The results of the Iowa caucuses last night proved unexpected and dramatic. On the GOP side, Donald Trump came in second to Ted Cruz (i.e., he “lost”), narrowly besting Marco Rubio. Trump’s gracious concession to Senator Cruz might have been unexpected as well, but the man is no dummy. It showed a side of him that we haven’t previously seen during the campaign.
Trump was accompanied by his good-looking family. The results must have proved unexpected to him as well. I can’t believe he would have put his family to the trouble to join him on stage for a concession in Iowa.
Cruz’s victory was dramatic in more than one sense. If the polls are to be believed, he came from behind to win it. His campaign structure produced. In a setting where nobody knows anything, the Cruz folks seemed to know what they were doing.
Cruz’s victory was all the more impressive given his principled opposition to federal subsidies for ethanol. It provoked the opposition of Iowa’s popular Republican governor. Cruz, however, didn’t back down. Given how much he had staked on an Iowa win, that is doubly impressive.
Having said that, I think Cruz flubbed the opportunity presented by his victory speech. Rubio went first, while the viewing audience must have been near its peak during prime time, and gave a winning speech. I thought it effectively advertised Rubio’s strengths as a potential general election candidate. It was the best speech by a loser since Bill Clinton’s “comeback kid” spiel the night of the 1992 New Hampshire primary, when Clinton came in second to Paul Tsongas, but that’s unfair; it was much better than that. In its critique of Hillary Clinton, Rubio’s speech was powerful; it was hard-hitting; it had the additional advantage of being true. By contrast, Cruz’s victory speech was overlong and flat. It seemed to me to advertise his weaknesses as a potential general election candidate.
The flop of Jeb Bush’s campaign in Iowa was heartening for those of us who think the role of money in politics is somewhat overrated. What a pathetic outcome for Bush, though this particular result was entirely expected (by us and others).
Perhaps most heartening (to me anyway) was the turnout on the Republican side. Minnesota GOP national committeewoman Janet Beihoffer advises us that turnout at the Republican caucuses was over 182,000. Janet adds that this represented a 50 percent increase over 2012. The turnout has to be suggestive of the intensity on the Republican side this year.
The Republicans have emerged with a three-man race. With the multiplicity of candidates beneath the top three, one wonders about the second choice of their supporters. I hope we’ll find out while their supporters can still meaningfully make them known. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is set to endorse Rubio today. That may be a big deal in this context.
Hillary Clinton has claimed victory on the Democratic side, apparently defeating socialist septuagenarian Bernie Sanders by an impossibly thin margin. The result on the Democratic side is so close that I don’t think we can be sure she won. It was more or less a tie. In baseball a tie goes to the runner, but both Clinton and Sanders are walkers at best. Politico’s Nick Gass reports the result here. Gass adds that 171,109 Democratic voters turned out to caucus.
The outcome on the Democratic side suggests to me that Clinton’s death march to the Democratic nomination will continue more or less as anticipated. It’s a joyless slog that should be diverted to the Big House rather than ending in the White House.
On to New Hampshire.