GOP establishment leaning toward Trump over Cruz

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Buzz Cut:
• GOP establishment leaning toward Trump over Cruz
• Team Cruz intensifies Trump dump
• Rubio PAC comes out hard against Cruz
• Bernie heads south to breach Hillary’s firewall
• The silence of the hipsters

These days, many Republican leaders are playing an unappetizing game of “would you rather.”

The conventional wisdom, which once dictated that neither Donald Trump nor Sen. Ted Cruz could possibly be the party’s nominee now says that one of the two men will necessarily claim the nomination.

A weekend piece in the WaPo congealed this narrative into one tar-thick blob of despair for the GOP elite. After two cycles of defeating the Jacobins of their party’s base, the revolution is upon them. Cries of defeat and despair ricochet off of their opalescent kitchen counters and $75 bottles of “table wine.”

The received and accepted analysis is that since Trump and Cruz did not “implode” in the way that Mitt Romney’s rivals did four years ago, they cannot be stopped. Adding to the despair is the fact that the consensus pick for the Republican elite, Jeb Bush, did a belly flop like Shamu at a matinee show. The old magic did not work. Money did not equal victory. Don’t let the nanny hear you quietly sobbing in your den.

Leave aside for now the fact that the conventional wisdom is probably just as wrong about the future as it was about the race to this point. The bladder-voiding panic has come to official Washington, which, of course, brings a smile to the faces of nearly every Republican voter beyond the Beltway.

But the elites didn’t get to be where they are because they are stupid or lazy. They made it to the top of politics because they are smart, hardworking and, perhaps most of all, adaptable.

Doomsday prepping has come to McLean, Va. And the bunkers seem to be stocked with “Make America Great Again” hats.

As Molly Ball and others have reported, the question of “would you rather nominate Trump or Cruz” is yielding something of a surprising answer: Trump.

Fox News First asked 10 Republicans on K Street, Capitol Hill and political shops which would be a better choice for the party, not accepting “neither” as an answer. The participants included the former chief strategist for a Republican presidential candidate, a top messaging guru, a veteran pollster, a senior House leadership aide, a retired member of Congress turned lobbyist and a leading business advocate on K Street, as well as other current and former GOP campaign operatives.

The split was seven for Trump and three for Cruz. While hardly scientific, it reflects a growing sense in conversations around Washington that Trump is the better bad option for the party.

“If Trump loses, it’s a one off,” wrote the message man in response. “He is running as Republican, but he’s not identified with the Republican brand. If he loses, it’s about him and not us.”

And given Trump’s appeal with blue-collar Democrats, there’s some reason to believe that the consequences of a Trump candidacy could be more limited. Even if Trump got wiped out in the suburbs and lost a lopsided electoral battle with Hillary Clinton, there might be some bright spots.

In Cruz, many in the inside crowd see a more traditional red-versus-blue battlefield and a more predictable defeat that would deliver more punishing losses in the Senate and the House.

“Cruz could be the Republican [George] McGovern,” said the pollster in reference to the victim of the 1972 landslide for Richard Nixon. The pollster said Cruz would be too easily painted as an ideological extremist as Clinton ran to the center. “Cruz has a record he’d have to defend,” the pollster said. “Trump changes his views and doesn’t give it another thought.”

While none of the respondents thought that either Trump or Cruz would fare well against Clinton and were mostly focused on mitigating down-ballot damage, prospects after victory were factors too. No matter what the general election looks like now, when the presumptive Democratic nominee actually could be indicted during the campaign, nothing is really foretold.

And in the measure of dealing with either man as president, it was Trump by a mile.

Trump’s ideological flexibility won high marks as did his recent attacks on Cruz for being unable to make deals or build consensus while in Washington. Leaving aside his red-hot rhetoric, Trump looks like a better bet on paper: A socially moderate, mostly non-ideological, highly pragmatic, Northeastern businessman.

“He’s a guy who wants to win and will do what it takes to get there,” the lawmaker turned lobbyist said. “His book is called ‘Art of the Deal.’ That’s what he’s all about. And that’s somebody who could do business in Washington. That’s what this town is all about.”

Cruz, having spent the past three years kicking shins around Washington and disrupting rather than making deals has few friends here. The Republican establishment has been his number one enemy and the feeling is mutual.

The Hill staffer described a Cruz presidency as a “predictable disaster” that would start with him doing battle with Republicans rather than focusing on Democrats. He said Cruz’s rigid ideological stances, especially on social issues, could be immediate deal breakers on any effort for big policy gambits with Democrats.

This is not to suggest that Washington Republicans are rooting for Trump, but it’s safe to say that they increasingly prefer the idea of the devil they don’t know to the one with whom they’ve been fighting since 2013.

Who could it be? - Daily Caller: “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign says the Republican candidate will have a ‘major announcement and a very special guest in attendance’ at a rally planned for Tuesday in Iowa. ‘You will not want to miss this rally!’ says Ryan Keller, the Iowa Deputy State Director for the campaign.”

Team Cruz intensifies Trump dump - WashEx’s David Drucker explains the Cruz PAC strategy in the early states: “After months of facing minimal opposition advertising, Donald Trump could confront a choppy final two weeks before the Iowa caucuses as allies of Ted Cruz mount a major assault. Keep the Promise I, the leading super PAC behind the Texas senator’s presidential bid, told the Washington Examiner on Monday that the digital ad it unveiled targeting the New York celebrity businessman ‘will likely go on TV in the near future.’ Meanwhile, the new spot is being jointly pushed as well via the digital networks of the group’s sister pro-Cruz super PACs: Keep the Promise, Keep the Promise II and Keep the Promise III.”

Rubio PAC comes out hard against Cruz - Pro-Rubio PAC, Conservative Solutions, released three new television ads set to air in the early primary states. Two of the ads focus on Ted Cruz accusing him of being calculated in his policy positions, and the other equating his tax position to that of Canada, while the third paints Rubio as the only defense hawk in the race.

Rubio remains silent on path to citizenship - The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette: “Amid criticism from opponents that he’s flip-flopped on his views of illegal immigration, on Monday presidential hopeful Marco Rubio told a standing room only crowd he doesn’t support amnesty for those who are in the United States illegally… ‘We’re not going to have amnesty,’ Rubio said…However, before his meet-and greet at the Coralville Marriott, Rubio told reporters he’s open to some illegal immigrants receiving Green Cards but remained silent on whether they’d ever be able to become citizens.”

Jeb speaks lays out foreign policy plan - Jeb Bush plans to talk about his foreign policy strategy, with a focus on how to defeat ISIS, in an address at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York today. The discussion will be moderated by WaPo’s Fred Hiatt and can be watched live here.

Listening to music brings us into emotional places. Some are clear, sharp feelings connected to memories ignited whenever that one song plays, while others cause a general feeling of joy or sadness. The NYT explores the latter sentiment, and what causes music to bring about such emotion: “We do a lot of extra work in our listening around the notion of sadness — a phantom quality in listening that most of us nonetheless recognize and agree on — and through our extra work, we become especially vested in the music. The extra work takes the form of myths that we build around the reasons and circumstances of a recording, and through that myth-building we temporarily disbelieve in artifice. Artifice is the practice and process of being something one is not, and it is used to small or large degree by every artist in the world. It’s as transcendent as truth.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Republican Nomination –
Trump 34 percent; Cruz 20 percent; Rubio 11 percent; Carson 9.5 percent
General Election: Clinton vs. Trump – Clinton +2 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spent Monday’s Marin Luther King Jr. holiday trying to break Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s stronghold of African American voters in Alabama. The southern state is among the eleven primaries and caucuses that make up Super Tuesday, March 1 – a critical defensive barrier for Clinton should she suffer losses in February. As WaPo explains:  “[Sanders] pledged Monday during a large-scale rally in Birmingham, Ala., that his agenda would build upon the vision of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking on the national holiday commemorating King’s legacy, the Vermont senator told an overflow crowd estimated at more than 7,000 people that King’s work, in addition to civil rights, focused on helping poor people, regardless of race…‘The fight for economic justice is exactly what this campaign is about,’ Sanders said, vowing to fight to carry on King’s ‘radical and bold vision for America.’”

Hillary preps for long haul campaign - NYT: “Facing a tougher than expected challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is preparing for a primary fight that could stretch into late April or early May and require a sprawling field operation in…On a call with supporters last week, Mrs. Clinton’s aides laid out a scenario in which the race against Mr. Sanders stretched through April, a prospect that they said would require about $50 million for a national ground operation and other expenses”

“Cruz is an extreme right version of Obama a ‘my way or the highway’ ideologue! The LAST thing we need in the White House is another one!” Peggie Hall

“First time writing in on the ‘Power Index’ …I appreciate that the index is not poll driven. The first two are a toss-up to me, and until NH is over I’d agree with Rubio in third. However, I can’t fathom why you still have Jeb! (is that silly exclamation point trademarked?) fourth. I’m not sure who I’d put in his place; Kasich or Christie seem reasonable. I’d even put Jeb! behind [Ben] Carson and [Carly] Fiorina. At least those two have a shot a cabinet posts! Maybe that should be a theme; who’s up for which cabinet post?” – Jeff Smith

“I could vote for almost anyone on the Republican list but possibly only [Martin] O’Malley on the Democrat’s side.  My preferred candidate is Chris Christie because of his qualifications and track record; a few blemishes in a good track record is not trumped [no pun intended, really!] by an unblemished but nearly nonexistent track record, or a short Senate track record that may show political viability but not governing experience or capability.” James K. Beard

“As an Iowa supporter of Cruz, I think you need to put Trump in first place overall.  How can anyone compete with Trump being slammed by Obama and by the Republican Establishment [South Carolina Gov. [Nikki] Haley on national TV on the same night; and then being debated for being banned in the UK? Having Heidi Cruz smeared by the New York Times is some help, though.” – Gary Driscoll

Brooklyn Paper: “Talk about making concessions! A new movie theater and restaurant in industrial Williamsburg will combat the rampant problem of noisy chewing at dine-in cinemas by only serving dishes that don’t make a loud crunch or require silverware. ‘The last thing you want is more excuses to make sounds in the theater,’ said Tim Chung, manager of new 60-seat Bogart Street cinema and eatery Syndicated, which opens Friday. The dining and entertainment destination between Thames and Grattan streets will feature a theater-friendly menu made entirely of finger-foods — such as an Elvis-inspired peanut butter and banana sandwich and pork-stuffed tater-tots — to cut down on mess and irritating cutlery noises during the movie. Diners can enjoy larger and louder dishes in the venue’s dining room, which will serve up fried chicken and burger alongside Hollywood-themed cocktails, Chung said.”

“[Iran’s] Minister of Transport has just announced that they’re going to purchase 114 Airbuses from Europe. A perfect example of how they are now locking in all kind of deals with the Europeans as a way it ensure that there will never be a re-imposition of sanctions…We gave everything away [in the Iran nuclear deal]. We have guaranteed that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon in about a decade.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up