The results are in and Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are the big winners, even if Hillary Clinton keeps her slight margin over the Vermont Senator. Most predicted a big win for Donald Trump, the biggest loser of the night, and one wonders if the media helped or hurt the final tally. They have been addicted to reporting on his campaign since it first caught fire, leaving less time and column space for all the others running for office on both sides. It was a big night for Cruz, though, as he rode the religious right to a three-point victory over Trump. A few quick thoughts on the results:
Déjà vu for Clinton: Clinton appears to have won the Iowa Caucus, but by a mere .2 percent. Not exactly the stuff to build momentum on, particularly when she is trailing in the next primary in New Hampshire. Clinton and Sanders were off to that state to beat the snow storm on its way and she will have to fight tooth and nail to forge back ahead, though Sanders still has a lot of work to do to build support in the South and across the country. Nonetheless, it was a testament to the sort of grassroots campaigning and fundraising that has given us Dean, Obama and now Sanders in the past decade or so. It speaks to both the power of online campaigning and maybe a hunger in the electorate, at least on the progressive side, for candidates that will actually tackle their needs and concerns with more than lip service. Clinton is firmly in the establishment and many feel a vote for her is a return to a past that does not look quite as rosy in the rearview mirror.
Cruz and Trump: Is it really that big a surprise that Trump was upset tonight? It is to many, including, of course, the mainstream media, but given his net negative favorability rating and the fact he is not really running on anything but xenophobia and fear, the setup was rife for an upset. That Ted Cruz is the man who stepped in speaks to the state of the GOP at present. Cruz is an intelligent man and a great speaker, but is the sort of divisive figure that seems ill-equipped to hold the highest office in the land. His positions on the issues are also out of step with the average American and his bible-toting proclamations certainly seem from a bygone era (maybe going all the way back to William Jennings Bryan if he keeps the momentum).
For Trump, there might be a great irony in this defeat – his biggest strength was his outsider status, but the constant media coverage almost made him seem like the ultimate insider. On top of that, maybe voters began to question whether a billionaire could really be that far afield of the center of the political world these days. At the heart of the matter, though, is the question of whether he can actually win a general election and whether even the conservatives of the country really want him to. Cruz might be radical in his own right, but at least he speaks as someone who could, in some alternative universe I hope never to see, be “presidential.” Both are demagogues, but Cruz is one with a cogency of argument while Trump is a boiling succubus of rage waiting to explode on anyone who disagrees with him. His failure to even show up for the last debate, because he didn’t like the moderator, is the best signal yet that he is not well-equipped for the job he seeks. Will he also eschew world summits if he happens to have a problem with a fellow leader? It might soon become a moot point, only interesting to counterfactual historians of future generations.
The Losers: Not that anyone really gave O’Malley a chance on the Democratic side, but his 0.6 percent showing led him to immediately suspend his campaign. Not terribly surprising, given the competition and his inability to really distinguish himself from either Sanders or Clinton – stuck in between two candidates who aren’t that far apart on many issues. On the Republican side, the over $100 million spent on Bush now seems like dead money, and one wonder how much longer he can hang in this race. Carson’s campaign is also in tatters after a short residency near the top of the polls, as he was only able to garner 9.3 percent of the electorate. And Rand Paul, once considered a viable candidate by some (though I never understood why), clocked in at a meager 4.5 percent.
We have a long way to go yet, but it is Clinton vs. Sanders in a Democratic race that could again drag on through June while the GOP might be in a three-horse race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio, barring an upset in the next few primaries.