Why Trump Lost Iowa and What It Means

As much as I want to extrapolate Trump’s embarrassment the other night into the sure doom of his creepy campaign, the reality is that he is far from over. But a few takeaways are worth sharing:

(1) The theory that all the hype, all the polls, all the “inevitability” was pure fantasy (or reality TV?) is not proven by Iowa, it was not disproven. Anything less than a smoking big Trump win in New Hampshire, though, and that narrative will really take hold (the one that was largely being surrendered over the last six weeks) – by narrative, I mean the notion that Trump’s campaign is all sizzle, no steak. He may be hyper-viable, and he may die on the vine. Another “disappointment”, and I think he will put his campaign in Chapter 11, if you know what I mean. This isn’t a pathology suited for disappointment. The Iowa loss did not kill him, but I suspect an Iowa win would have coronated him.

(2) Rubio’s night was every big of a story as the press is saying. Another few days and he would have passed Trump. The narrative that Rubio is the perfect synthesis to being a totally conservative client for those more ideological voters, and yet still palatable to those turned off by either style or something else in others, is a very defensible narrative. A candidate who is liked by rigid conservatives and no one else is called a “loser”; a candidate who is loathed by rigid conservatives but liked by moderates is also a dead candidate walking. Rubio does this weird thing we used to call “coalition building”. He has a lot of work to do, and clearly will have to fight off unseemly attacks from various opponents, but he is alive and climbing.

(3) Cruz may very well go the path of most Iowa winners (Santorum, Huckabee), but I doubt it will be that simple. I have strong reservations about Cruz’s style and breadth of appeal (i.e. electability), but I do not underestimate his savvy and ability to pivot as needed. Had he shot Trump three months ago like he should have, he would be in the driver’s seat. Now he has a complex route to proceed.

(4) Jeb, Christie, and Kasich should all drop out the day after NH unless one of them wins second place. Jeb spent $22 million attacking Rubio and it seems to have helped Rubio. He received one vote for every $15,000 he spent. So yeah, Jeb Bush is doing extreme damage to himself, his party, his country, and this race by keeping this pitiful campaign alive. A coalescing around Rubio is not going to happen any time soon, but Jeb could really help that cause, and in so doing, help the country.

(5) Geez Chris Christie is a little worm. What a complete jerk this guy is proving to be. A flattening of him in New Hampshire will be very nice to see; any elevation of him after New Hampshire will be most unfortunate.

(6) Trump fell into a trap set by Roger Ailes, and it worked brilliantly for the TV executive. Trump got hacked off at was an unnecessarily provocative and silly taunt from Fox. In dropping out, it undermined his aura as a fighter, someone who can’t be intimidated. It made him small.

(7) Hillary is going to beat Bernie. But her inability to generate excitement in the Obama coalition is a major problem. Only the Republicans can screw up beating her now.

It isn’t going to be over any time soon. Cruz and Rubio may end up in a long and ugly dog fight that will leave a weakened candidate who cannot cross the finish line. Trump may win a string of states and leave the Iowa disaster in the rearview mirror. The path of least resistance for Rubio (who I expressly endorse and support and am a campaign bundler) is a really strong New Hampshire showing, a weak one for Trump, and a quick dropout for as many of the Bush, Christie, Kasich folks as possible. ELECTABILITY will take over as the dominant theme at some point if neither Cruz nor Trump are running away with momentum, and that will help Rubio a lot. If Cruz or Trump runs with momentum, it could get away from him.

Fluid process. But a great week. Trump becoming inevitable was my nightmare scenario and that idea is, for now, damaged severely. In the meantime, some good candidates remain, and one in particular stands strong as a future transformational President of our great country.