Its likes the song Feeling Good…”It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…”…
The Iowa Caucus, in a few short hours, turned the political conventional wisdom that has building for the better part of a year on its head. Literally every poll in the last few weeks showed Donald Trump leading the Iowa caucus by an ever-growing margin, extending up to an average of 5-7 points by election day yesterday, with Senator Ted Cruz following in second, and Marco Rubio trailing badly for third.
None of those things were true. And Iowa Caucus voters showed again why commentators know nothing…and voters are paramount.
So who won and lost on Tuesday?
1. Ted Cruz was the biggest winner of all.
You can spin the expectations game and the perception battle all you want. Of any of the candidates on either side of the aisle, Cruz was the only that, you know…actually won something.
Cruz started this campaign a year ago with a simple premise: he was going to unite the social right, pull enough establishment conservatives to drain the mainstream candidate, and win Iowa to catapult him into the heart of the nomination race. He spent millions of dollars and countless amount of time to build the best Republican infrastructure and Evangelical turnout machine that could be constructed.
And he succeeded on all counts.
There is an obvious open question now if Cruz can repeat this success anywhere else, because obviously Iowa is unique among primary states. No candidate will have the time or manpower to move their voters the way Cruz did in Iowa. From now on, the candidates will have to depend far more on their power of persuasion.
2. Senator Marco Rubio is for real.
There is literally no honest Rubio supporter (including yours truly) that thought Rubio would finish within 5% of the leader, 1% of Trump, or an overall percentile of 23%. Rubio came within 2,300 votes of passing Trump on Tuesday night; to put that into perspective, that is equivalent of half of Jeb Bush’s entire vote, or slightly more than Rick Santorum’s vote. It was that razor-thin.
Rubio compounded his victory by giving the most uplifting victory speech of the night. And, to the ire of Cruz fans, that is exactly what it was: a victory speech. Stealing a page from Bill Clinton in 1992, Rubio claimed victory on a night that he actually lost.
But it worked. He went out and spoke first, likely garnering the largest TV audience of the night. His fans were ecstatic, and most felt that they won…even though they finished third.
Rubio’s challenge going forward is slightly different from Cruz’s. Rubio must convince the other establishment candidates to leave the race. Exit polls (which are dubious in Caucus elections, but it is the only data we have) say that Rubio was the favorite second choice of voters who cast ballots for Bush, Kasich, Santorum, and Christie, and for a large percentage of Ben Carson and Ron Paul voters. Those votes must consolidate for Rubio to win the nomination.
3. Donald Trump was the biggest loser.
There is no debating this. Trump spent a year telling the nation he was leading in the polls. He would, quite literally, read poll numbers to his crowds, saying how fantastic they were.
And then Iowa voters crushed Trump with the burden of reality.
To his credit, a second place finish for a moderate/liberal from New York City with no political infrastructure or experience is quite an accomplishment in its own right. Seen on its own, Trump’s performance in Iowa was quite impressive; more than Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani could accomplish, after all.
But politics isn’t won or lost that way. Politics is rarely about reality, and always about perception. And the perception is the King of the Hill has been displaced.
Trump set himself as the ultimate winner, unbeatable…and he lost.
Going forward, Trump has the same problem he always had: he is an outsider with no base to really call upon, and must expand his tent beyond the Populist movement he himself created. And he now faces a hard ceiling. Can he get about 25-30% of the vote anywhere? And if the establishment unifies behind one, or even two, candidates, can he beat either of them running the campaign he is currently running?
4. Hillary Clinton lost, but did Bernie Sanders win?
The Clintons spent 8 years trying to fix their catastrophic 2008 performance in Iowa. They spent millions of dollars building a machine that could not be beat.
And…they were almost beat by a Socialist 70-year-old Northeastern Senator who is, to add insult to injury, not really even a member of the Democrat Party.
With some caucus results missing…the truth is more voters may have gone out to caucus for Sanders on Tuesday night than did for Hillary.
Ms. Clinton now faces losing in New Hampshire by double digits, and then depending on her firewall of Southern African-American voters. This is going to be a long, hard slog.
5. The GOP must unify.
It is a new dawn and a new day for the GOP. They have run an incompetent primary season so far. Many good candidates, such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker, were washed away by the chaos.
But voters have the power to bring the political establishment to its knees and face reality. And that is what Iowa voters did last night.
All but the top three candidates for the Republican nomination should be called to pull out now. Carson finished fourth, but is going home to take a week off instead of campaigning in New Hampshire; I say good for him. Huckabee has said he will drop out, and Santorum will like follow suit.
For Governors Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, as well as Senator Ron Paul…there is no path to the nomination. The Mike Murphys of the world can delude themselves all they wish that enough money and enough spin can make their much vaunted candidates viable, but that simply is not the case.
For the good of the party, it is time for all of them to go. And then, let Cruz, Rubio and Trump fight it out for the mantle of the party’s leader.