When the Iowa results came in Monday night, it was clear that anti-establishment Republicans were on top. The onetime inevitable front-runner, Jeb Bush, barely registered. The bombastic and acerbic Ted Cruz, who has spent much of his career and campaign blasting Washington, came out on top. Donald Trump, certainly furious he did not win, still came in second. These are two Republicans who have spent as much time fighting their own party as they have the Democrats. Even Marco Rubio, who also put on a strong performance, was the darling of the Tea Party when he came to Washington, and he has continued to echo many of their arguments. As Peter Beinart wrote, Rubio’s recent surge in the polls is due to “borrowing Trump’s message while pledging to more effectively package it.”
Bill Clinton once said: “Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just fall in line.” But that has never really been the case—and it certainly isn’t in 2016.
The civil war that has broken out among Republicans is nothing new. Though the GOP likes to think of itself as the orderly party, where politicians must politely wait their turn to run for office, this hasn’t been true for a long time. There is a deep-rooted tradition of maverick conservatives shaking up the status quo by running against the Republican establishment. Barry Goldwater did this against Nelson Rockefeller in 1964, though his landslide defeat against Lyndon Johnson put the strategy in doubt. It was Ronald Reagan who, nearly 40 years ago, perfected the tradition. In the process, Reagan created the template for the anti-establishment, conservative campaign style that has catapulted Trump and Cruz to the top of the Republican ticket.