But Trump remains stuck behind Cruz in Iowa, and some GOP operatives say barring a major turnaround, the real estate billionaire will get tagged with the label he hates most — loser — after the Feb. 1 caucuses.
A loss in Iowa would not necessarily derail Trump. He still has big leads over Cruz and Rubio in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the next two states to vote, and could quickly re-establish his front-runner status. But Trump's entire political brand is based on winning and domination. And the GOP primary process is highly fluid with the results in one state impacting the next. Trump's New Hampshire lead could vanish quickly depending on how he handles a possible loss in Iowa.
The post-Iowa moment will go a long way toward deciding whether the conventional wisdom — that GOP voters will abandon their angry protest support for Trump in favor of more traditional candidates — is accurate or just wishful thinking. If Trump loses Iowa but comes back to win New Hampshire and South Carolina, there is a real chance he will become unstoppable and capture the GOP nomination for president. That will be especially true if the field remains large heading into the Super Tuesday primaries across the South on March 1.
If Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all remain in the race, splitting up the more centrist, establishment vote, Trump will have a clearer path to the nomination assuming he can fend off Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson for the conservative, evangelical base of the party.