February 3, 2016
On the one hand, Donald J. Trump, Republican polling front runner, and former betting site front runner is on the ropes. The guy who tells audiences America is going to start winning so much they will get tired of winning, just lost. After a couple weeks of constant verbal jousting with Ted Cruz, he lost to the object of his scorn.
Another loss in New Hampshire is potentially devastating. It’s safer harbor for him than Iowa. Independents can easily vote for him. If he blows this one, how can he realistically expect to contend for the nomination?
On the other hand, he has an enormous lead in New Hampshire. His worst poll over the past two weeks has him with a 15 point advantage. Trump virtually always out-polls the second and third place finisher combined.
More importantly, the post-Iowa numbers (more on that later from Elmo) are showing no slippage in his support. If New Hampshire voters abandon him, they will either fail to show on election day or shift elsewhere at the last minute. It hasn’t happened yet.
What will The Donald do?Hold a rally in Arkansas. Having seemingly blown a lead in Iowa, needing to win the Granite State, he’s responding by flying elsewhere. As usual, many pundits are incredulous and his opponents are taking the opportunity to remind New Hampshire they have more respect for the “process.”
This is his model. He does large events that earn media coverage. Trump doesn’t visit diners, won’t do intimate town hall meetings. He doesn’t spend the night (usually). At this point he has a total of 3 events scheduled in the Granite State this week. They may add more, but that’s a light morning for Cruz.
We learned three things in Iowa. Trump voters are real. Trump organization is spotty. Trump data is a weakness. Donald Trump is not Carly Fiorina. On balance, that’s worked for him. But she ran a huge tech company. He’s less comfortable managing a large organization and relying on data-driven decisions.
Remember, the Trump Organization is not Apple, Wal-Mart, or General Motors. He’s invested in various existing entities (like famous golf courses), lent his name to large hotel developments (Trump International Hotel Fill-in the City), and owns parts of some office buildings and luxury apartment towers. His ties are a licensing deal. There isn’t a bunch of inventory back stock sitting on the 7th floor of Trump Tower.
Cruz got him and Rubio got close based on data driving an organizational apparatus. Trump didn’t want to pay millions for data management. Instead, he has a couple of analysts squirreled away in his sparse 5th floor campaign headquarters.
Ted likes to let us know how sharp his campaign is. Marco keeps things a bit under the radar. Both are very data-driven. Cruz may talk about carpet bombing ISIS, but his campaign approach is extremely targeted. Trump is the candidate using B-52s.
The Cruz approach is most useful in a caucus state. It’s also incredibly useful in a general election. The past three were won by the candidate that did a better job of matching numbers and volunteer boots on the ground. When Ted says he’s going to get evangelicals and conservatives out to vote in November, he’s not just praying on it, he’s crunching data and planning a ground offensive.
Trump is going to cast a wide net on a daily basis and hope he snares enough votes. Right or wrong, it’s his play. He doesn’t have the feel for data management that he does for media manipulation. More importantly, he can’t be sure who his voters are. Like he reminds us when he hits a pothole, he’s never done this before.
All the other contenders have practice running for public office. People voted for them. People voted against them. Others passed entirely. Rubio and Cruz are overtly running versions of their Senate primary elections. Part of Jeb’s problem is not having a somewhat recent contest to use as a foundation.
So The Donald is guessing. Even if he had better data, you could still argue the sample size is limited until more states actually vote. Make a ton of noise. Show up on TV all day every day. Tweet like you have nothing better to do. Do one major event per day, making sure the crowd is x times larger than any other in the history of the same town. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Cross fingers.
Reporters ask him if he’s planning to step up his ground game. Ted Cruz has spent a minimum of three years planning for the next 6 weeks. Donald Trump has more chance of building the Mexican Wall in 6 weeks than catching up to Cruz on the ground. Perhaps if he really commits, he can have something in place for November. Maybe.
You can assume the following going forward. Cruz will normally do better than polls indicate. In caucus states noticeably, in primary states by a little. Trump will do worse than polls indicate. The organization just isn’t in place to grind out a victory on the margins.
His supporters are more on board than anyone’s, but Trump leaners will probably turn into votes for someone else if they aren’t locked down a few days before they vote. For wavering voters, direct, targeted messaging from Cruz, Rubio, or perhaps someone else, will prove effective.
That means 5 to 7 point leads aren’t safe. It doesn’t mean 20 point leads are at risk. At least if the vote is in a week instead of down the road a bit. We’ll only know if Trump had an adequate cushion in New Hampshire after the vote. The Iowa results indicate he does. The Donald would need to lose far more in the final week than he did there to have anyone catch him.
It could happen, but why would he assume a worse result in a more favorable environment until events prove otherwise? Meanwhile, his goal is to win the nomination, not avoid embarrassment in the Granite State. He needs a very strong March 1. Arkansas votes on March 1. That’s why he’s in Little Rock today.
If Trump needs to spend today shaking factory hands in a mill town in New Hampshire, he has no chance of winning the nomination. That means The Donald needs to play by normal political rules. If those apply, he’s going to lose. All we’ve learned so far is that he probably needs a cushion on election day. At the moment he has it.
So Trump Force One heads to the Land of Huckabee (and Bill Clinton) while he blasts Cruz for cheating in Iowa and claims the result was fraudulent. Trump being Trump. Until he’s no longer at or near the delegate lead, don’t expect a different script.
We might see New Hampshire as his last stand, but he doesn’t. The man wrote the Art of the Comeback in the middle of losing his ass.