Ted Cruz defied the polls tonight as he went on to win the Iowa caucus by taking 28% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 24%, and Marco Rubio came in third with 23%. Cruz won 57 counties, Trump won 36, and Rubio won 5, with one county a tie between Cruz and Trump. The Republican party had a big night as well with a record level of turnout, but even though conventional wisdom predicted that heavier than normal turnout would signal a Trump victory, Ted Cruz wins Iowa with more votes than any other Republican candidate in history.
While the delegate breakdown is almost evenly split between the top three vote getters, there are some pretty important points to make of this result.
#1 Ground game, ground game, ground game! – Donald Trump has been essentially campaigning from 20,000 ft. He flies in, holds a rally, runs some TV ads, holds a press conference or two, then shoots out some nasty tweets . What he doesn’t have is a ground game. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, has a highly organized ground game that he used to impressive effect. If you can’t get your people to the polls to vote, you are not going to win many elections, no matter how big the crowds at your rallies are.
#2 Ethanol Subsidies – Throughout this race, Ted Cruz has stood firm on his position to end the ethanol subsidies. Even though he earned the wrath of the powerful ethanol lobby, including the Governor of Iowa and the Governor’s son (who works for the ethanol lobby), he didn’t waver. Cruz was the ONLY candidate to call for ending the ethanol subsidies.
The fact that Cruz still won the Iowa caucus in the face of that kind of opposition, while standing firm against ethanol, CANNOT be understated.
#3 Trump Slump – Not only did Donald Trump not win tonight, he almost came in third. Trump finished closer to third place finisher Marco Rubio than he did to Cruz. Not only that, but Trump’s support seems to have peaked, and his current strategy of insulting anyone who disagrees with him is not one that encourages new voters to join his side. Mike Huckabee has already dropped out of the race, and is expected to endorse Trump, but his supporters are more likely to ignore that advice and go to Cruz. Trump will most likely still win New Hampshire, but by a much closer margin that he thinks right now, and as more candidates drop out look for Cruz’ and Rubio’s numbers to rise while Trump’s numbers stay static or start to fade.
#4 The Establishment Loses – Between Cruz, Trump, Carson, and Rand Paul, the “outsider” candidates won 65% of the vote. The establishment candidates only pulled in about 30%. Rubio’s strong third place finish clearly places him in the driver’s seat to be the establishment standard bearer, but New Hampshire could shuffle those deck chairs a little if Bush or Christie pull out a strong second or third place finish there.
#5 More Candidates Need to Quit – There are A LOT of also-rans in this race right now. Candidates without a prayer of winning are clinging desperately to some claim at relevance (I’m looking at you Jim Gilmore). These candidates need to wake up and smell the coffee. Seven and eight candidate debates with Kid’s table previews have officially gotten old. It’s time to get down to the serious candidates so the party can begin to coalesce around our eventual nominee.
We still have a long way to go in this race, and many more states will vote before we have a nominee. But this race is officially wide open right now.
May the best man win.