Let's be clear on the political stakes here. It is not impossible that Trump or Cruz could win a general election. But there's ample reason to believe that a Trump or Cruz nomination makes all of the following far more likely:
- Sweeping electoral defeat for Republicans, for the presidency and in the Senate atleast (some Democrats have even suggested to me that the House could be put in play)
- Either a liberal takeover of the Supreme Court or a missed chance for conservatives to pad their majority (since four of the court's nine justices will be older than 80 when the next president is inaugurated)
- A tarnishing of the GOP's image among Hispanics that will last a very long time. (This is obviously true for Trump, but Cruz is also far further to the right on immigration than any modern GOP nominee.)
With so many other options available, nominating either Trump or Cruz would be a tremendous risk to take for a party that has any interest in winning.
And yet somehow Trump and Cruz have ended up first and second in the polls, with one of them leading Iowa and the other ahead in New Hampshire.
Yes, the GOP saw several extreme or seemingly unelectable candidates surge to first place during the 2011 nomination contest, but establishment favorite Mitt Romney ended up winning. Yes, past examples like Howard Dean show a poll leader really can collapse very quickly.
Is the establishment really still willing to assume that two poll leaders will just collapse? Two poll leaders who not only have excited voters but who each has access to tens of millions in cash?
And again, there's a number of conservative pundits who are betting just that: that both Trump and Cruz will collapse and clear the way for someone like Rubio to win. That number is shrinking, however, as more of the right are looking to choose sides between Trump and Cruz.
Still, I'm liking the Dems' chances against Cruz or Trump. The winner here will be so ridiculously far to the right and the fight so well publicized that come next fall, the Democrats will be in a very powerful position.