The Political Animal: Trump in Iowa – the forest vs. the trees

My American friend writes, red-eyed:

Iowa hasn’t picked the eventual Republican presidential nominee in sixteen years. Last night it undoubtedly continued that losing streak by giving first place in its caucuses to Texas Senator Ted Cruz.The state was a must win for Cruz and win it he did. Congratulations are in order. He ran an organized and disciplined campaign. Trump placed second and Florida Senator Marco Rubio placed close behind in third. The strong third finish by Rubio gave renewedhope to the republican political establishment that someone, anyone (but Cruz), could derail Trump.

As I wrote in this blog yesterday,

… a Trump win in Iowa was not essential for him and nothing has changed my assessment now that he has not, in fact, won.

Iowa famously has caucuses, where people gather with their neighbors to conduct political business and then sort themselves into groups supporting a particular candidate. The process is cumbersome and somewhat antiquated.

Even so, republican participation was approximately 180,000, or 50% more than turned out in Iowa in 2012. Conventional wisdom held that the higher the turn out, the better for Trump. That wasn’t untrue, it just wasn’t true enough.

Evangelical Christians play a disproportionate role in the Iowa caucuses, which contributes in no small part to its results being out of step with the rest of the electorate and its winner a poor indicator of eventual success. Cruz did well enough with this group to win, although Trump and
Rubio each took approximately one third of that pool.

The laziest, easiest “hot takes” from last night ascribed Trump’s second place finish to his walking out of the last televised debate in a dispute with FOX News. There’s no merit here as the major Iowa newspaper specifically polled on that issue and found it had no influence on how voters were making up their minds.

I could provide my Canadian viewers with a detailed reading of the result entrails but that level of analysis simply isn’t worth the candle. Suffice it to say that the Evangelical element nowhere plays as large a role anywhere in the country, including the deep South with its rich religious tradition.

No, Iowa is and remains a one off, causing political observers of all stripes to question their sanity as to why it leads off the presidential contest every four years. Iowa is best appreciated in the rear view mirror.

Next up is the very different, but also small, state of New Hampshire in the northeast.

Independent, libertarian, flinty, tough, New Hampshire is like Iowa: In the sense that it’s in the United States but that’s about it. The political environments are vastly different between the two states.

Trump has a commanding lead there, anywhere from 12 to a whopping 28 points depending upon the polling outfit. No one seriously doubts that he is in the lead by more than comfortable margins. Of all 50 states in America, he polled worse in Iowa. That event is over now.

Trump gave a remarkably gracious concession speech, brief but self-effacing, optimistic and forward looking. As one reporter tweeted, “[t]he most striking Trump moment in a year came tonight: his speech. In an evening of defeat, he was brief and magnanimous.”

Yes indeed and we learn the measure of the person in defeat, more often than in victory. Trump showed real skill by being transparently honest and sincere, certainly by keeping his remarks brief but more than sufficient.

Alas, the winner Ted Cruz lost the evening with his victory speech. Rubio actually spoke first last night, crowing a bit about his unexpected strong third place finish and this was understandable. He becomes mechanistic and rote rather quickly for my money but establishment republicans are looking for someone who can give a better speech than George W. Bush. He’ll do.

Cruz was bombastic, rigid, ungracious, strident and almost authoritarian in his remarks. It was quite something to behold and even those who wanted to be predisposed to him were put off by the performance. Worse, he spoke for more than half an hour and eventually all the cable outlets cut away from him.

Following Twitter in real time as he spoke, and spoke, was to see defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Nothing in that performance could possibly endear Cruz to New Hampshire voters and even in South Carolina, which follows it a little more than ten days later, voters could hardly be reassured that this was the man they wanted to fall in behind. In some ways, Cruz is almost as unlikeable in his own way as Hillary Clinton.

Speaking of which, she tied in Iowa with Vermont Senator and self-proclaimed Socialist Bernie Sanders. Much clucking and chin pulling was made of this, with dire prognostications for Lady Macbeth given that Sanders is widely expected to beat her in New Hampshire.

Not to worry. Sanders will be crushed in South Carolina and beyond, with Clinton being buoyed by the black vote and by more mainstream, less fringe, democratic voters. The chance of Sanders ending up the Democratic nominee remains small indeed, short of Clinton being indicted by the Obama Department of Justice.

Nothing in Iowa changes my assessment of the near term: a convincing win by Trump in New Hampshire, with the real fight being for who comes in second. Trump still has to be seen as the favorite to win in South Carolina as well. But the influence of the early states in the strange, convoluted American presidential system is that they effect each other in ways that can be both anticipated and unexpected.

With Iowa over, it may legitimately be said—albeit weirdly—that only now the presidential race is under way.

Reality check thought for the day from Denyse: Government-mandated ethanol fuels Iowa yet Cruz opposes it. Daily Caller asks,

Does this mean King Corn’s days are numbered in the Hawkeye State?

Nope. Cruz would just look at the numbers and do a bunk on the issue.

Giving people ethanol isn’t like giving them free coffee and smokes.  Taking away people’s ethanol isn’t like taking away their coffee or smokes. He’d lose voters in Iowa without gaining them elsewhere.

The skinny: When state-size industries depend on virtuecrat politics, they needn’t make economic sense—apart from keeping voters employed at the expense of those who don’t want or need the product.

The question no one wants to discuss is the impact of the fact that growing numbers of voters may be people no one actually needs to produce useful goods and services.

We’ll look forward to hearing from the Animal on New Hampshire!

See also:

Political Animal on US Conservatives going nuts hating Trump

My American friend on why the GOP must die For the United States to get on its feet again.

US middle class ready for a 3rd party? But why does it matter if they are? The reasons the middle class is declining are historical and structural. Today, the power and money will come from marketing the newly needy, often to struggle against each other in identity group conflicts.

The Political Animal assesses conservatives freaked re Trump

My American friend: More on why Trump will be prez

American political junkie friend explains why Trump will win


Why is Justin Trudeau Canada’s prime minister?