Monday, February 01, 2016

#Rubio Rising: The biggest winner in Iowa was not the winner

Here's the way the Iowa Republican caucus vote looks to this observer, in the order of significance:

#1. Trump Lost. In the first actual collection of votes, Trump, who the polls had as ahead, came in second.

First of all, this seriously damages the one thing that has powered Trump over the last month or two: the perception of inevitability. He has appeared to many people as an invincible force on the basis of the only contest he has yet participated in: the polls. But now we have an actual election in which actual people have gone to an actual place and cast actual votes—in other words, in the only place that really matters in an election—and Trump lost.

Secondly, he underperformed in light of his poll numbers. One of the key questions in evaluating the Trump phenomenon is whether his poll numbers translate into votes. Tonight they didn't—at least, not to the extent he needed in a close race. This would at least suggest that maybe we can discount those big poll leads he has in other polls. Thanks to his high poll numbers, Trump underperformed expectations. Other than a scandal, this is the worst thing that can happen to you during an election.

Thirdly, Trump got less than a quarter of Republican votes. This tells us something important about Trump's future. You can win without much more than a quarter of the votes now, as Cruz did, because there are still so many candidates in the race. But when the announcements come—as Huckabee's already has and that two or three or may come even before New Hampshire—that candidates are leaving the race, it is just as likely, perhaps more so because of Trump's low ceiling, to help some other candidate, most likely ...

#2: Super Mario is Rising. While Trump lost the expectations game, and Cruz pretty much tied, Rubio won it. Note that, although he was third in the race, he was only one percentage point behind Trump, who was supposed to win it. Watch Rubio rise in the polls in New Hampshire in the coming week and begin to gain serious momentum.

#3: Ted Cruz Won. The fact that I am putting this as only the third most important fact about Cruz winning (which I think will reflect the public perception) means that his win won't benefit him as much as it otherwise would have. Because Cruz was expected to do well, and did, it isn't as remarkable as the fact that Rubio almost beat Trump, which no one expected him to do. This should have been better for Cruz, but his momentum will be stifled by Rubio. Cruz had the advantage in Iowa because he had the best organization in the state where organization matters the most. What happens when he has to start squaring off against Rubio in the race to see who faces off with Trump in the other states where Cruz's data-driven methods don't have quite the same effect?

Man, this is fun.


KyCobb said...


Something we agree on, this is fun! Polls this week indicate Rubio has surged into second in NH off the strength of his Iowa showing. But his lead over a tight pack of Cruz, Kasich and Bush is so slight almost anything could happen. NH is particularly volatile because independents can vote in either primary and it remains to be seen if independents looking for an insurgency candidate will opt for Trump or Sanders. Can't wait for Tuesday night!

Martin Cothran said...

Right. Is this not the most entertaining election ever? In fact, I'm trying not to enjoy it TOO much. But if I don't look on it as entertainment, I might just weep over the possible result.