The anti-Trump forces finally got exactly what they wanted after seven months of wandering in the desert. With Ted Cruz and Donald Trump splitting the anti-establishment vote in Iowa, the brightly shining star of an establishment savior rose quickly and illuminated the chilly winter Midwestern sky. Marco Rubio finally broke through and from the jubilation emanating from the cable television pundits and presstitutes you would think that Luke Skywalker just blew up the Death Star.
The Washington Post editorial board was giddy over the results with Dana Milbank triumphantly declaring that “In Iowa, the GOP establishment strikes back”:
The establishment struck back.
The headlines will show that Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, but the more significant message out of Iowa was that Marco Rubio was neck-and-neck with Donald Trump for second place and within a few points of the lead: It showed that mainstream Republicans are, at long last, pushing themselves back into the 2016 presidential race.
The importance of Waukee’s results, where Rubio more than doubled Trump’s tally, goes well beyond Iowa: If Chamber-of-Commerce Republicans in communities across the country rally around Rubio as a consensus choice, and if they have the enthusiasm to outpoll voters in poorer, rural areas, they can beat the “outsider” candidates and their angry populism.
I came here to see if the establishment still has any fight — and I was pleasantly surprised.
The participants, shattering previous attendance records, filled up the stands in the middle-school gym, then filled folding chairs on the floor, then stood on the gym floor. Ten minutes after the caucus was supposed to have started, 150 people were still in line — many of them first-time caucus goers — and organizers had to delay the start by half an hour.
But the first-time caucus-goers weren’t all there for Trump. It turns out that the establishment has energy, too.
While neocon Jennifer Rubin gloated “Trump is just another loser tonight in Iowa”:
For those who wondered if the GOP would come to its senses and who doubted all those Donald Trump supporters would show up at the polls, there was a nearly audible sigh of relief Monday night. For Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), his turnout machine overcame a poor final debate performance and a rocky few weeks. He won the Iowa caucuses with about 28 percent. A loss would have been devastating; he now will try to break the pattern of Iowa winners who went on to lose the nomination.
Trump’s poll numbers were in fact inflated, with a lack of organizational strength undercutting his results. He finished with about 24 percent. An unusually gracious and subdued Trump told his supporters, “We finished second, and I want to tell you something: I’m just honored.” For the first time — in defeat — he seemed like a legitimate, plausible candidate.
The big question now is whether the GOP was scared but not scarred by the Trump phenomenon. If Trump now fades, the GOP of 2016 will resemble the GOP or 2012 or 2008: A fiery right-winger who wooed evangelical voters won Iowa. Ho-hum. There, however, may very well be new twists and turns. Republicans will be poised to see if the polls in New Hampshire reflect Trump’s loss, knocking him down from his perch there too.
And the “real winner,” as the MSM likes to say, is Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who took in about 23 percent, far outpacing his polling and virtually tying Trump. He withstood an avalanche of negative ads, most particularly from Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise Super PAC. Mike Huckabee has announced he is getting out of the race, the beginning — Rubio hopes — of a stampede of dropouts that will leave him as the standard bearer of the mainstream Republican majority.
While it wasn’t unexpected that Cruz would win the Iowa caucuses given his cred with the evangelicals it was a bitter night indeed for Mr. Trump. Having spent an inordinate amount of time attacking Cruz he left his flanks wide open and was caught with his pants down around his ankles by Rubio and his handlers who had a better ground game. Chalk it up to his inexperience as a politician but his strategists really dropped the ball on this one and need to make adjustments quickly. Cruz will not find such a receptive field of play once the demographics shift away from the true believers in the cornfields into less religious territory. Neither Mike Huckabee nor Rick Santorum could parlay their Hawkeye State triumphs into enduring success and it will be a challenge for Cruz to do so either.
But both Cruz and Trump will now face a revitalized establishment that will rally behind their fresh-faced new champion Rubio. That much is certain.