Three Republican candidates have broken away from the rest of the pack, and while two of them — real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — are a "nightmare" for the GOP establishment, the third GOP contender, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, is struggling to gain traction in Iowa, home to the first-in-nation caucuses, The Hill
Listen, I think both Cruz and Trump would have a similar impact on the party, neither of which would be very good. I am actually more concerned about Cruz than I am about Trump," said GOP strategist John Feehery, a former senior leadership aide who is a columnist for The Hill.
"I think Cruz has made a reputation of relentless mendacity . . . I think he's a demagogue and I think he'll destroy the party. I think Trump is much more of a blowhard. But there's not really a dime's worth of difference between Trump and Cruz."
As of Wednesday, a RealClearPolitics poll showed Trump, Cruz and Rubio atop the national polling average. However, in Iowa, Rubio is far behind with only a 13.7 percent backing.
The Hill notes that an even bigger problem for the Florida senator is that other candidates who are competing for the same voters are unlikely to drop out before the New Hampshire primary, causing votes that might otherwise go to Rubio to potentially be won by contenders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead.
Despite Trump and Cruz leading the polls nationally, many Washington Republicans are outraged by Trump's latest outburst calling for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. as well as believe he is damaging the party's image.
"Donald Trump says he might make a third-party run if he is mistreated by the party, but Donald Trump has severely mistreated the Republican Party with his outlandish and over-the-top statements against Hispanics, women and now against religion in terms of Muslims," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and former aide to House and Senate Republican leaders.
Due to the angst the real estate tycoon and Texas senator have caused, many people believe this could boost Rubio's chances in the polls.
When asked if he believes if Rubio could pick up speed to defeat Cruz and Trump, Dave Woodward, a South Carolina GOP strategist said, "I think it could — and the reason is, he says all the right things."
"People who are concerned about losing again — and that's what it boils down to — might say, 'I hadn't really considered Rubio but he looks like the best establishment choice. I might go with him,'" Woodard said.
Bojean added, "There needs to be a consolidation of candidates that attract white-collar and establishment voters, and that will compete for the nomination.
"At this point, you are seeing some movement in the establishment toward Rubio — a little bit. It feels like a plate-shifting is happening."
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