I briefly debated a title of, What the Iowa results mean, followed by my first ever single word post: Nothing. But that would be a bit on the cynical side even for me, and frankly it’s not entirely true.
On the Republican side of the coin I’m having a hard time seeing last night’s results as too much of a surprise, at least in the two top spots. Trump and Cruz had been battling neck and neck in the first place hunt for the past month and that’s where they finished. The final polling had it backward, with Trump at 28 and Cruz at 23, but the Cruz 28 to Trump’s 24 wasn’t all that huge of a flip. Still, analysts were looking for something to blame it on and they quickly settled on Trump’s failure to show for the last debate. (CNN)
Marco Rubio won 30% and Ted Cruz won 25% of the GOP voters who made up their minds in the days between the debate and the caucuses. Trump won only 14% of those late-deciding voters.
Among those who decided earlier, 30% backed Trump and Cruz while only 19% backed Rubio.
It won’t come as much of a surprise that Fox News was quick to latch on to that theory also, since they were on the opposite side of that food fight.
Marco Rubio, the best debater, came on strong and gained real momentum. He came very close to coming in second. Certainly he has to be viewed as a very serious candidate and the best bet to become the establishment candidate.
Trump is Trump and his special appeal to new voters and the angry anti-Washington element will go on, too, but with unpredictable results. He also paid a price for missing the last debate and fighting Fox News.
That’s an awfully thin wafer to base a four point variation on when the last poll (which everyone is using as the marker) had a margin of error which was basically the same amount. Still, if it makes them feel better, go with that. I have to wonder if Steve King tweeting that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race had anything to do with it, though. This wasn’t some hack from a local precinct printing up misleading flyers and tacking them to phone poles. It’s Steve King. If word of that got out at the caucus stations some folks may have been moved away from Carson and Cruz is a fairly likely next stop, at least for the evangelicals. But with that said, Carson was only projected to get 10% and he performed right along those lines, so who the heck knows?
Obviously Rubio was the fast mover last night, greatly overperforming expectations, so that may be where Trump lost four points. The problem with reading too much into any of this is that we’re heading into a very different electorate next Tuesday. We’re still expecting a Trump – Cruz finish there, but if Rubio can’t pull off another dazzling third place finish (highly questionable, since Kasich, Christie and Bush seem stronger potential thirds in New Hampshire) then his story arc may be shorter than his supporters are anticipating.
Only Huckabee has officially dropped thus far, which is great news for Trump and bad news for the establishment lane. But aside from possibly Carson, who should be a much better natural fit in Iowa than New Hampshire, who else should have dropped? Most of those other guys I just mentioned were waiting for New Hampshire anyway. I think the real culling of the field will begin after that.
As for the Democrats… meh. The last polls showed their race as a virtual tie with Hillary possibly having a tiny lead within the margin of error. That’s exactly how it ended. Sanders proved he was viable by turning out half the base for him on a cold Iowa night and he’ll take that as a moral victory (at least) into New Hampshire where he holds a strong lead. After that his support seems to collapse unless he can take the headlines from Iowa and New Hampshire and turn them into something national. It would be great to see, but color me dubious. Of course, now that O’Malley has dropped out, all three of his supporters may flip to Bernie, so he could have that going for him.
In closing we’ll swing back to the GOP for a moment. We are still a long way from a two man race. The two top dogs haven’t changed, but the establishment lane still has plenty of hopefuls who are praying for a miracle next Tuesday. Assuming somebody besides Rubio takes a strong third in the Granite State we will see at least four viable contenders going into South Carolina and Nevada. It will make the debates more productive, but I don’t expect it to be enough to shake Trump and Cruz out of the top branches of the tree… yet.