HILTON HEAD, S.C., Feb. 1, 2016 — The Iowa caucus results are in, and the winnowing has begun. The survivors are on to the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in fourth with 9 percent. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was fifth with 4.5 percent. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ended up with 3 percent. At just below 2 percent were former businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Arkansas Gov. and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Huckabee dropped out of the race Monday night. Former Pennsylvania Sen. and 2012 Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum finished with 1 percent. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore received precisely 12 votes, good enough for 12th place but not good enough to reach 1 percent.
On the Democrat side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders finished in a statistical dead heat with between 49.5 and 50 percent of the vote. The role of green on the roulette wheel belonged to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who finished with less than 1 percent of the vote. O’Malley also dropped out of the race Monday night.
Perception is reality in politics, and the winners and losers of the Iowa caucus were crystal clear.
Ted Cruz — When you win, you win. Ted Cruz won by employing a spectacular ground game. He managed to coalesce the socially conservative vote around him despite several ardent social conservatives in the race, two of whom had won the Iowa caucus in 2008 and 2012. He also peeled off enough libertarian votes to perhaps permanently reduce the Ron Paul movement to outlier status. The race will come down to one establishment choice and one anti-establishment choice, and Cruz on this night won the anti-establishment vote.
Marco Rubio — While he technically came in third, he was a major winner. His polls rose in the finals days as many establishment votes trusted the man who rode into office as a tea party candidate. He faced millions of dollars in attack ads, yet only grew stronger. He is strongly positioned to knock out several establishment candidates in New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders — While he finished in a tie, he was 50 points down in the polls a few months ago. His young supporters were not supposed to turn out. They came out in droves. The Democratic Party wants a revolution. He is strongly positioned in New Hampshire. The Democrat establishment is reeling and will now throw everything including the kitchen sink at him.
Hillary Clinton — She can spin a tie as a victory, but she would be deluding herself. The slightly less than 1 percent of the vote Martin O’Malley received would certainly have gone to Sanders, not Clinton. A majority of Democrats wanted somebody other than Clinton. Her entire rationale for her campaign is collapsing. More liberals wanted a pair of white males over the first female president. She will most likely win the nomination, but it will require a scorched earth campaign that will weaken her even further in the general election. A win here would allow her to start tacking the center sooner. Now she has to maintain hard left positions that will be politically toxic in the general election.
Martin O’Malley — Only three candidates remained, and he was barely an asterisk. His showing was an embarrassment. He got walloped in the anti-Hillary vote to a 74-year-old socialist.
Donald Trump — Second place is a victory when you start out in third place or lower. It is a loss when you are in first and raise the stakes, only to fall short. He made plenty of smart decisions, but skipping the last GOP debate was a major strategic blunder. His desire to blow up the establishment plays very well in New Hampshire, but his anti-war platform does not fit well in pro-military South Carolina. Trump has lost the air of invisibility and inevitably. It would be a big mistake to count Trump out, but this was not a good night for him.
Rand Paul — He is not his father, who had the libertarian vote all to himself in 2008 and 2012. Rand Paul had to split that vote with Cruz, and Cruz won most of it. With Cruz winning, there is zero rationale for Paul to be in the race. He is finished in all but name only.
Mike Huckabee — He did more than lose virtually all of the socially conservative support from his past victory. He had a meltdown that showed a nasty streak. He actually claimed that evangelicals wanted him to lose. If Huckabee won, he would keep his promises and ban abortion and gay marriage. Then the socially conservative organizations would no longer have a reason to raise money or even exist. This is cynical even by political standards. By even thinking this much less uttering it, Huckabee showed that he himself is less principled than those he bears false witness against.
Jeb Bush — Although Bush is a much better fit for New Hampshire than Iowa, his supporters spent millions of dollars attacking Rubio, only to see Rubio rise in the polls. Jeb has more money than the almighty, so he is down but not out. If Rubio keeps rising, Jeb’s most powerful supporters will give him a rubber chicken dinner and a gold watch.
Rick Santorum — He remains a principled man who saw his message get crowded out by Cruz. With Huckabee dropping out, Santorum may decide to stay in through South Carolina, a state that has a high regard for him.
Carly Fiorina — Like her female counterpart on the Democratic side, the idea of Carly was always better than the reality. She got better on the stump as time went by, and made her points eloquently enough in debates. She just never managed to get people to go into a frenzy over her the way the top-tier candidates did.
JURY STILL OUT:
Ben Carson — He finished far below the frontrunners but well ahead of the many candidates near the bottom. He had the middle tier all to himself. While he most likely will not be the nominee, he should be able to easily parlay this into a lifetime career of speaking in churches. His speaking fees will only increase as the man everybody likes.
Chris Christie — He never seriously contested Iowa, so he suffered less than those that did and lost badly anyway. New Hampshire is his last chance.
John Kasich — He also is banking all of his hopes on New Hampshire. His two biggest hindrances are his terrible debate performances and his filling the Jon Huntsman Jr. role of being the left’s favorite Republican.