Pretty slick, Senator. Pretty slick. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez)
Opinion writer

The new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll finds that Ted Cruz is hanging on to a slim lead over Donald Trump in Iowa, leading him by 25-22 among likely GOP caucus-goers. But check out these fascinating findings in the internals (click to enlarge):


So 60 percent of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers think it’s attractive that Cruz voted to reign in NSA bulk metadata surveillance; 62 percent of them think it’s attractive that Cruz has flatly ruled out any form of legalization; and 75 percent of them think it’s attractive that he has not gone after Donald Trump, even though The Donald has questioned his legitimacy as a presidential candidate, based on his Canadian birth.

These things all represent aspects of Cruz’s strategy that were seen as controversial or at least questionable at one point or another. When Marco Rubio began hammering Cruz’s support for reining in NSA surveillance as weak on terrorism, and Cruz defended himself, some folks speculated that Rubio likely had the better read on public sentiment in the wake of terror attacks. But Iowa Republicans, it turns out, like Cruz’s opposition to bulk surveillance.

Meanwhile, Cruz has been attacking Rubio as pro-amnesty over his previous support for comprehensive immigration reform, and Rubio has responded by claiming that Cruz is trying to obscure his own previous support for legalization. But Cruz never actually backed legalization, and in any case he has since flatly ruled it out. Rubio no doubt hopes that by keeping his long term intentions towards the 11 million undocumented immigrants vague, he’ll be able to pivot back to a position on immigration that could make him more electable in a national election. But Cruz has placed his chips on unequivocal opposition to legalization. And now it turns out that this is proving attractive to a large majority of Iowa Republicans.

Finally, Cruz has largely stuck to a strategy of refusing to return fire in Trump’s direction. His campaign has said that it sees no percentage in doing this, because it has calculated that Trump’s backers are more akin to fans than to conventional supporters. As senior Cruz adviser Rick Tyler has put it:

“We recognized that Trump changed all the rules. Attacking back clearly doesn’t work with him. He’s a celebrity. It’s like attacking your favorite morning host. It would be like going out and attacking your favorite pop star. Fans would hate that.”

And now it turns out an overwhelming majority of Iowa Republicans find that hands-off approach attractive, too.

Now, I don’t pretend to have any insights into what’s motivating Iowa conservatives, and I don’t have any idea whether these sentiments will enable him to prevail in the Iowa caucuses. But judging by these numbers, Cruz sure seems to have a good grasp of what’s motivating them.