Iowa: The Republicans

Before I dive into the results from last night on the Republican side, I want to point you to an article we have up authored by Josiah Lee Auspitz. Mr. Auspitz takes a long look at how the GOP allocates its delegates to the national convention and determines that the net effect is to overrepresent red states and underrepresent blue and battleground states. This could have an impact on who the nominee will be if there is a contested nomination on the convention floor, and it will almost certainly result in a party platform that is unhelpful. But, perhaps more certainly, it has an ineffable cultural impact on the party that makes it difficult for them to adapt their policies or their message in a way well-designed to win 270 electoral votes. It’s fascinating to see how the rules have changed over time, and reforms that took place in the 1970’s to help Ronald Reagan are now biting the party of Lincoln in the ass because California went from a winner-take-all red state to a winner-take-all blue state. What this means is that a system designed to align the party to an electoral majority now comes close to locking them into a permanent minority coalition. Please read the whole thing. I promise you that you’ll learn something.

The Republican results in Iowa yesterday were surprising on three fronts. Cruz seemed to be fading, making blunders in the final lap. But he pulled it out. Trump looked like a solid favorite but barely managed to hold onto second place. And Marco Rubio came in a strong third place, staking out a solid claim to be the choice of the Establishment. Below the top three, there weren’t any surprises. It was confirmed that Jeb Bush’s campaign is moribund, and also that no one else had any juice. Ben Carson came in a weak fourth place and is now probably fatally wounded. Mike Huckabee dropped out. Santorum might as well drop out. Kasich, Christie and Fiorina failed to get any momentum going into New Hampshire, where they each need a very strong finish. Rand Paul finished in fifth place, but with a paltry 4% of the vote.

Iowa Republicans have a history of nominating losers, Dole in 1988, Huckabee in 2008, Santorum in 2012. So, Ted Cruz must be grateful to have exceeded expectations and to have deflated Trump’s massive ego, but he is anything but home free. What he is, now, is clearly in the top tier.

It’s Rubio who had the best night, but he has a new challenge in New Hampshire. Someone besides Cruz, Trump and Rubio will come in in the top four in the Granite State. If they’re a strong fourth place (or better) finisher (and their name isn’t Ben Carson) then they’re likely to become Rubio’s main competition to be the choice of the Stop Trump/Cruz forces. The Real Clear Politics poll aggregator currently shows Kasich polling in third place (11.3%) in New Hampshire, Jeb polling in fourth place (10.5%), and Rubio in fifth (10.2%). Rubio’s strong finish in Iowa could easily vault him over Kasich and Bush, but they’re grouped together right now.

So, this sets up a three-way battle and a two-way battle between Kasich and Bush.

Rubio’s momentum will be badly blunted if he doesn’t take at least third place. Even if he does manage a third place finish, however, he’ll have to contend with one of the others. Bush is obviously a weak campaigner with a bad campaign staff, but he has the potential to bounce back if he finishes strong in New Hampshire. Kasich had been getting most of the newspaper endorsements there (and in Boston and New York) but he needs a breakthrough moment. Emerging in the final four is a real possibility for him, but he can’t finish behind Jeb.

We’ll also have to watch what happens with Trump now that his bubble has popped. He’s vulnerable to a sudden drop but he’s currently leading Cruz 33.7% to 11.5%. That’s a lot of room to fall and still pull out a victory.

There’s a very small chance that Chris Christie or even Carly Fiorina could finish in the top four and give their campaigns some life. More likely, they’ll be following Ben Carson out the door after the results come in.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter that pressure will be brought on Jeb not to campaign negatively against Rubio, but given that they’re virtually tied in New Hampshire right now, I’m not sure that he’ll follow that advice. He shouldn’t if he wants to keep his campaign going. But, really, he ought to be more concerned with beating Kasich and assuring himself a spot in the final four.

The main things to watch for are what happens to Trump’s big lead, will Cruz get a strong bump that separates him from the second-tier pack or will Rubio launch in front of him, and who will emerge as the fourth candidate?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.