February 2, 2016

The ‘Stupid People of Iowa’?

Donald Trump might be asking that again after Ted Cruz’s win Monday.

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Donald Trump asked at a rally in November, though for all we know he’s asking that same question after his second-place finish in Monday’s Iowa caucus. He asked it while marveling that Ben Carson was surging in the polls two (long) months ago. It wasn’t Carson who knocked Trump off his pedestal Monday, though; it was Ted Cruz. And Marco Rubio came very close to doing likewise (Trump and Rubio won the same number of delegates). Cruz’s victory is clearly the headline of the night — not least because the one guy unequivocally opposed to ethanol subsidies won the most caucus votes ever in the state that most benefits from those subsidies. But Rubio’s late surge and likely momentum going forward may be the more interesting story. His path seems much clearer now than 10 days ago. That said, Trump remains formidable and certainly has the ability to win the nomination.

Another key story is how wrong the polls were. Cruz won with 28%, Trump got 24% and Rubio finished with 23%. The Real Clear Politics average: Trump (28%), Cruz (24%) and Rubio (17%). Oops. Once again, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

One factor in Trump’s loss might have been his increasingly vitriolic attacks on Cruz, accusing the Texas senator of lying (by using Trump’s own words, by the way) and insisting that everybody hates Cruz. Evangelicals also proved decisive for Cruz and perhaps grew increasingly wary of Trump.

Some final notes on the GOP side: Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa in 2008, ended his campaign Monday night. Rick Santorum, the 2012 Iowa winner, can’t be far behind. And what did $155 million in campaign cash buy Jeb Bush? A sixth-place finish with less than 3% of the vote.

Now for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton managed to pull near-defeat from the jaws of victory, and a narrow loss for Bernie Sanders is still a “win” for him. As we go to press, Clinton leads by less than a percentage point. After her machine spent a year building a get-out-the-vote operation and a 12 point lead as recently as two weeks ago, she collapsed, surely leaving many to wonder if this isn’t a repeat of 2008. Her bitter tone in her speech clearly reflected her wounded sense of entitlement.

By the way, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley dropped out of the race. Yes, until last night he was still in it.

Notable quotes:

Cruz: “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservative across Iowa — and all across this great nation. … Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee and the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media; will not be chosen by the Washington establishment; will not be chosen by the lobbyists. But will be chosen by the most incredible powerful force where all sovereignty resides in our nation by ‘We the People’ — the American people.”

Trump: “They said don’t [go to Iowa]. I said I have to do it, and we finished second. And I want to tell you something: I’m just honored.”

Rubio: “For months, for months they told us we had no chance. For months they told us because we offer too much optimism in a time of anger, we had no chance. … This is a time we need a president that will preserve, protect the Constitution of the United States, not one that undermines, attacks and ignores the Constitution of the United States.”

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