The first votes were cast in Iowa and actually I feel pretty good about my predictions. As the voting got closer I thought there was a chance that Rubio might pull off a victory there. I was only a couple of percentage points from being right. But oddly, the actual results (Cruz, followed a near tie between Trump and Rubio) has almost the same effect. Why do I say that?
First of all, we just found out that we have not entered some kind of new era in politics where all you need is a well followed twitter feed to win elections. Granted Trump got a lot further than others who threw around red meat slogans (anyone remember Herman Caine?) You still have to have an organization and a plan to win elections, and Trump had neither in Iowa. Wishful thinking and bluster are still not enough to win.
The big question facing Trump now is how many losses can he handle? It seems pretty clear that he ran for president to strengthen his “brand.” But how many losses can he sustain before he hurts the brand rather than help it. Trump does not want to be remembered as a quixotic loser (Rick Santorum, anyone?) Even if he were to right the ship and win New Hampshire (more on that in a minute) he doesn’t have the organization to “win” Super Tuesday. So, how many times can Trump lose and still claim to be a “winner?”
Here is my prediction of what happens from here.
Although Cruz won Iowa, recent history has shown that Iowa doesn’t back the ultimate nominee, which does not bode well for Cruz. It is also pretty apparent that while very conservative voters will vote for Cruz, nobody who knows him likes him very much, which now makes Rubio the “establishment” Republican candidate. Add that to polls that show Rubio running better than Cruz against either Sanders or Clinton.
So, Rubio starts to run a “I’m the only grownup around here and am most electable” campaign (think Mitt Romney). Super PAC money will start flooding to Rubio, who might have enough time to swing New Hampshire his way. If Trump loses in New Hampshire, I think he bows out. If Trump somehow hangs on to win New Hampshire, I don’t think he wins South Carolina, Rubio does. At that point Trump probably drops out to avoid losing something like 10 of the Super Tuesday states.
If a week of advertising blitz either gets Rubio a New Hampshire win or a very close second, he probably takes South Carolina, does the best on Super Tuesday and goes onto the nomination, rolling in big donor cash the whole way. I think this is the most probable scenario.
Less likely is that Cruz wins New Hampshire (or comes a very close second to Trump). This would create momentum for South Carolina, if he wins that, he could possibly be best on Super Tuesday, then onto the nomination. I don’t see this as very likely, as Rubio’s electability argument, organization and big donors are going to be very tough to overcome.
Trump has to win big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina to keep his campaign alive. But I assume that there is going to be a blizzard of PAC produced commercials that will say something like: “Trump can’t get Iowa Republicans to the polls, how can he beat Hilary Clinton? We need a real candidate.” Hard to see how he wins big with that going against him and no ground organization. “The Donald” is in way over his head and that will become clear to him real soon and he will file for political bankruptcy. “I just wanted to shake things up,” he’ll say, “and now that I have done that, I will just comment from the sidelines.”
On the Democratic side, it seems the media is saying that Iowa was a “must win” for Bernie Sanders and that a tie was not good enough. That seems harsh, but if people buy that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a win in New Hampshire might be as far as he gets. On the other hand, if people actually see his Iowa performance as a big win for an underdog, he wins New Hampshire (as expected) then maybe wins South Carolina and then on to the nomination.
If New Hampshire is close, that would be seen as a win for Clinton, she takes South Carolina and then is unstoppable for the nomination.
The most likely scenario at this point is Rubio versus Clinton in the general election, which Clinton wins in a squeaker. If Trump or Cruz somehow manage the nomination, they both lose big to Clinton. If Sanders gets the nomination, it would be very, very close with Rubio, but he handily defeats either Cruz or Trump.