February 2, 2016
If you are hoping for an extended GOP campaign, you got the result you wanted. Each of the three leading candidates have something to brag about and something to worry about. While Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are enjoying their flights to New Hampshire, they still trail Donald Trump in the upcoming states.
We now know many people went to Trump events and then voted for someone else. While Cruz and Rubio outperformed their poll averages, he fell short of his. For the next couple days, we’ll hear all about the wounded Donald. But he still won more Iowa caucus votes than any candidate in GOP history except for Cruz.
Momentum may shift against him, but he can afford to drop a bit from his poll numbers in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He’s no longer a solid front runner, but still very much a contender. A loss in the Granite State and this is a different conversation, but until that happens, he’s in good shape.
Cruz got his win. His victory speech indicates he isn’t changing his tune for New Hampshire. The win should help him, his pitch won’t. At least through March 1, figure he’ll stay the verbal course. Combined with his organization, funding, and the high rate of evangelical participation, South Carolina and the SEC primary states are still in reach.
This version of Ted isn’t going to win Michigan, Ohio or Illinois. He’ll need to shift gears eventually. Don’t confuse him with the latest Huckabee or Santorum to come out of Iowa as the social conservative choice. Cruz has way more infrastructure.
Rubio gave a victory speech. His campaign effectively kept expectations low and beat them soundly with a strong finish. It’s exactly the way they drew this up. He finished 20 points ahead of Jeb Bush. After enduring millions in negative advertising, Marco got more than three times the combined support of the governors.
Still, it’s too early to crown him the presumptive nominee. He finished third, not first. Cruz is actually narrowly ahead of him in New Hampshire polling. Both Trump and Cruz lead him in Florida, where you would normally expect some home field advantage.
There’s no earthly reason for Jeb’s continued existence, but that doesn’t mean he’ll drop out in the next week or two. John Kasich has sort of a separate constituency in New Hampshire and could still make an impression there. Rubio may take another couple of weeks to fully consolidate the establishment side of the board.
Speaking of which, if we assume this is ultimately a three person contest, consolidating the establishment side doesn’t exactly guarantee nomination. Cruz, Trump and Carson combined for 60% of the Iowa vote. Toss in Rand Paul, Huckabee and Santorum and you’re past two-thirds.
Rubio isn’t getting to 1237 delegates by winning 28-35% in most states. If he wants to avoid a brokered convention, or losing the nomination if Trump or Cruz can pull away from the other, he’s going to need to expand on this a bit.
In the Northeastern states where Cruz should be weak, Trump appears strong. In the South, both Cruz and Trump are strong. The Midwest looks like a toss-up, perhaps ultimately deciding things. It feels like Rubio might have an advantage out West.
Many things can and will happen in the next couple/few weeks. Cruz needs to capitalize quickly on his win. The map starts getting tougher for him after March 1. Trump absolutely needs to win New Hampshire. Rubio can’t indefinitely finish third. If Cruz finishes ahead of him in the Granite State it will look bad.
Condolences and thanks for playing to Mike Huckabee, who has already announced the suspension of his campaign. To anyone who thinks the GOP field is weak, consider the 2008 Iowa winner couldn’t break 2%. It’s flawed, but not weak.
Rick Santorum won in 2012. He just finished 11th. For someone who lost his last Senate race (2006) by almost 20 points, he’s done an outstanding job extending his political career. Expect him to exit in the next 12 hours.
Carly Fiorina apparently skipped out on her post-caucus event. We’ll see if she continues to New Hampshire. I’m guessing she does, but that it is her last stop. Finishing toward the bottom of the list is a bitter pill for someone who probably considers herself vastly more qualified than Trump. I still maintain she barely missed becoming a contender.
Chris Christie and Jeb Bush had the worst nights of anyone. Huck and Santorum can recall past glories. Fiorina got further than people figured when she announced her candidacy. She’s in good position for a cabinet post.
They both needed Rubio to at least stumble, if not face plant.
Unlike their counterpart Kasich, who didn’t even pretend to compete in Iowa, Jeb and Christie gave the Hawkeye State some face time this past week in an attempt to finish as the #1 Gov. The pyrrhic victory goes to Bush. Less than 3 percent after spending the GDP of Sri Lanka ain’t much of a win.
Neither are going to drop out before New Hampshire votes, but both are officially in the Zombie Zone. Kasich lives to fight another day, but has absurdly narrow odds now. Paul finished fifth and is now on very borrowed time. He can tell himself he did better than three governors.
Ben Carson hung on to his base and is now headed home to Florida to pick up a change of clothes. Seriously. Then on to New Hampshire for reasons that aren’t immediately clear to me. Cruz is probably trying to figure out what he needs to do to convince the Doctor his skills are needed elsewhere before South Carolina.
Over the next few days, we’ll take a much closer look at what Cruz, Trump and Rubio need to do to secure the nomination. At this exact moment, they look relatively evenly matched. None feel like a nominee yet, none are in bad shape.