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With less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, there is a reason the Republican front-runner for president, Donald Trump, isn't under attack: Everyone else is running for second place.

Other Republicans appear to have conceded the first place position to Trump — for now. But on Monday, Ted Cruz attacked Marco Rubio, whose Super PAC attacked Chris Christie, who in a speech attacked first-term senators (like Cruz, Rubio, and Rand Paul). Paul attacked Christie, and then Governor John Kasich of Ohio hit both Christie and Rubio. It's clear now the fight is to be in the final round with Trump in the next few months.


The math makes sense. The only reason Trump, with about 30 percent of support in national and state polls, is leading the race is because the other 11 candidates split up the remaining 70 percent. If somehow the contest were between just Trump and "someone else" down the line, it would appear that "someone else" would easily take out Trump.

The game now appears to be in helping voters and donors answer the question: if not Trump, then who?

The risky part of this strategy for non-Trump Republicans is that by playing for second, Trump could grow his lead over the runner-up by an insurmountable gap. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum finished second in the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012, but neither came close to being the nominee.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.