Well that was certainly interesting.
Results are in from last night’s Iowa caucuses, and the media is in full spin mode. The general analysis looks ludicrous to me, so here’s my own take.
We’ll start with the Democratic Party because it’s simpler over there.
Hillary Clinton: She eked out the narrowest of wins last night, but this result is terrible for her. It’s nearly as bad as an actual loss, and maybe even worse. Somebody on Twitter last night posited that the good news for Hillary was that the news from the Republican side dominated the airwaves. That’s only last night. On the Democratic side, all anyone will be talking about is that Bernie very nearly pulled it off. It’s the big talk on the airwaves for the next week, and it doesn’t help Hillary. It’s claimed that she let out a sigh of relief last night. She shouldn’t have. Last night is just the start. This is going to be a long primary season for her.
Bernie Sanders: The only thing better for Bernie than last night would’ve been a huge victory. This is just as good for him as a narrow win would’ve been. Bernie is a serious candidate, and he just proved it. He’s guaranteed that it will be a long fight for the nomination, and he very well might be snatching it from Hillary’s harpy hands. He battled the machine down to an effective draw in the first battle, and will likely crush it in the rematch in New Hampshire. That’s a powerful narrative.
Ted Cruz: As the winner, this is clearly good for him. But how good is it? I’m not one to dwell on how many times Iowa has “gotten it wrong.” It doesn’t matter – every race is different, and that’s a correlation-doesn’t-equal-causation effect. But up until the last week or so, he was the odds on favorite to win Iowa. It’s is ideal terrain for the fight, and yet he still only squeezed out the win by 3%. The RCP average still has him down by 22 points in New Hampshire and 17 in South Carolina. That’s a lot of ground for an Iowa bump to cover. Final verdict? A good night for Cruz, but don’t get cocky.
Donald Trump: Make no mistake, a win would’ve been better – a lot better. But this is still a good result for Donald Trump. For the last month the talking heads have spun the theory that Trump’s support in the polls somehow “isn’t real.” Last night he finished within the margin of error of the polls, which proves that it’s definitely real. It also proves that if winning Iowa had been his main goal, he should’ve invested in a better ground game. He didn’t, and we all know it. If he had? There’s a good chance he could’ve won this. We now know that his 22 point lead in New Hampshire is big enough that he’ll still win in a landslide even if his voters are at the low end of the polling error margins again. But this time around that’s less likely. The New Hampshire primary is not a Caucus. The ground game still matters, but much less so. Forget the spin: last night was good but not great for The Donald.
Final verdict? He should buy the farm in Iowa. It’s all anybody would talk about for a week or more if he did it, guaranteeing him the airwaves again. And he could almost certainly sell it at a profit after the election merely by marketing it as “the farm that Trump bought.”
Marco Rubio: The best night that he could’ve hoped for. There’s no way he was going to win this, but his very strong third place finish is a huge help for him, no doubt. Is it enough? Like many, I predicted months ago that by the end of February this would be a three man race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio. That winnowing is already happening. Will Rubio emerge victorious from that battle? The problem is, you can only ride third place for so long. Eventually you have to break out. And Rubio’s not even polling third in New Hampshire – he’s currently fifth there. South Carolina has him at third again. Eventually you have to start racking up actual wins. Unless he gets a bigger bump from Iowa than is typical, I see Rubio continuing to sit in third place as the front runners rack up more and more support. The truth is, everyone loves a winner. And as candidates exit the field, voters will flock to the front-runner. All signs right now say it won’t be Rubio.
Ben Carson: He does better than expected and his campaign gets one last major gasp of breath. But it’s unlikely that he’ll even place in New Hampshire (the RCP average currently has him in eighth place there with a mere 3.2%), and things aren’t looking much better in South Caroline where he’s in 5th place. This campaign is in “done but won’t admit it yet” status, but it could stay there for a good while.
Rand Paul: Better than expected, but nowhere near good enough. Instead of uniting his father’s coalition with the mainstream, he’s only managed to alienate his father’s supporters. Go home and defend your senate seat, Rand, before it’s too late.
Jeb Bush: Another better than expected showing. Unfortunately for Jeb, the story out of Iowa last night is that Rubio is the establishment candidate. Another “done but won’t admit it yet” candidate who will take a long time to admit it. But at this point I’m not crying because it’s actually kind of fun to watch him get kicked around. So stick around a bit, Jeb. There’s plenty of time to go crying to mommy later.
Carly Fiorina: An “also-ran” who’s not polling any better anywhere else. Expect her to be out of the race very soon.
John Kasich: An “also-ran” who’s going to stick in for a few more races because somehow he’s polling well in New Hampshire. He’ll either live up to his polls and claw out a second or third place showing in New Hampshire before dying over the next few contests or his supporters jump to the Rubio “strong horse” and his hopes and dreams are crushed. Either way, he’s out by the end of the month.
Mike Huckabee: His entire candidacy centered around repeating his 2008 performance in Iowa. That clearly didn’t happen, and he dropped out last night. If he’d dropped out last week and endorsed Trump, he might have started 2017 as the new Vice President. Consolation prize: his stock as a talking head keeps its value and he cries all the way to the bank.
Chris Christie: Poor showing in Iowa and only polling sixth in New Hampshire – and he hasn’t even hit the southern states yet. People here loved him for his attitude five years ago. Now they hate him even more for hugging Obama. If he can’t win the northeast he’s got no prayer. He should be dropping out, but his ego probably won’t let him.
Rick Santorum: Another candidate who was banking on repeating an Iowa performance. It was a fluke in 2012, Rick, and literally anybody could’ve told you that you wouldn’t repeat it this year. I don’t even know why you tried. At least you had the sense to get out after your poor showing last night.
Sanders is going to give Clinton a long, hard fight. I still think he’s going to prevail in the end, but he is fighting a formidable political machine.
By the end of this month we’re looking at a three man race on the GOP side – Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. My expectation is still that they’ll finish up the primary in about that order. The others are dead men walking. And Trump should buy the farm.
Get your popcorn, kids. The show is just starting.
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