First, let's look at these two.
Trump is not a lifelong Republican, let alone not a Republican insider. Though he's softpedaled some of his past stances, past statements that would put him outside the GOP pale include support for at least marijuana legalization, if not more, opposing "free trade," being pro-life at one time, having former Democratic affiliation, and being a serial married person, among other things, mean that he's open to attacks.
Especially on Religious Right issues.
Since the fading of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the disappearance of Rick Santorum, Rafael Edward Cruz, with his Dominionist Daddy, is theoretically the top candidate of the Religious Right. If anybody is to bell the cat named Trump on RR issues, then, theoretically, it should be Cruz. But, in his oleaginous approach, or vulture-like one, to Trump's candidacy, he's so far refused to do so. However, his own New York values slippage, with two undeclared campaign loans from New York banks, and Trump not seeing any huge decline, means that Havana Ted's probably going to have to do some trigger pulling at some point.
Cruz himself, though an insider in name, is nothing but an arsonist on establishment GOP bridge-building, so insiders have little more use for him.
And as far as Sarah Palin endorsing The Real Donald? Maybe she's angling to leave the former First Dude of Alaska, after all their rumored sexual dalliances away from home. And, if so, does Glen Rice become part of the campaign team, with her alleged fun with him, including a few white lines? Does Bristol Palin get to play a surrogate Chelsea Clinton wannabe?
Some of the punditocracy, like Matthew Dowd, thinks this is a boost:
Does it really hurt Cruz badly?Regardless of your opinion of her, palin endorsing @realDonaldTrump at this moment against Cruz is a big help to trump. hurts Cruz badly.— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) January 19, 2016
Jokes above, I don't think it does. And neither do a lot of other Twitter respondents.
Ted Cruz's camp thinks it hurts Palin worse, hurting her standing with the Religious Right per Trump's past stance on some social issues as noted above.
That said, how a person who probably had an affair to produce her last child (hence insisting she give birth, not just back in Alaska, but in Hooterville, aka Whazzup, aka Wasilla), and who had a dalliance with NBA star Rice long before that, and whose daughter Bristol has claimed to be a spokeswoman for sexual purity after getting knocked up without benefit, and whose son Track (Marks?) Palin has now been arrested for family violence, after knocking his wife up outside wedlock, ever got to be a spokeswoman or icon for the Religious Right anyway?
The reality is that this is a marginalized Sarah Palin, knowing she can never be elected to any political office greater than Dogcatcher of Wasilla, sidelined even by Faux News, unhappy with the still-wedlocked First Dude, desperately greedy for the limelight. Nothing more.
I otherwise can't put it better than 538: Trump IS Palin 2.0, though that piece forgot to mention the biggest comp factor: both suck ALL the oxygen out of a room.
And, given that, contra Havana Ted, it may hurt Trump more than it hurts Palin OR Cruz (for not getting it). She'll do everything she can, for as long as she can, to turn the limelight from The Donald to her.
That said, back to the big picture, per the header.
On the horse race, at some point, Cruz is going to have to stop hoping for Trump slippage and to take up the cudgels himself. Whether he's calling his own strategic big shots or staff are, he's getting bad advice.
But, that said, is it a two-person race? I'm still not convinced.
Theoretically, this means it should be a three-person horse race between Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, to become the establishment's horse to make it a three-horse race overall. (I'm not counting Chris Christie, as I think he's not got a chance.)
There's a couple of problems, though.
While the GOP has something kind of like Democratic superdelegates, and they even make up a higher proportion of total delegates, they don't at all function in the same way. GOP delegates are more rightly called unpledged delegates because, after their respective state's primaries, they must vote in accordance with primary results. What this really is, is a quasi-winner take all without being a full winner take all.
What this means is that the GOP establishment can't build a firewall against Trump and/or Cruz.
One of the three establishmentarian candidates must push ahead of the other two enough to get tabbed by estalishmentarian figures, who would then work behind the scenes.
I say this has to happen no later than the South Carolina primary. If it doesn't happen by then, some establishment types may get together on their own.
Marco Rubio still looks the best on paper, but he's going to have to up his game yet more at the next GOP debate. That said, per the Guardian, he's above 10 percent in Iowa, as confirmed by other pollling, so his foot is in the door, unless Ken Silverstein's kicking him in the nuts causes that foot to reflexively withdraw.
Jeb may punch his check-out ticket by South Carolina, and become this year's Phil Gramm, so scratch him, though CNN has him and Rubio tied for third at 10 percent each in New Hampshire. Kasich brings the most appealing policy package, plus gubernatorial experience, to the table. Can he pick up steam?
Update, Jan. 26: In the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza tangentially explains why this isn't really a two-horse race, and related issues about both Trump and Cruz.
Makes you wonder if the GOP won't consider creating something like Democratic superdelegates before they hit the 2020 campaign.