Last night was the most exciting night in Iowa since the invention of the ethanol mandate. Ted Cruz pulled ahead in the early hours and pulled out a substantial win over Donald Trump, with Marco Rubio running a close third, only about 2,500 points behind Donald Trump. Ben Carson rounded out the top four with a decent showing (10%), and both Martin O’Malley and Mike Huckabee dropped out by night’s end (both of them should probably have dropped out a month ago).
This morning, the Iowa hangover is evident. The media is gloating over Donald Trump’s fallibility. Ted Cruz is probably still giving his victory speech. And the Democrats are still wondering exactly who won their caucus, as the difference between the two candidates is hovering around .2%.
So, now, what’s next? Well, here are a few things you need to know about the Iowa Caucuses.
1. Marco Rubio is actually last night’s big winner: Rubio defied expectations to pull in more than 20% of the vote last night, outperforming his campaign’s own speculation. He actually almost pulled even with Trump, putting him in a great position not just for New Hampshire, but also for South Carolina (and picking up Tim Scott’s endorsement doesn’t hurt — the first black Senator from a “deep south” state endorses the son of Hispanic immigrants for the nomination from the “party of old white dudes” — love it), and beyond. Iowa’s winners don’t have a habit of going on to the nomination, so a steller, strong and dynamic performance is really the key to using Iowa correctly, and Rubio did just that. His job, though, will now be to keep up that momentum. He’s not doing as well in New Hampshire — where Bush and Christie are stronger — and he’ll have to do well there to maintain the perception that he is a true contender.
2. Immigration did not turn out to be the motivating force we had assumed it would be: In a rush to explain Trump’s popularity, many Republicans pointed to his strong — if somewhat incomprehensible — position on immigration as the driving force (they definitely had evidence from Trump’s rallies that an undercurrent of immigration anxiety united his some of his supporters). According to “entrance polls” (which poll caucus-goers before they enter their designated middle school gymnasium), only around 15% of caucus-goers listed it as their primary concern (although 44% of those who caucused for Donald Trump did).
3. Donald Trump is down but not out: It’s useless to believe that Donald Trump is somehow “over.” Conventional wisdom says that coming in among the frontrunners in Iowa is considered a win overall, and Trump still has campaign stops planned in New Hampshire, where he’s running ahead, and in South Carolina, where he’s in a dead heat. He also has a campaign stop in Arkansas, which may mean he’ll pick up Mike Huckabee’s endorsement (although Ted Cruz won Evangelical Christians handily without the good reverend or Sarah Palin), and he won the majority of first-time caucus-goers (of which there were many, with a 175,000-plus GOP turnout). But there are signs of problems with Trump’s overall strategy. Skipping the last debate hurt him dearly, as many caucus-goers decided just within the last week who they would caucus for. He also had serious problems with his ground game. Cruz got out the vote in every way possible, spending the majority of his campaign cash on GOTV efforts. Donald Trump spent half a million on hats (far more than he did on voter data or outreach).
4. Hillary Clinton was last night’s biggest loser: Six months ago, Iowa was a done deal for Hillary Clinton. Right now, she’s relying on coin tosses to earn county delegates and desperately reformatting her approach for New Hampshire (it’s good she’s remarkably lucky at coin tosses). Hillary Clinton had all the support she could possibly want — the backing of the DNC (who even stepped in to shut down Sanders’ voter operation), and a massive, well-financed Iowa operation.According to America Rising, Clinton spent almost $10 million on television ads, hosted 115 campaign events, had 78 campaign organizers in 26 campaign offices who knocked almost 200,000 doors in the final weekend. And yet, as luck would have it, she is neck and neck with a man who thinks a $15-trillion dollar healthcare program is just a start. Sanders says that he may even look into a recount, after receiving information of potential voter fraud in certain precincts. That didn’t stop Hillary Clinton from declaring victory last night, but it might stop her in her tracks before New Hampshire, where she’s running a whopping 31 points behind Sanders among likely primary voters (oh, and she should also thank Martin O’Malley — who knows where that 4% of votes would have gone had they not been totally thrown away).
5. Big Corn, dealt a death blow? Ted Cruz may have had an exciting slate of events last night, but it’s what didn’t happen that’s the most interesting part of his win. Ted Cruz took Iowa without bowing to “Big Corn,” and supporting the ethanol mandates that keep Iowa farmers in the business of not growing anything anyone truly needs. In fact, Cruz campaigned in active opposition to ethanol mandates and subsidies, positioning himself as “pro-farmer” and “anti-lobbyist,” and telling the Des Moines Register in an op-ed that Iowa voters were being hoodwinked by DC power players into living off the government teat, as though that were their only acceptable fate. The tactic resonated; Cruz beat Trump, who supports the subsidies and attacked Ted Cruz directly on his ethanol position, handily in some of the largest corn-producing counties in Iowa.
Now the primaries begin in earnest, America. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor — especially if we wise up and finally decide that the Hunger Games is the only appropriate way to choose a candidate for political office.