Who will occupy it next?
The results of the Iowa caucuses have shown us several important things; 1) that everybody hates the establishment of both parties, 2) no one trusts the media anymore, and 3) pollsters have no clue how to conduct polling in the fast-paced world of smartphones and social media.
Ted Cruz easily won the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side, despite being behind Trump by as much as 20-points in some polls taken just before the caucus, and despite the entirety of the GOP establishment doing their best to take him down. In fact, it is arguably the low regard among the GOP establishment in which Cruz is held that gives him such popularity among the base. Despite being hated by the establishment, Cruz’s net favorability leads all Republican candidates with a rating of +45% (61% favorable, 16% unfavorable) among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, according to a recent Gallup poll. Establishment favorite Jeb Bush has a net favorability of -1%.
The Top 4 vote-getters on the GOP side were all anti-establishment/outsider candidates: Ted Cruz (28%), Donald Trump (24%), Marco Rubio (23%), and Ben Carson (9%). That is an astonishing 84% of votes cast in favor of non-establishment candidates. And before anyone claims that the former TEA-Party darling Rubio is now an establishment guy, ask yourself why the establishment attacks against Rubio right now are second in intensity only to those waged against Cruz. In fact, without Rubio’s participation in the Gang of Eight amnesty fiasco, he would arguably be the undisputed favorite at this point, with heavy support from the conservative grassroots.
The only thing to be said for the pollsters right now is that the only person with less credibility than a pollster is Hillary Clinton. Their predictions in the last several races have been about as accurate as a Shaq free throw. The media is, well, the media, and their plummeting subscriptions and readership tell you all you need to know about the objectivity of journalism these days.
Now the question is, “What does this all mean?” Is Trump now mortally wounded? Does Cruz have a clear path to the nomination? Is Rubio’s rise a growing fire or a shooting star?
It is important to note we’ve completed just one of fifty states, one which accounts for only thirty of the GOP’s 2,472 delegates. New Hampshire, with 23 delegates, will account for even less. Yet with the exception of 1996 and 2000, no non-incumbent winner of the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary on the GOP side has gone on to win the nomination.
Yet these two states have an outsized importance because they represent two very different constituencies early in the nominating process, and any candidate that doesn’t win one of those two states is highly unlikely to win the presidency (in the last forty years, only Bill Clinton has lost both and still moved into the White House). With Ted Cruz having won Iowa and Donald Trump well ahead in polling in New Hampshire, a loss there makes it difficult for any other candidate justify staying in the race.
Rubio, though he didn’t win Iowa and may not win New Hampshire, has a more plausible reason to stay in. South Carolina is coming up after New Hampshire, and in that state he has been endorsed by two of its most popular elected officials, Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy. Not too long after South Carolina comes the primary in Rubio’s delegate-rich home state of Florida.
Going forward, Trump will need to win New Hampshire and then win either South Carolina or Nevada to validate his long ride atop the GOP primary polls. The shocking loss in Iowa has damaged his aura of invincibility, and his campaign, based primarily on the idea that he is a winner, may find itself struggling without convincing wins in the next few races. Like Mike Tyson getting knocked out by Buster Douglas, Trump may find himself fallen from grace and abandoned by his supporters (a large percentage of which have not been very involved in politics previously).
Cruz will need to consolidate his win in Iowa with a win in either South Carolina or Nevada to be well-positioned going into the “SEC Primary”, but even second or third place finishes in those states won’t be fatal. Cruz is poised to do very well in the Southern states, including his home state of Texas which, at 155 delegates, is the second most delegate-rich state behind California. Cruz also has the benefit of having as much cash on hand as his next four rivals combined (other than Trump, who is self-funded). Cruz has a very sophisticated analytical, social media, and ground game, and looks to be in it for the long haul. His win in Iowa will only improve his fundraising efforts.
Rubio needs to place in the Top 3 of the next few races leading into the SEC Primary, but he may eventually benefit from being the most palatable non-establishment candidate to the GOP establishment. In recent weeks the GOP establishment has become cozy with Trump, but if Trump’s fortunes fall, and if Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie continue to run campaigns from the Witness Protection Program, we may see the establishment rally to Cruz, if for no other reason than to ensure the hated Cruz does not win the nomination.
Only one thing is certain in this election cycle…if anyone tells you they know who will emerge victorious, it is time to fit them for a straightjacket.