Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iowa Post-Mortem: GOP's Boy Wonder Appears, Trump Actually Does Quite Well and Signs of Clinton Meltdown

The tendency will be to say the big takeaway from the Iowa caucuses is that Donald Trump shit the bed, coming in second as he did to the vile Ted Cruz, and not necessarily by a minute margin either with the Texan champion of the GOP Tea Party makeover beating the Manhattan real estate mogul 27.7% to 24.4%.

But that is not my takeaway. My takeaway is that the Iowa caucuses offered a smorgasbord for Republicans, giving every significant segment of the fractured party a reason to crow. For starters, evangelicals proved once again that victory for a GOP candidate in Iowa is dependent on their faith-based network. Cruz joins Mike Huckabee (2008) and Rick Santorum (2012) as winner of the caucuses thanks to the Christian vote. And as Huckabee and Santorum managed to linger on after Iowa without ever dominating the race again, so too will be the fate of Ted Cruz.

For the party establishment, Iowa delivered the joyful verdict that Marco Rubio is indeed a player. Rubio came in third, just a little more than a point behind Trump. For months Rubio has been puffed as the future of the party, the bright, new face of the GOP, and he came through after really only spending January in the Hawkeye State. Reince Priebus must be tickled pink this morning. If Rubio performs well again next Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, while Bush, Kasich and Christie underperform, the pressure from on high will be for the also-rans to get out of the race and fall in behind Norman Braman's page-boy.

For Donald Trump, all is not lost. In fact, I would say, if not "mission accomplished," then "one helluva job." An all-time record was established for participation in a Republican Iowa caucus, with 46% showing up to his/her first caucus (roughly equal to Bernie's draw in the Dem caucuses, though not up to the 57% Obama drew in 2008). And Trump had basically no ground game to speak of. This is from the frontpager in today's New York Times, Jonathan Martin's "Ted Cruz Wins Republican Caucuses in Iowa":
Turnout was about 185,000, a record, according to Edison Research, which conducted entrance polls at precincts across the state. Mr. Trump’s success had been expected to hinge on whether he could mobilize his supporters. But the turnout was not enough to deliver him a win, even though 46 percent of those who turned out were participating in a Republican caucus for the first time. 
Instead, Mr. Trump paid the price for building only a rudimentary political organization in the state: The brew of energy and anger powering his candidacy did not fully translate into votes.
This lack of ground game will not be a problem in the upcoming primary states. Trump is unsinkable; his loss to Cruz is of very little importance. What should be very troubling to Trump is the emergence of Rubio as a candidate with comparable heft. As long as Rubio remains in the frame, come convention time the party will do everything in its power to deliver the nomination to him.

When it comes to the Democratic results in Iowa, the tie between Hillary and Bernie is almost as good as a victory for the Sanders camp. Clearly the Clintons were anticipating a victory and the spate of "Go home, Bernie; you're a fringe candidate after all" stories to follow. Now the opposite is happening. Take the opening to this morning's frontpager by Patrick Healy, "Little Separates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in Tight Race in Iowa":
The close results were deeply unnerving to Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as her advisers, some of whom had expressed growing confidence in recent days that they had recaptured political momentum after weeks when Mr. Sanders was drawing huge crowds and rising in the polls. The Clintons had appeared optimistic at rallies over the weekend, thanking Iowans for their support as much as urging them to turn out to vote.
The close vote means that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders are likely to split Iowa’s share of delegates to the Democratic convention, and Mr. Sanders will be able to argue that the Iowa result was a virtual tie.
The Clinton team was counting on its huge, well-trained army of volunteers, covering all of Iowa’s 1,681 voting precincts, to counter the enormous enthusiasm of voters who jammed into events to hear Mr. Sanders. But his well-financed Iowa organization was able to convert the energy of his crowds into voters on Monday night, as he drew huge numbers of first-time caucusgoers, young people and liberals who responded to his rallying cry against the nation’s “rigged economy.”
The virtual tie between the two candidates instantly raised the stakes for their next face-off, the primary next Tuesday in New Hampshire. Mr. Sanders holds a solid lead in polls there and has the advantage of being from Vermont; candidates from neighboring states have won the state’s primary in recent decades, and Mr. Sanders is admired in the state.
Clinton advisers said late Monday night that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton were discussing bringing on additional staff members to strengthen her campaign operation now that a pitched battle may lie ahead against Mr. Sanders. The advisers said they did not know if a significant staff shakeup was at hand, but they said that the Clintons were disappointed with Monday night’s result and wanted to ensure that her organization, political messaging and communications strategy were in better shape for the contests to come.
Even more damning is Clinton beat reporter Amy Chozick's "Tight Democratic Race in Iowa Unnerves Clinton Campaign." Campaign manager Robby Mook appears to be headed for the chopping block:
Even before Mrs. Clinton finished her brief remarks to her supporters late Monday night, discussions were underway among her outside advisers and donors about the need to bring in longtime Clinton aides and diminish the role of Robby Mook, her young data-driven campaign manager. Asked about such discussions, Nick Merrill, a spokesman for the campaign, grew irritated. “Are you serious?” he said tersely to a reporter. 
Next to a commanding five-point win, Bernie could not have asked for anything more. Mook is the guy who was saying from the outset Hillary could return the Obama coalition to the polls. I'm sure at this point Slick Willie has put his foot down and told John Podesta to get serious.

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