Presidential Primary Updates: Cruz and Clinton Win the Iowa Caucuses

Alexander J. Segal's picture

Presidential Primary Updates: the Iowa Caucuses

After nearly a year of buildup and excessive coverage of every utterance of Donald Trump, the Iowa Caucus on February 1, 2016, marked the beginning of the 2016 Presidential Primaries. In this post, I will review the outcome, offer my thoughts, and look ahead to the New Hampshire Primaries on February 9.

In full disclosure, I am a Republican.

Republican Iowa Caucus

The following are the results of the Republican Iowa caucuses:

  1. Ted Cruz (27.6%) [projected 8 delegates]
  2. Donald Trump (24.3%) [projected 7 delegates]
  3. Marco Rubio (23.1%) [projected 7 delegates]
  4. Ben Carson (9.3%) [projected 3 delegates]
  5. Rand Paul (4.5%) [projected 1 delegate]
  6. Jeb Bush (2.8%) [projected 1 delegate]
  7. Carly Fiorina (1.9%) [projected 1 delegate]
  8. John Kasich (1.9%) [projected 1 delegate]
  9. Mike Huckabee (1.8%) [projected 1 delegate]
  10. Chris Christie (1.8%)
  11. Rick Santorum (1.0%)

Cruz Defeats Trump, Rubio Finishes Strong Third

Although Ted Cruz is not one of my favorite candidates in the Republican field, his victory in Iowa is an infinitely better outcome than Trump's winning would have been. Iowa was a crucial state for the Cruz campaign because the electorate set up favorably for him and because he had invested substantial time and resources into it. In the end, Cruz's investment paid off, as he overcame a deficit in the polls (Real Clear Politics had Trump +4.7% going on election day) to win a relatively convincing victory in the Iowa Caucuses.

Besides Trump's falling to defeat, the highlight of the night for me was the strong performance by Marco Rubio. Rubio dramatically outperformed his average in the polls to come in a very strong third place and nearly overtake Trump for second. While I would have loved to see Rubio win instead of Cruz, his strong performance goes a long way toward cementing his status as the candidate with the broadest appeal to the GOP electorate in the field.

Finally, I suppose we must talk about Trump as well. After all of the media coverage and premature declarations of invincibility, it was highly satisfying to see Trump defeated in the first votes of the year. While there is still much work to do in ending the threat of a Trump nomination, we can only hope that his loss to Cruz in Iowa will show casual political observers that Trump is neither invincible nor inevitable. In fact, to add insult to injury, Trump engaged in attacks of increasing vulgarity and absurdity against Cruz in the lead-up to voting, only to run into realization that not everyone is susceptible to bullying. Subsequent to his defeat, Trump alleged that Cruz “stole” the election based upon statements made by Cruz campaign officials and surrogates indicating incorrectly that Ben Carson was planning to suspend his campaign. However, it was the voters in Iowa who took time out of their lives to turn out in record numbers who “stole” the victory to which Trump was never entitled. Cruz aptly described Trump's infantile behavior as a “Trumpertantrum,” which is as fitting a label as any for his incessant cries for attention.

Democratic Caucus

  1. Hillary Clinton (49.85%) [23 projected delegates]
  2. Bernie Sanders (49.58%) [21 projected delegates]
  3. Martin O'Malley (0.54%)

Clinton Wins By Narrowest of Margins

After the Democratic Caucus, we can conclude that no one seems entirely sure about how the Democratic Caucus actually works. Nevertheless, while the popular vote was not recorded and certain “state delegate equivalents” upon which the above percentages were based may or may not have been decided by coin flips, Hillary Clinton eked out the narrowest of victories over her “Democratic Socialist” opponent. I think that many opinion writers have gone overboard in declaring Iowa a rousing success for Sanders. The polls only had Clinton with a narrow lead (with Sanders ahead in some), and Iowa set up well for the Senator from Vermont with its electorate. Although he will likely win New Hampshire next week, Sanders will have to show that he can compete outside of the northeast and certain states in the Midwest to pose a viable long-term threat (barring her indictment) to Clinton.

Candidate Withdrawals

On the Republican side, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum all withdrew from the race. Huckabee and Santorum, the 2008 and 2012 winners in Iowa respectively, ended up being total non-factors in the 2016 edition. However, Santorum endorsed Marco Rubio after his withdrawal. While I am not sure how much influence Santorum has with Republican voters in 2016, he potentially could be a useful surrogate for Rubio with certain socially conservative voters.

Rand Paul pulled out after a middling performance in Iowa. While he was looked at as a potential contender for the nomination at times over the past few years, his campaign failed to gain traction as the so-called “libertarian moment” never arrived. However, Paul is a unique voice in the Republican Party and has been a terrific Senator in his first term. Paul will now focus on his reelection campaign. I join many other Republicans in hoping that Paul wins a second term. Ted Cruz has made a strong play for Paul supporters throughout the campaign, and he may stand the most to gain from Paul's withdrawal.

On the Democratic side, Martin O'Malley withdrew. On this I have nothing to add.

See my analysis of Lindsey Graham's withdrawal in December.

Looking Ahead: New Hampshire

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is still situated atop the polls in New Hampshire by a comfortable margin. While the percentages that Trump has in most polls are similar to his pre-election numbers in Iowa, the non-Trump vote is split more ways. While Rubio and Cruz are sitting in second and third in the polling averages, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and my favored candidate, Chris Christie, are all factors in New Hampshire after barely registering in the results Iowa. Barring a surprising showing by Christie, I hope that Marco Rubio is able to overtake Trump when the votes are cast on February 9.

I will compose a post recapping the New Hampshire results after the vote.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders looks slated to win a decisive victory over Hillary Clinton, marking the first time in U.S. history where a self-identified socialist wins a primary for one of the two major parties. This is not a milestone I had hoped to see for America, but it will likely (and perhaps, unfortunately) not be the strangest milestone reached before the 2016 elections are done.

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