Talkin’ GOP Establishment Blues

Remember what a big deal it was in the chattering classes when Ann Selzer’s Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register showed Joni Ernst opening up a sizable lead over Bruce Braley? A subsequent Iowa Poll showed a virtually tied race like everybody else, but still, Selzer’s reputation makes her polls hit with more impact than most.

So it’s interesting that Selzer’s first test of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates among likely Caucus-goers is now out. The headline result is that Mitt Romney’s running first (with a less-than-dominant 17%), which means, if you take Ann Romney’s recent “done, done, done” protestations seriously, that the ’16 GOP nominating contest is wide-open to an astonishing degree. Only two other prospects–Ben Carson and Rand Paul–make double-digits, and then only barely.

What jumped out at me, though, were the numbers for the assorted “Republican Establishment” candidates who we are supposed to believe will take up Romney’s tattered banner and keep the crazy people from imposing their will on the GOP. They’re not looking too robust at present. Chris Christie’s at 6%; Jeb Bush is at 4%; and Marco Rubio is at 2%. So add ’em all together and they barely have more support than Ben Carson.

Some might claim taking Mitt out of the equation will create a boom for the “Establishment” candidates remaining. But I dunno: Selzer asks about first- and second-place preferences, and when you add them together Bush runs 8th, Christie 9th, and Rubio 12th.

Christie is the only named candidate whose approval ratings are underwater among these Iowa Republicans: 39/45. That’s really, really bad. Jebbie (50/28) and Rubio (54/16) are in much better shape in terms of potential support; I’d say Rubio is pretty close to recovering his virginity after the terrible stain of supporting amnesty! But still, all these Establishment heroes have an enormous amount of work to do if they want to compete in Iowa, where the campaigning is going to get hot and heavy in just a few months. Step one will be to convince other Establishment competitors not to run; this is a particularly big issue for Bush and Rubio, who come from the same state. Maybe all those donors who are supposedly united in wanting to keep Paul and Cruz and (!) Carson off the ticket can make up their minds for them.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.