The GOP presidential primary contest is about to enter crunch time with just two months left until the voting begins with the Iowa caucuses followed a week later by the New Hampshire primary.
We are about to find out if the Donald Trump phenomena is a mirage that will evaporate when things get serious or a lasting movement that could deliver the nomination to the bellicose billionaire. The betting here remains that Trump will not win the nomination and may not even win in Iowa, where he has held the lead for months. But even if Trump goes down, his success thus far will still present a significant problem for the Republican Party.
The latest polling shows Trump still leads in Iowa but with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas close on his heels. Nothing Trump has said or done in recent weeks — from clinging to a debunked story about Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11 to mocking a reporter's handicap to canceling a press conference with black ministers — seems to be hurting him too badly.
But as the negative stories pile up, Trump's hold on Iowa seems less secure. And Cruz has done a very deft job of first cozying up to Trump supporters and then presenting himself as the natural heir to the billionaire's followers, a maverick who has consistently battled the establishment in Washington to champion conservative causes from spending restraint to abortion.