On Monday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the most conservative man in the Republican field and the target of attacks from Donald Trump, establishment Republicans, and the media, won a tremendous victory in the Iowa caucus. Literally every poll going into Monday had Trump up, and up significantly – in the RealClearPolitics poll average coming into Monday, Trump led by 4.7 points, clocking in at 28.6 percent; Cruz averaged 23.9 percent; and Marco Rubio averaged 16.9 percent.
As of 7:15 p.m. PT, Cruz had outperformed the polls by about four percent; Rubio had outperformed by over six percent; Trump had underperformed by four percent. The media treated the entire evening as an exercise in Rubio Comeback Narrative™, but the real winner of the evening was obviously Cruz, the man dismissed by pollsters, mocked by the press, dismissed by the establishment elites, slandered by fans of Trump. Cruz smacked down the Donald, whose entire narrative was that he “wins,” by doing the hard, on-the-ground work required to actually achieve victory. And what’s more, he won the Iowa caucuses while fundamentally rejecting the boondoggle crony capitalist policy nearest and dearest to many Iowans: ethanol.
That’s a massive story, no matter how you slice it. And it’s a far bigger story than Rubio’s rise, given the fact that Rubio finished third, took no serious heat from Trump or the media other than one very rough question from Megyn Kelly in the last debate, and now has to compete with a bevy of other establishment-lane favorites in New Hampshire.
So, here are the key questions moving forward:
Does Trump Have A Glass Jaw? Now that we’ve all seen that the god bleeds, will Trump begin to sink in New Hampshire, where he’s currently averaging at 21.7 percent lead in the RealClearPolitics poll average? And if so, who does that benefit? Presumably his more moderate voting base moves to somebody like Marco Rubioif he collapses – but we’re still not sure the extent of that collapse. We won’t know until New Hampshire. So now, we’ve got one week for Trump to sink back into the fiery chasm from whence he came. Will that actually happen next week?
Where Does Cruz Go From Here? Clearly Cruz will get a bump in New Hampshire – he’s got the most campaign money of anybody in the field, $19 million, and he’s got an incredible data team. Watch for Cruz to immediately begin making moves in South Carolina, where he’s running at 19.7 percent, and Trump is at 36 percent – Cruz believes that New Hampshire is less likely to break for him than South Carolina. Cruz has a heavy advantage in the campaign schedule all the way up to Super Tuesday, which comes late this year.
Can Rubio Escape The Crab Pot In New Hampshire? Rubio has already turned his guns on Trump and Cruz – his spokesman told MSNBC, “If you don’t want Ted Cruz or Donald Trump as the nominee, you better get on board with Marco Rubio.” Here’s his problem: he’s currently in a five-way race for second place in New Hampshire with Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He’s going to require a major consolidation in New Hampshire to win a clear second-place finish, and then he’s going to need Trump’s following to completely collapse moving forward after that – unlikely, given Trump’s win possibility in New Hampshire and spoiler capacity even if he loses in future states. But Rubio did show tonight that he could stand up to Jeb’s incompetent attacks in Iowa – and he could do the same in New Hampshire.
So, here’s where we stand: Cruz has shown he can both take a punch and throw one. Rubio has been able to ride media favor to a better-than-expected finish. And Trump is clearly less formidable with voters than with pollsters.
But here’s the big point of the night: Donald Trump can be beaten. In fact, here’s some live footage of the Cruz campaign informing Trump of the results: