The results are in. Following poll after poll and pundit after pundit predicting a great victory in the Iowa Presidential Caucuses, Donald Trump was handed the first election surprise of 2016 by coming in second to rival Ted Cruz by 3.3 percentage points.
This was despite Trump’s own prediction of a huge win in the Hawkeye state, based on rabid support from an electorate that’s hungry for an outsider to take the reins in Washington away from inept and corrupt leaders, such as Barack Obama.
A second place finish left Trump somewhat subdued, although still confident in his conciliation speech, insisting that a year previously, party insiders assured him a strong showing in Iowa was all but impossible.
I think Trump showed a lot of class in his conciliation speech. He congratulated Cruz and showed a lot respect and support for all the other candidates.
Whether Trump was being genuine or pulling another line from his bag of speaking tricks is an open question, but I believe that it was sincere.
This was the first stop of many on the campaign trail, so should Trump be worried. We’ll get into it more after this brief message from our sponsor.
Aside from Cruz perhaps a bigger concern for Trump was third-place finisher Marco Rubio nipping at his heels with a 23.1 percentage showing, within striking distance of putting Trump in third place, rather than in second, a position he surely wouldn’t stomach for long before withdrawing from the race.
But, as any political pundit can tell you, Iowa is only a warm-up battle for the political season ahead; while the winner of the state can sometimes set the tone for the season that follows, the times that the Republican victor of Iowa has also been the winner of the party’s nomination averages only 54 percent for the history of the caucus there.
The last Republican winner of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, stayed strong for two more months in 2012, following a razor-thin victory of just 34 votes over Mitt Romney, but gave up in April of that year after crushing defeats in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
In the prior competition, in 2008, Mike Huckabee received 34 percent of the electorate vote in Iowa but was finishing a distant second to John McCain by the time he withdrew in March of that year.
In fact, you would have to go back to 2004 to George W. Bush (who was unopposed) to find a Republican candidate chosen by Iowans who was also selected by the party for the national nomination seven months later.
In looking ahead, national poll leader Trump still has a considerable lead in the February 9th New Hampshire primary over both Cruz and Rubio.
Jeb Bush and John Kasich may sneak into the low double digits in the Granite State, but fourth-place Iowa finishers Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Jim Gilmore and Rick Santorum all look like they will fare just about as poorly in this second matchup. Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul have already withdrawn from the race entirely.
The next states Trump seeks to do well in after New Hampshire are South Carolina and Nevada before Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, in which the combined delegate wins of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming will change the race overnight.
In both South Carolina and Nevada, Trump has an average 15 point lead in most of the recent polls conducted. The states of Minnesota, Alaska, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are solidly conservative and could pose an uphill battle for Trump against Cruz, although Trump did perform solidly in Iowa, one of the most conservative states in the country.
It’s worth noting that many of Trump’s supporters reside in the South and the Northeast, an unusual mix, which means that Trump could have an advantage over Cruz later on if he stays in the race until the end.
Trump’s second-place finish in Iowa has shown that while he can fill halls and seats with entertainment-starved crowds for his speeches, translating that into votes may be more tenuous.
After all, people are not electing a new king of the Real Estate Hall of Fame or a champion of the WWE, for that matter. His finish also betrayed the fact that as opposed to Ted Cruz, Trump’s organization on the ground in Iowa (and possibly elsewhere) was more about press and less about substance.
He didn’t spend nearly the amount of intimate, one-on-one engagement with voters in small campaign stops that his rivals, such as Cruz, Rubio and Carson did.
He lacked the evangelical appeal of Cruz, the seriousness of Rubio and the detailed preparations that the specialized Iowa process demands, instead choosing to rely on the early hype of the media and his zealous supporters.
In fact, his choice to skip the last Republican debate due to differences with sponsor Fox News and their moderator Megyn Kelly could’ve been a strategic blunder in hindsight.
Could Trump have triumphed if he had shown up for that debate? Or will history judge him as smart for having bypassed it and eliminated the risk of a less-than-winning appearance there?
The New York Times opined that this incident showed Trump’s deference to the “circuslike” aspects of his campaign rather than the “statesmanlike” ones.
Whichever the case, Trump has a chance to make it up with another amped-up performance at the next Republican debate, scheduled for February 6th in Manchester, New Hampshire, and at four more scheduled debates following that one.
There is a lot of time left for Trump and he’s still in very good shape, but things did get a lot more interesting. Get your popcorn ready, this will be fun to watch.