are headed toward a Cruz vs. Rubio primary and, given how well the outsiders are doing currently, Cruz has a slight advantage.