Donald Trump concluded his Iowa effort with the kind of religious gaffe for which he has become famous: pulling out bills to put in the Communion plate at a Council Bluffs church before realizing the offering plate was coming around later. It was an understandable mistake — but if his earlier comments on “Two Corinthians” and the disposable need for forgiveness and “the little cracker” didn’t trouble his Evangelical supporters, this won’t either.
His bigger problem could come tonight. I’ve been hearing for a good while that there was something a little loosey-goosey about Donald Trump’s Iowa organization. This became evident this morning when I called his Iowa HQ number to see about access to the campaign’s post-caucus “watch party” tonight and got no answer or voice-mail. Maybe they’re tied up on phone banks.
They should be, because most experts agree the ball game will be turnout levels at the caucuses. Tim Alberta of National Review says any figure over 135,000 (121,000 turned out in 2012) is very good news for the Donald. Anything under that would give fresh hope to Ted Cruz, who has by all accounts the best organization and the most committed caucus participants. It’s now likely the winter storm approaching Iowa won’t hit until the wee hours Tuesday, but it could conceivably deter caucusgoers, especially in the western part of the state. It’s hard to see exactly how that would cut, however, because that’s also Cruz Country.
The intangible factor is momentum, or, to be less mystical about it, the buzz that attracts late-deciding caucusgoers and whips up field organizers into a teeth-grinding frenzy. That would appear to belong to Trump, who reclaimed a lead once lost to Cruz during the last two weeks, and Marco Rubio, the great Establishment hope for Iowa and perhaps for the nomination. Sixty percent of Politico’s “insiders” early-state focus group think Trump will win, with 25 percent picking Cruz for the upset and 15 percent holding out hope for Rubio. Nobody is much buying into what any of the other candidates are selling.
If it all turns out as expected for the GOP tonight, you can expect a major Establishment freak-out, perhaps disguised by some heavy spin for Rubio’s performance if it’s a reasonably robust third place. And I do hope I’m there to watch the Donald’s victory strut, God help me.