Iowa taught two hard election lessons tonight. You can’t win without organization and you can’t win without enthusiasm.
Hillary Clinton came into Iowa with all the organization in the world, but none of the enthusiasm. It will take time to determine whether she managed to eke out a tiny victory against a senescent Socialist, but her shrill speech and deranged expression, eyes wild, draped in blood-red, were not those of a winner.
Bernie Sanders had poor organization, but plenty of enthusiasm. And that paid off. 43% of Iowa caucus goers identified as Socialists and 53% as politically correct. No matter how far to the left Hillary rushed, she couldn’t narrow that enthusiasm gap because she is fundamentally inauthentic.
Organization may have bought her a narrow win. Maybe. But it can’t buy her enthusiasm. And that will be a big problem for her in a general election.
On the Republican side of the dial, enthusiasm without organization also proved to be a disaster. Trump’s campaign had plenty of enthusiasm and was ahead in the polls, but it lacked the organization to capitalize on the enthusiasm and all the free publicity. Rubio had some organization and enthusiasm and came in third. Ted Cruz had the best combination of organization and enthusiasm and came in first.
This outcome is bad news for Democrats and good news for Republicans.
The Republicans have candidates who have organization and enthusiasm. The Democrats have to choose between one and the other. They either have to go with Hillary Clinton for organization while sacrificing enthusiasm. Or they have to gamble that Bernie Sanders will be able to skate by on enthusiasm. Increasingly they are likely to decide that they can buy Bernie an organization, but they can’t buy Hillary any enthusiasm. But dethroning Hillary will be a long, hard and brutal fight.
Either way the future looks bleak for a Democratic Party caught in a civil war between two visions of the past. Meanwhile the Republicans appear increasingly energized after Iowa.
Republican turnout in Iowa has shattered records. Ted Cruz picked up more Iowa caucus votes than any other candidate ever received despite the crowded field of candidates. But a large turnout benefited a number of the frontrunners, including Trump, Rubio and Carson. Despite some of the uglier moments in the campaign, the enthusiasm can be seen in the strong turnout. If this trend continues in the general election, this will not be a Romney year in which Republicans stay home and let the Democrat win.
And while Democrats squabbled over which elderly Socialist they loathed the least, 60% of Iowa Republicans voted for either Cuban-American or African-American candidates. Democrats and their media allies still insist that Republicans have a diversity problem, but they’re the ones with a diversity problem, not just a diversity of race, but a diversity of ideas. The top tier of the Republican field represents a variety of ideas and approaches. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voted the same way 93% of the time in the Senate. The difference there is in the rhetoric, not the reality.
Republicans have crashed and burned in the past because they failed to do the hard work of actually understanding the rules of the game and how to win. Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa is a textbook example of a campaign focusing on the rules of the game and how to win, rather than on rhetoric. From the data, an area where Republicans have been weak in the past few elections, to concentrating on the ground game, the Cruz campaign won a deserved victory by understanding the nuts and bolts of the caucus.
Other states, with less demanding primaries, may prove to be very different. And only time will tell whether the Cruz campaign will adapt successfully to them or whether a lower bar will aid some rival campaigns that struggled in Iowa. But understanding the system is a key skill, both in elections and in running the country.
It’s a truism that Iowa doesn’t matter. But it’s only true until it no longer is. Democrats and Republicans fought hard for Iowa. The amount of energy and anger expended here was not a hollow pursuit.
The battle has shown weaknesses and strengths in all the campaigns that will serve as a learning opportunity.
The Democrats will enter a bitter battle as more left-wing support will begin flowing to Bernie Sanders while the Clinton campaign will go to the mattresses. After Iowa, Trump will likely begin investing in a more conventional campaign. As a successful businessman, he’s capable of analyzing what went wrong and drawing the right conclusions. Rubio’s momentum has often been mocked in the past week, but he proved that he could take the third spot in a three man race. If Jeb Bush and some other establishment candidates drop out, the momentum could become big enough to take him all the way to the top.
For Ted Cruz, Iowa showed that he could win even while under attack from every direction. This was his test of fire and he survived it. Whatever else happens, he won Iowa despite rejecting ethanol, shrugged off attacks from a popular Iowa governor, not to mention Bob Dole and Sarah Palin, and scored a big victory.
If anyone doubted that Cruz could do more than just talk, Iowa settled that question.
But all three Republican winners in Iowa surprised everyone. Trump, who had not run a gracious campaign, managed a gracious concession speech. Rubio achieved a surprising momentum. And Cruz beat the predictions and the polls, rising from political death to achieve an impressive victory.
All three Republican candidates have been energized by Iowa in their own way. And a clear resolution allows them to move on, even as the Democrats will still be stuck arguing over who won Iowa.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans have entered an unexpectedly competitive primary season, but while the primaries are strengthening, training and energizing the Republican candidates, they are weakening the Democratic candidates. Before Iowa, the media narrative was that the Republicans were coming apart. Now it appears that it’s the Democrats who are coming apart instead.