Not defeat, but rather how one responds to it, determines “winners” and “losers.” Winners say, “Congratulations.” Losers affirm their designation by barking, “You cheated.”
Donald Trump, after uncharacteristic graciousness in defeat Monday night, emerged as himself by accusing Ted Cruz of stealing the Iowa caucuses from him. At least Al Gore could claim he won the popular vote. The Donald lost convincingly to a man down five in the polls entering the contest. But he’s convinced he didn’t lose.
Trump, using his preferred means of discourse, tweeted: “The State of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated—a total fraud!” The allegation stems from the Cruz campaign urging Ben Carson supporters to vote for the Texas senator because of a CNN report that indicated the neurosurgeon planned to go home rather than to New Hampshire after Iowa. Reflected Trump, “I think those votes should be taken away.”
Losing gives us a lesson if we listen. Monday shouted the importance of campaign organization, not merely candidate personality, in winning elections. It shook Trump by the lapels for skipping the final debate. It provided the cruel one-liner comeback to Don Rickles with worse hair, suggesting that many voters don’t care for comedian-candidates fixating on the faith or the faces of their opponents.
But Trump can’t adapt and overcome if he believes his rival’s underhandedness rather than his own over-the-topness led to the defeat.
The loss also damages the aura of inevitability Trump built around his candidacy. Cruz’s victory announces that the emperor has no clothes. Never has a candidate relied on polls over plans as Trump has. Monday night instructed the neophyte politician that the counts conducted by Gallup matter less than the one taken on election night. Those require more from supporters than merely answering the phone.
Trump enters New Hampshire as the prohibitive favorite. The state’s libertarian streak does not favor a nasally voiced candidate who conjures up the idea of a megachurch pastor more than a president. And with John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie not taking the hint offered by Iowa voters, Trump’s other rival, Marco Rubio, suffers by splitting the establishment vote. It’s Trump’s to lose, and one senses that unlike Iowa — with its evangelicals, rural folk picturing Trump in farmer’s overalls, and occasional need for a translator for the billionaire’s Queensspeak — New Hampshire gives Trump a yuge Tuesday.
Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul took the hint and this week joined dropouts Rick Perry, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal. Santorum and Huckabee, respectively, won the last two Iowa caucuses, and Paul, who finished a respectable fifth Monday in a field of twelve, seemed poised to improve his standing in the epicenter of the Free State Project. Meanwhile Jim Gilmore, like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, fights on. Nothing makes sense anymore.
On the Democratic side, a Gus Hall-like figure, in age and ideology, emerges as the pied-piper of youth. Like all septuagenarians who spend their time hanging out with teenagers, Bernie Sanders gives off a creepy vibe. When Bernie reached an age not much older than his average supporter, he preached that abstinence causes cervical cancer and ridiculed puritanical Americans for clothing their children. That the former secretary of state, senator, and first lady trails the Brooklyn Bizarro in the Granite State indicates the less than granite state of her candidacy.
Whereas Republicans chatter about a fake scandal coming out of Iowa, Democrats largely ignore a real one. The Des Moines Register calls the secretive process that resulted in a razor-thin Clinton victory a “debacle” that “reeks of autocracy.” The newspaper wants a release of the raw numbers, the specifics on the coin flips that awarded precincts to Clinton, and an audit of the vote. But transparency’s just not the Hillary way. At least that’s what her emails say.
A socialist leading the polls in Live Free or Die Land, the two past winners of the Iowa caucuses mustering less than three percent and no delegates between them, and a Bush and a Clinton facing rejection by the parties habituated to nominating Bushes and Clintons all indicate that politics as usual proves unusual over the next ten months.
In the political Twilight Zone in which we live, the political class wonders why voters don’t do as they wish. The voters long wondered why the political class did not do as they wish. The latter catalyzed the former, and until politicians figure that out the politics of catharsis represented by Bernie and Donald continues to take anger out on them.
Losing indeed offers lessons if we listen. But in this noisy season, hearing anything above the clamor proves difficult.