5 Takeaways From Iowa
1. Despite Pundits’ Nail-Biting, Hillary’s Sitting Pretty
In the wee hours of the morning, Hillary Clinton eked out a win in the Iowa caucuses. As far as redemption stories go, Hillary will take what she can get: Iowa delivered her a humiliating third-place finish in 2008, behind not only Barack Obama but also John Edwards. Caucuses are public spectacles, often subject to arcane and eyebrow-raising rules, and tend to amplify the roles of activism and electioneering, encouraging the extremes of each party. Hillary won vanishingly few caucuses against Barack Obama in 2008. Iowa and New Hampshire are demographically very well-tailored to Bernie Sanders — if he was going to demonstrate that he could pose a serious threat to Clinton, he would have needed a full head of steam from both Iowa and New Hampshire, heading into South Carolina. Tonight’s results indicate that Hillary’s upcoming Southern firewall remains secure. If Bernie can’t overcome Hillary in a lily-white caucus state, what chance does he stand in a much more demographically diverse primary state?
2. The GOP Establishment Exhales
John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie surely will opt to remain in the race through the New Hampshire primaries just for the sake of closure. But Marco Rubio’s not-totally-unexpected over-performance last night made it abundantly clear who is the one capable of snuffing out the Trump/Cruz cyclone. The worst-case scenario for the GOP ‘establishment’ would have been a Trump victory, which would have knocked Cruz out of contention, prompting anti-establishment voters to consolidate behind Trump. But with an Iowa victory under his belt, we can expect Cruz to remain in the race through at least Super Tuesday, allowing an ascendant Rubio to consolidate the non-Trump/Cruz vote. We have a three-man race on our hands.
3. All the Celebrity In the World Can’t Beat a Good Ground Game
Trump’s frenzied rallies and celebrity-driven media dominance was not enough to overcome the entrenched network of Reaganite activists and Evangelical die-hards represented by the likes of kingmakers such as Rep. Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats. That a thrice-married New York City billionaire and reality TV star who has been subject to a Comedy Central roast and once flirted with Rudy Giuliani in drag on national television was able to capture a fourth of the vote of the Republican ‘heartland’ is a rather remarkable feat — but we see that even total media dominance cannot serve as a substitute for talking to voter after voter after voter, in diners, farms, and town halls.
4. What’s the Meaning of a Big Turnout?
Last night’s record turnout would have been expected to benefit Trump and Sanders, according to the conventional wisdom — but it turned out that new voters followed a lot of the same patterns as the old voters. Despite a massive turnout, the conventional choices — Clinton and Cruz — ultimately prevailed. A flood of new voters does not necessarily translate into unexpected or less-conventional outcomes.
5. Money and Endorsements Are Overrated
How much bluster did we hear from surrogates for Jeb Bush and Chris Christie about how they might over-perform, thanks to their plugged-in connections to Iowa’s movers and shakers? All of that amounted to a whole lot of nothing. The rise of technology and 24/7 social media have rendered a lot of the old networks increasingly obsolete. Jeb Bush decided to run a campaign in 2016 straight out of 2006 — and it showed.