Buckle up: It's a three-way GOP race

Ru­bio couldn’t have asked for a much bet­ter res­ult, either. Ex­pect Ru­bio to use his strong fin­ish to con­sol­id­ate sup­port in the cen­ter-right lane in New Hamp­shire. His quick re­ac­tion to the res­ults soun­ded like a vic­tory speech. His 23 per­cent tally far out­dis­tanced his num­bers in the polls, which put him at roughly 15 per­cent. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich barely re­gistered in Iowa even though the first two spent ample time here in the fi­nal week. (In an Urb­andale pre­cinct once con­sidered a Bush strong­hold, Ru­bio won 152 votes and Bush got 8.) And if Trump con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor pres­ence, he’s poised to hurt Cruz a little more than Ru­bio in the states to come—in par­tic­u­lar, in South Car­o­lina.

In­deed, Trump will still be a ma­jor play­er des­pite his dis­ap­point­ing show­ing. 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.