Iowa has decided not to make America great again.
At least for tonight, Texas senator Ted Cruz’s big investments in get-out-the-vote operations have trumped the Donald’s command of free media. CBS, CNN, ABC, and MSNBC have all declared Cruz the winner of the 2016 GOP Iowa caucus. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz led Trump 28 to 24 percent, with Rubio on the mogul’s heels at 23 percent. The last two polls ahead of Monday’s vote predicted Trump would emerge victorious.
Trump’s chances for victory were widely expected to hinge on turnout. Since the Donald polled strongest among first-time caucusgoers, the conventional wisdom suggested the higher the turnout, the better the chances of an obnoxiously boastful Trump speech in the Hawkeye State Monday night. But early reports show that the 2016 GOP caucus saw dramatically higher turnout than in 2012 or 2008 and still Cruz came out on top.
While it was the expected result at the start of the day, a Trump win in Iowa still would have been yuge. Trump is polling considerably stronger in the subsequent early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Had Trump been able to pull off a victory in heavily Evangelical Iowa — without even investing in a ground game — he would have emerged as the overwhelming favorite for the GOP nomination.
The loss, by contrast, provides Trump 2016 its first major crisis. With so much of Trump’s platform based on his status as a “winner,” will his movement forgive the revelation of their leader’s fallibility?
As for the Republican Establishment, a Cruz win may actually prove more threatening than a Trump victory in the long term, because the Texas senator has the organization, and broad conservative support, to stay competitive with Rubio, should the Florida senator emerge as the putatively mainstream candidate.