My guess is we’ll hear some media narratives about what this does or doesn’t say about Donald Trump, but Iowa was never going to be his strongest state. This was a must-win of sorts for Ted Cruz, who takes the victory tonight in friendly territory for the arch conservative. Leaving aside the Trump circus, Cruz has run the most competent and disciplined campaign on the GOP side, and he has a significant advantage over his top rivals in terms of organization and cash on hand (well, unless Trump is willing to spend more of his own dough).
Trump still has a commanding lead in New Hampshire polling and one big takeaway from tonight is that while Trump’s polls may slightly overstate how many votes he can collect, there are indeed lots of voters who really will show up and vote for this man:
It’s worth keeping things in perspective: the face that Trump can nab around a quarter of the vote is pretty wild! And he’s got states likely to be more Trump-friendly coming up. If he takes New Hampshire, he’ll still be in a commanding position.
It’s looking more and more like a three-man race, with Marco Rubio taking third place tonight and finishing better than he’s been polling. A lot of pundits in the mainstream media and the GOP establishment world have been trying to anoint Rubio as the frontrunner for months, and we will now see the publication of lots of pre-written analyses saying that the real winner is Rubio even though he finished third. While that’s a little silly, I suspect the pressure to drop out will be overwhelming for the also-ran establishment choices Sad Dad Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich (not to mention the LOL choices like Rick Santorum and company). Winnowing the field is Rubio’s best shot so it’s a good night for him. Rubio also picked up an endorsement from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott today.
All that said, the big winner tonight, obviously, is Cruz. And the winnowing probably helps him too — indeed, the three-way race might be the best possible scenario for him.
Meanwhile, poor Ben Carson. He did okay for a soporific amateur! And then someone started a rumor that he was dropping out; rivals, of course, started trying to poach his supporters. His spokesman had to explain that he simply needed to change clothes:
Best story of the night was that Jim Gilmore got 11 votes total. That beats the expectations, I’d say! There’s so many reporters in Iowa. I would really love to read an interview with a member of the Gilmore Eleven.
Fun fact: Cruz set a record for most Iowa caucus votes received by a single candidate. Both Trump and Rubio got significantly more votes than Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum did in 2012.