A certain enthusiasm: Is Trump serious about winning?

As Byron York noted yesterday, one of the major themes of Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal is the importance of flexibility–especially in the face of adversity. Adapting to changing conditions is key for success in both business and politics. Successful presidential campaigns take challenges in stride and modify their strategies in response to failure. Unsuccessful ones degenerate into a circular firing squad and remain stubbornly committed to tactics that have led to failure.

So it will be interesting to see whether Trump’s campaign learns from the Iowa debacle. Iowa was a blow to Trump not just because he came in second, but because he expected to come in first. Clearly, there was a gap between model and reality, and, if Trump can’t update that model, he will likely face more defeats in the weeks ahead.

A subtheme of Trump’s campaign has been the notion that he can win by growing the electorate. Iowa suggests that there may be some merit to this strategy. According to exit polls, he won 30% of those who had never caucused before (to 23% and 22% for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, respectively). However, he was blown out among those who had participated in caucuses before, getting only 19% of the vote compared to 32% for Cruz and 24% for Rubio. Trump’s appeal to voters at the margins of the Republican coalition might be an advantage in both the primary and general election, but this strategy will not work if he also radically alienates the core of the GOP. As the field narrows, Trump will have to build his coalition if he wants to remain a viable contender.