Donald Trump on Tuesday said “we had a very good result” in Iowa, adding that he wished he had spent more time campaigning there.
“I was told don’t even go to Iowa, start right here in New Hampshire,” Trump said during a press conference in Milford, New Hampshire. “We came very close to winning, we came in second place,” though he acknowledged it “could have been one notch better.”…
But Trump, who has spent so much of his campaign talking about winning, tried to tamp down expectations for future votes.
“If it works out … that’s great, and if it doesn’t that’s OK, too,” Trump said. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”
Republican Senator Ted Cruz has made a career out of tormenting his party’s leaders. But they cheered his come-from-behind victory in Iowa on Monday all the same for one simple reason: he dealt a early blow to their common enemy, Donald Trump…
Trump, who has led most public opinion polls for the past six months, was on the verge of victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, something no non-incumbent Republican had ever done. That outcome could have given Trump’s unlikely candidacy near unstoppable momentum in the race to the nomination.
Now, Trump—who has promised supporters so many victories that they “may get bored with winning”—heads into New Hampshire without securing the win that he himself said would allow him to “run the table.” And not only does he face a strong challenger in Cruz, but also a revitalized U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who raked in 23 percent of the vote.
“This will change the polls in New Hampshire by Friday,” said Ron Kaufman, a senior adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney and member of former President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
The number of votes Trump received in Iowa would have given him a clear win in any other year. But not this year, where he came in well behind Ted Cruz and barely beat Marco Rubio. Consider that for a moment. In the year that is supposed to be the huge “outsider” wave, when opposition to immigration and “amnesty” is supposedly the driving issue, Trump should be crushing Rubio. Instead, he was only 1.2 percentage points ahead.
What happened? Trump voters turned out — but so did the anti-Trump voters. Thousands and thousands of Iowans were motivated to go to the caucuses specifically to vote for somebody other than Trump.
I’m going to take this as a little vindication, as evidence that I got something right this time around. (It’s compensation for 2012, when it seemed like I got every election prediction wrong.) I had pointed out that, while Trump has the fanatical support of one faction of voters, he also has the most negatives, the most Republican voters who hate the whole idea of him. Iowa bears that out. Trump doesn’t just motivate people to vote for him; he also motivates a lot of Republicans to vote against him and for somebody else.
That 10-point swing was enough to make Mr. Trump’s defeat the biggest polling error in an early primary since Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in New Hampshire in 2008. But even that measure understates the extent that the polls misjudged Mr. Trump’s strength.
Mr. Trump was at 31 percent in the final polls, but finished with just 24 percent. In our data set of early primary polls from New Hampshire and Iowa since 2004, no candidate underperformed the final surveys by as much as Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton, for instance, mainly beat Mr. Obama by outperforming her polling, not because Mr. Obama fell short…
It’s always hard to figure out why polls are wrong, but this time the stakes are higher. Republican strategists have hoped for months that Mr. Trump’s lead was an illusion. The results in Iowa at least raise the possibility that they’re right — which would call into question Mr. Trump’s advantage elsewhere…
It could be exactly what his opponents have been hoping: a sign that he’s not as strong as he and the polls have been saying.
From my reporting in the final week of the campaign, the signs of Trump fatigue were all over. A rally in Council Bluffs on Sunday hardly filled the middle school gymnasium, and drew out-of-state gawkers, memorabilia seekers, and Iowa voters who were there just to see the spectacle. His leading surrogate, Sarah Palin, was received with silence in introducing him Monday in Cedar Rapids. Empty seats continued at his events. He notably declined to predict victory on Monday’s morning shows…
The biggest question is whether his collapse in Iowa will significantly deflate his numbers elsewhere. There’s reason to believe that Trump could lose New Hampshire, where he currently holds a commanding lead. As Rubio consolidates support, Trump loses some of his.
But Trump still has a floor of disaffected working-class voters who won’t be going away. In Southern states, those voters overlap significantly with Cruz supporters. Against his instincts, he gave a gracious, brief concession speech, showing he can learn from past mistakes. There was no Howard Dean-scream moment here. Trump still has opportunities to put victories on the board, but in the short term he’s Rubio’s best strategic friend…
The anti-Trump elements within the Republican Party talked a big game, but proclaimed helplessness. They argued that attack ads against a Teflon Trump were pointless, and would backfire. But when Cruz’s campaign and a separate super PAC run by former Mitt Romney adviser Katie Packer went on air in the race’s final week, his numbers tumbled. That’s not a coincidence.
The debate decision showed that Trump’s political instincts could be wrong. But the caucus loss could point to even more serious problems ahead for Trump.
A lot of people like Trump and agree with what he has to say. They cheer him on. But as the time to vote approaches, they apply a seriousness test, a test of whether they would trust him in a position of grave responsibility. The difference between Trump’s high pre-caucus polls and his underwhelming support in the actual caucus could indicate that voters who had supported him for months beforehand began to develop doubts as the time neared to actually cast a ballot. Would it be safe and smart to vote for this guy?
Just as fundamentally, Trump’s Iowa loss could cast doubt on his unconventional tactics in other states. Trump’s strategy is based on a big bet: that because voters are tired of conventional politicians, then they will also be resistant to conventional political appeals. Iowa proved just the opposite. Ted Cruz won a smashing victory by doing things the old-fashioned way, visiting all of Iowa’s 99 counties, pressing the flesh in gatherings of 100, 150 people, and tailoring his pitch to appeal to concerned evangelicals. That — plus a highly sophisticated data operation — won the day for Cruz. Trump tried something different, and it didn’t work…
If Iowans who once supported him did in fact retreat when it came time to enter the voting booth — if they did in fact worry that he is just not serious enough to become president — Trump has a problem that might not be possible to solve.
There may have been a more basic reason for Trump’s loss: The dude just ain’t all that popular. Even among Republicans.
The final Des Moines Register poll before Monday’s vote showed Trump with a favorability rating of only 50 percent favorable against an unfavorable rating of 47 percent among Republican voters. (By contrast, Cruz had a favorable rating of 65 percent, and Rubio was at 70 percent.) It’s almost unprecedented for a candidate to win a caucus or a primary when he has break-even favorables within his own party…
What about those national polls showing Trump with support in the mid- to high 30s? They might also be a mirage, reflecting a combination of the Trump base (24 percent is nothing to sneeze at, but also well short of a winning coalition), plus a few other bandwagon-jumpers who come along for the ride but who may peel off as they research the candidates more deeply…
What might Pat Buchanan plus obsessive, round-the-clock media coverage look like? Well, possibly a lot like Donald Trump. Iowa voters made Trump appear to be much more of a factional candidate along the lines of Buchanan, who received 23 percent of Iowa’s vote in 1996, than the juggernaut he’s been billed as.
But in Iowa on Monday night we saw the limit of Trump’s appeal. Like any other piece of showbiz theatrics, Trump was more spectacle than substance.
Many supporters may have been interested in symbolically sticking their thumb in somebody’s eye, but they are reality TV watchers, not actually interested in politics or governance. They didn’t show up. We can expect similar Trump underperformance in state after state.
Furthermore, we saw a big management failure in Trump’s organization. Bernie Sanders is a good enough executive that he was able to lead a campaign that brought outsiders to the polls. Trump is not as effective a leader as Sanders…
What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race. The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant.
Much like the loyal consumers who read Trump’s books, and wear Trump cufflinks, and grill Trump-branded steaks on their barbecues, the voters who have gravitated toward the Trump campaign in 2016 are generally captivated by his self-styled image as a winner. This is why he can hardly utter three sentences in public without working in a reference to his superior poll numbers. It is why one of the most consistent applause lines in his stump speech is, “We need victories in this country. We don’t have victories anymore.”
Success is always a self-perpetuating force in presidential campaigns — hence the endless pundit chatter about “momentum” — but for Trump, it is closer to the central rationale of his candidacy. And on Monday night, when the glittering sheen of invincibility was abruptly removed, many of his fans inside the Sheraton ballroom were left puzzled and slightly disoriented…
The real question now facing the Republican candidates packing up and moving out to the Granite State this week isn’t about how Trump’s Iowa loss will affect his own candidacy — it’s whether Trump the Loser will react by trying to burn their campaigns to the ground.
[H]e ran a campaign affirming classic conservative ideas of particular resonance to the voters of Iowa. They did not fall for Donald Trump’s vainglorious and solipsistic blather about making America great again without ever explaining how on earth he would do such a thing. In fact, 75 percent of the Republicans of Iowa rejected Trump’s nonsense.
And even more than that. The record vote turnout in Iowa — 180,000 strong — completely disproved the conventional wisdom that a newer and larger electorate would favor Trump. If anything, the evidence suggests that voters were inspired to turn out for Cruz and for the surprisingly strong third-place finisher, Marco Rubio (who beat the poll averages by nearly seven points), not only to cast a positive vote for the candidate they preferred but specifically to deny Trump a win.
This is a dynamic that should be closely watched from here on out. The polls showing Trump leading everywhere have been registering the results of his astounding command of the media — but have always been blurred somewhat by his undeniably high negatives.
Perhaps, in the Iowa results, we saw the first real effects of Trump’s unpopularity with Republicans — that he may be generating actual negative turnout of the sort pollsters find difficult to measure. People may not have crawled through glass to vote for him. They may have crawled through glass to tell Trump to take a well-deserved hike.
In this age, half the country wants someone — apparently anyone, even a Manhattanized former Democrat, real-estate barker, and former reality-TV host — to express their contempt for a corrupt and hypocritical government culture. Too many people are tired not just of illegal immigration, but of the enablers of illegal immigration, who smear as racists and xenophobes those who just want existing laws enforced, while the enablers predicate their own agendas on racist assumptions and ethnic chauvinism…
Trump has done the Republican party lots of damage, but he has also done it some good by reminding its leaders that victory lies in swinging a ball and chain through the flimsy glass mirror of political correctness and the current liberal spectacle of very wealthy people projecting race and class injustice onto others as a way of excusing their own privilege.
Far better than ridiculing Trump as a showboat would be to show more constructive passion than does Trump and to discover what makes sane citizens see him as their last resort. Rather than dismissing his empty populism, it would be wiser to fill it in.
Respect and listen to and learn from Trump voters — and they will not vote for Trump.
Monday night’s outcome means less than you might think for Trump’s prospects going forward. Cruz often speaks of his fight against “the Washington cartel.” Yet it is Trump who has violated almost every tenet of movement conservative orthodoxy and who has maligned professional politicians, Republican or Democratic, as the pathetic cat’s paws of billionaires like himself. He has demonstrated that there is a large constituency of Republicans who are indifferent to the fight against Obamacare and the battle to cut capital gains taxes, and who are instead passionate about restricting immigration and protecting America’s industries against Chinese competition. Trump is threatening to transform the ideological configuration of the GOP, and all his Republican rivals can do is react to his erratic moves. This dynamic won’t suddenly come to an end because of Iowa, and it has allowed him to shape the Republican race to fit his strengths.
There is a widespread belief that because Trump so often emphasizes his talent for winning, any setback will prove devastating to his all-important aura of invincibility. Keep in mind, however, that Trump lost his lead on more than one occasion in the months leading up to Iowa, yet he kept pressing ahead. Trump’s reality distortion field proved even more powerful than the polls, and it may yet prove more powerful than the Iowa caucuses…
So is it inevitable that Trump will emerge as the Republican nominee? Not at all. If he experiences a few more ego-bruising reversals, Trump might lose interest in the political fray. The GOP field could also winnow, and Trump could fail to build his support beyond the third of the Republican electorate that supports him. But as long as Trump wants to pursue the nomination, he will remain a formidable force. Anti-Trump Republicans who believe otherwise are indulging in wishful thinking.
Join the conversation as a VIP Member