What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race. The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant.Yes, but a lot more Republicans showed up to support an unabashed extremist and two unqualified know-nothings, one of whom is a thug and a bigot. Rubio's vote total? 23.1%. Combined vote totals of Cruz, Trump, and Carson? 61.3%.
Ted Cruz picked up the voters who propelled Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee to victory in previous caucuses. His is a Tea Party wing in the G.O.P. But its size and geographic reach is limited.
The amazing surge for Marco Rubio shows that the Republican electorate has not gone collectively insane. At the last moment, and in a state that is not naturally friendly to him, a lot of Republicans showed up to support a conservative who could conceivably get elected and govern.
Trump got 24.3% of the vote and 7 delegates last night; four years ago, Mitt Romney's vote percentage in Iowa was barely higher (24.53%), in a much smaller field, and he won one fewer delegate than Trump. And Cruz outdid both Trump this year and Romney in 2012.
But the Establishment is declaring victory, and the Establishment really might be able to will Rubio momentum into being, because there do seem to be a certain number of Republicans who want an electable choice -- maybe just enough in a three-way race. Perhaps the candidate who'll win this nomination while not being the choice of anything close to a GOP majority will be Rubio, not Trump.
Am I sorry the ignorant bigot lost? Yes, I am. Even though Trump has created a particularly toxic strain of Republicanism, he poses a threat to the Republican Establishment -- he tarnishes the GOP brand by saying out loud what other Republicans say in code, and while his agenda may overlap with that of the GOP's power brokers on many issues, he wouldn't just take an ALEC or Grover Norquist agenda off the shelf and run on it, much less govern by it. I think a Trump presidency would be a nightmare, but it would be a singularly Trumpian nightmare -- it wouldn't be a tactical advance in the long war being fought by the Koch brothers and their allies. And we might never get to that point, because Trump would be a weak general election candidate, at a time when the Democrats are going to have a weak candidate of their own. (If Marco Rubio is the nominee, he will win. Take that to the bank.)
We seemed to be on the verge of a Republican crack-up. Instead, last night we got a better-than-expected performance by someone who might be able to keep the party patched together. I hope someone -- Trump, Kasich ... hell, even Jeb -- humiliates Rubio in New Hampshire next week. If not, I hope Trump and Cruz cleans his clock in South Carolina. He's dangerous.