By Dave Asche
Well that was quite a night, wasn’t it? On the Democratic side of things, the night is actually still going on. Tonight, Iowa spoke and as always, it told us a lot about the state of the race in each party and a lot about which candidates are the real contenders. And which ones are not.
What happened tonight will certainly have a ripple effect in New Hampshire where the primary is just one week away. So here are the winners and losers of tonight’s Iowa Caucuses.
Marco Rubio: Throughout the entire campaign, political pundits kept wondering when the Rubio surge was going to happen. And as summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter with no signs of any real momentum, many were asking if it would happen at all. Turns out the Rubio surge happened exactly when it needed to. Think of it as a sports team “getting hot at the right time.”
Tonight was nothing short of a victory for the Rubio campaign. Everybody figured he was going to finish in third. The question was how far behind second he would finish. I said earlier today that if he was within five points of second place, it would be a win for him. He was about 2,200 votes, or 1%, from overtaking Donald Trump for second place. Far exceeding expectations.
This sends a message to GOP primary voters and party donors alike that Rubio is by far the strongest candidate on the establishment side. And his speech tonight showed people why a lot of Democrats are terrified at the thought of facing him in the general election.
Suddenly, winning New Hampshire is within Marco Rubio’s reach. This night could not have gone better for him.
Cruz: It was Iowa or bust for Ted Cruz. This was a state that was tailor made for him, and a loss would have ended a once promising campaign. But Cruz ran a disciplined and gritty campaign, withstood a month long assault from Donald Trump and many establishment GOP figures and came away with a victory.
A 35 minute (!) victory speech aside, Ted Cruz confirmed that for all of his drawbacks, and there are many, he is a very skilled and able campaigner. If the establishment is going to bump him off, they are going to have a hell of a fight on their hands.
His victory tonight will help him a little bit in New Hampshire. But it really sets him up nicely to do well or win in South Carolina and the SEC Primary states shortly after.
Sanders: Coming into Monday night, many thought Bernie would make it close but ultimately come up a few points short. Fast forward to early Sunday morning and Sanders, while it looks like he will in fact come up short, is within 0.2% of Clinton. It is still a loss, but anybody who thought Sanders’ momentum wouldn’t live up to the hype was sorely mistaken.
Bernie Sanders is and will continue to be a driving force in the Democratic primary and in the Democratic Party as a whole. He may not win the nomination, but he will force Hillary Clinton, the likely nominee, to continue talking about the issues that have resonated with a very large swath of the Democratic Party electorate. His cause and his voice is not going anywhere any time soon.
Hillary: As the saying goes; a win, is a win, is a win, is a win. Talk about pulling one out by the skin of your teeth. This is not how Team Hillary envisioned their night going. A candidate of Clinton’s stature with the list of high profile endorsements, and money should not have this much trouble beating a 74-year-old, self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. And yet, here we are.
I know Hillary was able to exorcise some Iowa demons tonight. Even winning by one vote has to feel amazing after the shocking third place finish she was handed here eight years ago. On the other hand, this does show a general lack of enthusiasm the liberal base has about a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Mitt Romney dealt with the same situation with the GOP base back in 2012.
While he wound up being the nominee, the general election didn’t turn out so well. Democrats better hope tonight’s results are not a foreshadowing of things to come in November.
Trump: I guess you’re a winner until you’re not. That is certainly the case with Donald Trump right now, isn’t it? For all of the bravado about “Making America Great Again” by virtue of being such a winner at everything, Mr. Trump sure came up small when it really counted. What many thought would be a Trump victory turned into a dog fight just to hang onto second place. Which he did. Barely.
The shine and mystique is now gone for Donald Trump. He was able to conquer also ran candidates like Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush by relentlessly attacking them. And he was able to steamroll just about every media personality, save Megyn Kelly, who dared to challenge him on anything. Yet, try as he might, he was unable to make any kind of dent in Ted Cruz’s support despite a month long attack on Cruz’s eligibility to even be president, his unpopularity among, well, everybody, and his 2012 campaign loans from Goldman Sachs. Ted Cruz is the kid on the playground who stood up to the bully and showed everybody else that said bully isn’t so tough and scary after all.
With the narrative now completely turned on its head, Trump now finds himself in real danger of losing in New Hampshire. Something that was almost unheard of just a couple of days ago. To his credit, Trump’s concession speech tonight was very good. He sounded like a humbled candidate. We’ll see if that wins him any points with voters going forward. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if it is possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. It is very tough for a candidate, a frontrunner no less, to recover from performing below expectations.
So there you have it. Iowa is now in the books and to paraphrase Bill Belichick, “we’re onto New Hampshire.” We’re only getting started.