On Monday night, the 2016 Presidential Election officially kicked off with the Iowa Caucus. Both parties came down to the razor’s edge, with Ted Cruz squeaking out 3.3% ahead of Trump and Rubio getting within 1% of second place. Hillary cut it even closer with a 0.3% victory over Bernie Sanders.
But what does this all mean?
On the Republican side, Cruz’s victory isn’t really all that surprising. Trump’s credibility with evangelical voters, who make up the largest demographic amongst Iowa GOP caucus voters, is shaky at best. Sure, Trump scored the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., head honcho of Liberty University. But outside of that, he hasn’t resonated well with the “value voters” crowd. And why would he? He stumbled when trying to quote the Bible at Liberty University; he said that he doesn’t feel the need to ask God for forgiveness. And he’s been more interested in stroking his own ego than showing any quality of the cheap moral character evangelicals eat up.
On the flipside of things, a Cruz victory doesn’t necessarily mean Cruz is on his way to the nomination. With a strong evangelical base, Iowa has a history of victories for religious loonies such as; Rick Santorum in 2012, Mike Huckabee in 2008, and most notoriously, televangelist Pat Robertson back in ’88. Cruz may have managed to get a victory in Iowa, but chances are history will remember him as just another religious freak who got lucky.
The serious players on the Republican side are looking at Rubio, who surprised the hell out of everyone with his close margin third place victory, while to political junkies such as myself, Rubio has a long known history of hardline conservative views. The GOP establishment is no doubt looking at him as a “moderate” who could carry the Party to the White House with some crossover appeal from conservative Democrats. Rubio doesn’t have the stone crazy reputation that Cruz or Trump does and may appear sane enough to actually get the nomination at the convention in Cleveland.
Most importantly from the GOP side, Trump got a massive kick in the balls to his ego by coming in second and narrowly escaping an even more disheartening third place. At first he seemed to take it pretty gracefully, shrugging off Iowa as an unimportant state in the larger scheme of the primaries and caucuses. But Trump could only hold his bruised ego in check for so long and by the time the news cameras were rolling on Wednesday, he was boldly accusing Cruz of “stealing Iowa”, making paranoid claims of Cruz spreading rumors of Dr. Carson dropping out of the race (Carson has not officially dropped as of this writing) and sending out bogus “voter violation” tickets to perspective caucus goes.
The “voter violation” tickets are true and Cruz is under some pressure to explain them since they could be construed as a forgery of an official document, and thus he would be in violation of Iowa campaign laws. It remains to be seen if anything will come from it other than a bunch of hot air. Trump’s problem in trying to make any official claims of shady tactics by Cruz is that his ego is so fragile. The public will no doubt see it as nothing but whining from a notoriously sore loser.
On the Democratic side of things, Bernie was the big surprise, putting Hillary in a virtual dead heat. Barely two weeks ago, poll numbers showed Bernie 20-30 points behind Hillary and even some of his most dedicated supporters were ready to write off Iowa and focus on New Hampshire where Bernie looks to stomp Clinton in the primary.
Hillary was seen as a lock in Iowa due to her presence as the Democratic establishment’s candidate. She presents herself as a moderate and was confident that Bernie’s socialist-leaning ideas wouldn’t sway many Iowa Democratic voters.
But why was Bernie able to put the squeeze on the legendary Clinton machine? I think it’s because people are tired of Clinton. She’s been in the big game too long and has the same attitude that she had during the 2008 election, where she was also so sure of her victory. She comes off with the attitude of “I’ve been in this long enough, it’s my turn!”. People seem to want somebody who isn’t afraid to stand up to the establishment and Bernie has made his political career out of doing exactly that.
It’s showing in the Clinton campaign, as her tune has been changing throughout; trying to take more progressive stances on LGBT rights, women’s rights, minimum wage, and the big banks. But that last bit of change is hard to swallow given her recent acceptance of speaking fees from Goldman Sachs totalling a quarter million dollars. People seem to smell political convenience, and that particular odor is coming strongly from the bowels of the Clinton machine.
Of course, Hillary brushed off Sanders’ close margin and claimed total victory, presenting before her supporters a complete overshadowing of the outsider Bernie.
What will be the real damage done on the Democratic front? It remains to be seen. But one thing came clear in the Iowa farmlands, Hillary will have no easy walk to the Democratic nomination at the convention in Philadelphia.
Iowa also had its casualties. Martin O’Malley, after receiving just 0.6% of the vote, said “fuck it” and dropped out of Democratic race. Rand Paul (4.5%), Mike Huckabee (1.8%), and Rick Santorum (1%) fled the GOP scene. The field is narrowing just a bit more as we go into the New Hampshire primary on February 9th.
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