Five GOP Takeaways From Iowa

This week’s column, a day late:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.25.20 PM1) Donald Trump is a loser. No, that needs no sugar coating. We’ve spent the better part of a year with his supporters telling us how much they liked plain, blunt, in your face language. And in Donald Trump’s world, you’re either a winner, or you’re a loser. Donald Trump did not win. Thus, he’s a loser.

For people that prefer multisyllabic prose I’ll extend those remarks a bit. The entire myth of Donald Trump has been propagated by media who have enjoyed his ability to draw ratings, and have allowed difficult reporting of comparing policy nuances of serious candidates to be shoved aside by a man that is only bounded by the limits of his vocabulary.

Donald Trump has been afforded more coverage and under different rules than any other candidate (such as his ability to call in to Sunday morning network shows that generally require on camera appearances for interviews). Trump himself has routinely cited “I’m leading in all the polls” as evidence of his greatness.

Now he’s just a candidate that barely missed 3rd place and will have to compete on a more level playing field. The Donald doesn’t like to be equal, and the networks will have a much harder time justifying his coverage continuing at a level much above his competitors. The rules may still not apply to Donald, but tonight reality sure did.

2) Ted Cruz is a winner. Just like George W. Bush in 2000. Or Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008. What Cruz didn’t win was the expectation game. The week leading into Iowa was filled with unforced errors and negative coverage. Cruz will have to tighten up in order to parlay this victory into anything that would be called GOP front-runner status.

3) Marco Rubio won the expectations game. He came in about 2,000 votes and with the same number of delegates as Donald Trump. But he was expected to be as much as ten points behind Trump. Rubio has been the subject of millions in attack ads from “the establishment”, also known as Jeb Bush’s SuperPAC. Yet he maintains some of the highest favorable ratings of any GOP candidate. Winning the expectations game carries with it a prize. Rubio is now the candidate with momentum.

4) Jeb Bush is done. “Smart money” is often dumb. In 1996, Texas Senator Phil Gramm raised the then unheard of sum of $20 Million in his bid for the GOP nomination. His famous line was “money is the mother’s milk of politics”. He dropped out after Iowa.

Jeb’s main reason to vote for him, at least as told to me by his supporters, was that he had all the money – over $100 Million – and had the “network”. Well, he’s spent most of that money attacking the guy that now has the momentum, and the guy they were attacking still has high favorables. That’s about as poor of a return on a donor’s investment as you can get.

Those donors are now (or should be) embarrassed, but don’t count them out. These are the guys that will want access to the eventual nominee, and they’ll want to make amends. The first step is for them to admit they have a problem. The second is for them to call their candidate, and tell him it’s no longer his turn.

5) The demise of the election process has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the run up to Iowa has been…unconventional. But after the first two debates that resembled a WWE event, the debates have become more substantive and most candidates articulating their versions of conservatism. Populism has made appearances in GOP nominations before. In 1996 Pat Buchanan got 23% of the Iowa vote. Trump’s 24% will not signal the end of the GOP as we know it.

Iowa’s GOP voters have signaled that Republicans can once again sell the vision that it is Morning in America. And thankfully, they hit the snooze alarm on Donald Trump in the process.

On to New Hampshire.

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