First, the Republicans
I think Ted Cruz believes he actually is the Constitution. We the people are his stream of conscience, and in his gut are balled the founding fathers. The fiery sermon he gave during his victory speech after winning the Iowa Caucuses last night, full of vigor and self-aggrandizement not seen since William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold, left little doubt as to why his campaign logo is an upside-down American Flag on fire: We’re all going to hell unless Ted Cruz saves us.
Cruz started his speech by declaring, “Our rights come from our Creator.” And it was not entirely clear he didn’t mean himself.
Ted’s campaign has become explicitly evangelical. In Iowa, he declared that we must “awaken and energize the body of Christ.” (An image sure to elicit nightmares in Catholic children everywhere, or just anyone who’s seen a Crucifix before) Cruz’s victory was widespread across evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and college graduates, but mostly they were people that describe themselves as “very conservative.” He has set himself up in a strong position for when the southern states are brought up to vote on Super Tuesday. He will, however, have to face off against Trump again in South Carolina in three weeks. But who knows what shape Trump will be in then.
Donald Trump is officially a loser. Something everyone on the planet already knew except Donald Trump, who looked stunned and wounded during his concession speech. The only thing he could turn to was bragging about how well he was doing in the polls in New Hampshire, but a campaign built on spray tan and “winning” doesn’t hold up well in the bright lights and high definition of losing. Can Donald cling to his massive lead in New Hampshire? In the words of the first Republican President, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Rubio gave the best victory / 3rd place concession speech of the night. It also displayed his strengths and flaws perfectly. Every time he was about to pull you into his personal story, he would stumble over his words, and each emotional crescendo finished with him forgetting what year it is, or some other unforced error in delivery. There’s no doubt he has talent and potential, and his strong finish in Iowa could win him the crown of the establishment (Rubio tripled the vote totals of Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush combined), but he needs a victory and it might need to be New Hampshire. He at least needs to beat Cruz there; otherwise, he may never reach escape velocity.
Kasich and Jeb(!) weren’t even in Iowa, they had already moved on to New Hampshire. Kasich’s been slowly building speed in the granite state, but his support may be tempted to flood toward Rubio. Then again, New Hampshirites are famously unwilling to follow candidates simply because they did well in Iowa. Poor Jeb, but he did better than Christie, who I completely forgot existed last night.
Now, the Democrats
Hillary Clinton tried to beat up a confused old man last night and failed, but to her credit she didn’t lose. It turned out not to be 2008 all over again, when she was humiliated and finished third. That’s partly because there wasn’t a strong third candidate this year like the dark and handsome John Edwards, and partly because she wasn’t running against the coolest candidate in half a century. Fortunately for Hillary, she now finds herself in her most comfortable and natural state, as an underdog determined to prove everyone wrong. Clintons never manage linear paths toward what they want, but meteoric rises followed by crippling defeats that give way to joyless technical knockouts.
Bernie Sanders had a nice Caucus last night, not fancy schmancy, but nice. To be honest, Linn County could have been better. Bernie needed a clear victory that he could couple with a landslide in New Hampshire. Instead, he has to rally his legends with cries of, “Remember our statistical tie in Iowa!” Simply put, he needs to win New Hampshire convincingly, make inroads with Hispanic and Black voters in Nevada and South Carolina, and then somehow, without the aid of a SuperPAC, win a majority of the delegates on Super Tuesday.
The Democratic Party is much better off with a strong Bernie Sanders that keeps the primary elections exciting and brings young voters into the fold. Bobby Kennedy used to say the answer to the world’s ills is to rely on youth. Democratic candidates require youth, and a boring primary would be more harmful to the Party’s chances in the general than a wounded candidate flushed with fresh troops.
Implications for the General
Republican turnout (187k), an all-time record, slightly edged that of the Democratic Party (171k), which was significantly higher in 2008 for Barack Obama (239k). That means Hillary only picked up about 15 thousand more votes than 8 years ago. The Republican race will likely be a whistle-stop tour that gins up excitement and registers new voters throughout the country, closing the gap produced by the Obama elections. The Democrats will need to try and keep pace. To older Democrats, Hillary Clinton is seen as a plumed knight, who has fought through wave after wave of disingenuous and gratuitous Fox News attacks. But to many millennials she represents a regressive Democratic philosophy in a time when they “bern” for a “revolution.”
Extremism may not be a vice, but it doesn’t win fall elections. The Party that uses the insurgent energy present in the electorate to mass their voters without yielding control of the ticket to an insurgent candidate, will control the White House.