While Trump didn’t prevail, his message did: Cruz, and even third-place finisher Marco Rubio, echoed the same dark themes of nativism, treachery, and corruption. Like Trump, Cruz presented himself as the savior of disaffected working-class Americans who are routinely sold out by a “Washington cartel” that encompasses the leaders of both parties. (In a sense, Cruz won by running as a pious Trump with a better turnout operation.) Rubio engineered his last-minute surge by abandoning the sunny “New American Century” pitch he’d been making for months and appealing to “all of us who feel out of place in our own country.”
Iowa doesn’t decide the nominee. But it does send a clear signal about the direction a party’s taking. According to the entrance/exit poll, 65 percent of GOP caucusgoers believed that “new ideas and a different approach” were the most important qualities a candidate should possess. Cruz and Trump have distinctive styles—Cruz touts his ideological purity, Trump his personal strength—but both offer the same basic diagnosis of what’s ailing the country, who’s to blame, and what must be done to fix it.
That they’re resonating so strongly with voters suggests that the same wave that’s swept through Congress since 2010 is now engulfing the presidential campaign. As Patrick Buchanan, the former Nixon aide who won a 1996 New Hampshire primary upset by running as a populist proto-Trump, told the Washington Post: “The anger and alienation that were building then have reached critical mass now, when you see Bernie Sanders running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire and Trump and Ted Cruz with a majority of Republican voters. Not to put too fine a point on it, the revolution is at hand.”