Ted Cruz won a major victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Polls showed him running behind Donald Trump, who attacked Cruz furiously, calling him a nasty person, a stooge of Goldman Sachs, and, heaven forbid, a Canadian. But Cruz persevered and beat Trump 28 to 24 percent, with Marco Rubio a close third at 23 percent. Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination depended on him winning the Iowa caucuses. Well, he won them.
How? I think the key number in the entrance poll was the one showing that Iowa Republicans overwhelmingly believe Cruz shares their values. Trump bombed in that category. When Cruz attacked Trump for identifying with “New York values,” the Acela corridor media (including yours truly) jumped on him. But the attack seems to have worked in Iowa. It may work elsewhere, too.
Cruz’s victory demonstrates the importance of organization. His Iowa campaign was methodical, diligent, persistent. We’ve been hearing about Cruz’s turnout operation and technological apparatus for months, and the hype proved true. For an opponent of the philosophy of Saul Alinsky, Cruz is an excellent community organizer. Is his campaign as strong elsewhere? We’ll see.
Cruz’s victory also shows the durability of the traditional Republican coalition. Iowa tends to go for the most socially conservative candidate, and this year was no exception. Most impressively, Cruz won while opposing ethanol subsidies and facing criticism from Iowa’s governor and Washington lobbyists. What David Brooks calls the “counter-counter-establishment” beat its pagan chest on Monday in a victory chant. Members of the conservative movement have got to be smiling at that.
Donald Trump’s concession speech was surprisingly pithy and gracious. He mentioned his lead in New Hampshire, but the Granite State is notoriously fickle and tends to move wildly after the Iowa caucuses. How will Trump’s campaign react? And will he face not only a triumphant Cruz but a surging Rubio? And what if Kasich or Bush or Christie surprise next week, just as Cruz and Rubio surprised us tonight?
However the GOP race ends, Republicans should be cheered at what happened in Iowa. The huge turnout is proof that Republicans and conservatives are enthusiastic to turn the page on the Obama era. And, as I write, Hillary Clinton is fighting for her political life, essentially in a tie against a socialist from Vermont. The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is weak. And the inevitable candidate looks all too evitable.