Iowa Caucus Winners & Losers
Yesterday at Conservative Review, I predicted that Ted Cruz would defeat Donald Trump, 28-23, in the highest-turnout Iowa Caucus ever. Unfortunately, I was wrong, though not as wrong as the public polling industry (again).
Cruz actually beat Trump 28-24 in the highest-turnout Iowa Caucus ever.
The ramifications of Team Cruz’s stunning victory include some notable winners and losers, which may also provide us a glimpse of where the race for the GOP nomination goes from here.
Let’s start with the bad news first.
The public polling industry’s house of cards continues to crumble. The Real Clear Politics polling average forecasted Trump to win Iowa by five points, but he lost by four for a nine-point swing in the wrong direction. Furthermore, while Iowa Republicans did have historic level turnout, it was nowhere near the additional 100-200% tectonic shifts the public polling industry (including the overrated Des Moines Register poll) said was coming. Once and for all, we need to stop letting these flawed public polls and our overreaction to them dominate the daily news cycle.
The media’s near teenybopper level of obsession with Trump the past six months led to The Donald receiving an unprecedented level of free media to boost his campaign and polling profile. And yet in the very first contest Trump received less than 25% of the vote and barely held on to second place. Proving once again media culture is not the same as everyday America.
Speaking of Trump, there’s no way to spin this but he’s the Hindenburg, dude. To his credit, his classy (but brief) concession speech in Iowa avoided him becoming Howard Dean 2016, but you can’t build a campaign based on nothing other than an “I’m a winner” cult of personality and then get spanked the first time there’s a real game. Despite his anemic organization, Trump’s campaign still performed reasonably well on organics and his tapping into something primal alone. However, Trump stubbornly refused to do the retail campaigning necessary in Iowa, thus all but wasting his hiring coup of Chuck Laudner—one of Iowa’s most respected organizers. Plus, the true vetting of Trump has only just begun, and nobody is more vulnerable than the wounded bully nobody fears any longer.
Cronyism was annihilated in Iowa, as the Cruz campaign showed the “King Corn” emperor has no clothes. Cruz overcame what amounted to Iowa’s cronyist governor issuing a “code red” on his candidacy, and the subsidy industry spent a small fortune of time and treasure to take out Cruz, which didn’t work. Consider their seat at the table an empty chair going forward.
Finally, several politicians missed their opportunities to remain relevant in Iowa this cycle—putting ego and pride ahead of perspective. For example, imagine the altruistic hero Mike Huckabee would be today had he dropped out after not receiving the coveted Bob Vander Plaats endorsement, and then endorsed Cruz on behalf of unity? He’d look like a conquering hero now. The same goes for Rand Paul as well. Instead, both of these individuals, as well as several of their remaining loyalists, tried to scorch earth Cruz down the stretch to no avail. All the while displaying a breathtaking level of whininess that is unbecoming of a grown man who wants to be the leader of the free world. Now these individuals have very little to no political capital remaining, and it’s their own fault for not seeing the forest through the trees.
Bryan English and the organization his Iowa team built for Cruz is the best caucus operation the GOP has ever seen. Withstanding weeks of attacks coming from all sides to build a fiercely loyal base that remained steadfast for Cruz regardless of media perception that they had peaked too early.
Since we’re on the topic of successful organizations, former Iowa State football star and current State Senator Jack Whitver took months of skepticism (including from me) that his Marco Rubio organization wasn’t good enough. Yet on caucus night Rubio out-performed his RCP average by six points, which will only further cement Whitver as a rising star in the Iowa GOP.
Another rising star is Greg Baker of The Family Leader, the state’s most influential grassroots organization. While Vander Plaats is the public face, and has become the state’s most influential activist, Baker is sort of the brains behind the operation. This go-around he helped mastermind a stealth evangelical GOTV operation that toppled the Trump phenomena, as evangelicals were a whopping 62% of the caucus electorate despite the record turnout. Meaning Baker’s goal of getting new churchgoing voters to the caucuses for the first time was a rousing success, and a secret weapon in Cruz’s arsenal. This demo was the reason Cruz finished only seven points behind Trump among the 46% of those who were first time caucus-goers.
Back to Vander Plaats for a second, he’s now three-for-three in Iowa Caucuses further cementing his kingmaker status (former Secretary of State Matt Schultz, by the way, is quietly two-for-two). However, this time Vander Plaats is joined by Congressman Steve King, who put the full weight of his conservative credibility on the line for the first time and came up aces with Cruz. King wasn’t the lone trailblazer, as an unprecedented who’s who of conservative leaders – whose names are too vast to mention here – didn’t keep their power dry this time and played an integral role in Cruz’s ascendancy.
Finally, the statewide efforts were made easier by two often overlooked truths. First, Cruz’s national campaign team featuring Jeff Roe, Jason Johnson, Chad Sweet, Rick Tyler, Jason Miller, Catherine Frazier, and several others don’t get enough credit for the fact they’re pretty good at this whole politics thing. Typically when the candidate is ideologically principled people tend to think you can’t master the game, but these folks did to assemble the most formidable grassroots campaign we’ve seen in many moons.
Which brings us to the candidate himself, though he’s not perfect by any means, there’s a reason I nicknamed Cruz “the Natural.” He has a potent combination of intelligence, political courage/instincts, and character that is rare for a politician of this era. The Cruz I know behind the scenes is the same man the rest of you see on the stage, warts and all. And nothing confirms that more than the way his family is front and center in his campaign. Nobody knows a candidate better than his family does, which is why I typically eliminate candidates right away whose families are nowhere to be found when they’re running. You can fool the general population, but you can’t fool your family.
Now on to New Hampshire.
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