... while I’m usually not sympathetic to Trump’s arguments, it’s worth kicking around a contrarian idea: maybe he did pretty well in the Iowa caucuses?Why does this matter? Because if Trump does struggle in subsequent contests -- especially if the eventual nominee is aforementioned World’s Greatest Presidential Candidate, Marco Rubio -- he'll be discussed in retroactive accounts of this race as if he was no more of a contender than Herman Cain or Rudy Giuliani, a guy who led the polls for a while but didn't really have any genuine support. The message will be: Republican voters aren't crazy! You were told all through the second half of 2015 that Republican voters were crazy, but that was just media hype. Republican voters are sane and rational!
Consider the race in a slightly different light: Donald Trump is a first-time candidate who’s never run for any public office at any time in his life. He was appealing to conservative voters in a state he’d never visited, and which he’d publicly insulted -- on camera -- more than once. He was reaching out to a GOP base in Iowa that’s dominated by evangelicals, whom he’s struggled to relate to on any level.
Trump spent very little money in the state, had no meaningful ground operation or field team, held far fewer events than other competitive candidates, and invested almost no time in the kind of one-on-one retail campaigning than Iowans have come to expect.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump came in second anyway, earning more support than the man the media has declared The World’s Greatest Presidential Candidate.
Indeed, Michelle Goldberg noted in Slate yesterday, Trump also received “more votes than either of the last two winners of the Iowa Caucuses: 45,416, compared to 29,839 for Rick Santorum in 2012 and 40,841 for Mike Huckabee in 2008.” Trump also won more votes than George W. Bush received in 2000, when the then-Texas governor won the Iowa caucuses.
Yes, Trump obviously lost, and his whining on Twitter yesterday didn’t do him any favors. But looking at the Iowa results from a distance, is it crazy to think his second-place finish was actually quite impressive?
No, they aren't. Trump finished a strong second with a woefully inadequate campaign apparatus. If he'd had a ground game, he could have won. If he'd had a ground game and made maybe one fewer mistake in the last week (skipping the debate? putting money on the communion plate?), he would have won. Lots of Republicans backed him in Iowa. Lots of Republicans still back him.
He may prove that in New Hampshire. He's still drawing crowds:
And while Public Policy Polling suggests that his national support is dropping, a UMass-Lowell poll says he's still going great guns in the Granite State:
Maybe he doesn't have the organization to translate any of this into votes. But that doesn't mean GOP voters were too rational to respond to his bluster and bigotry. They responded like crazy. That mustn't be forgotten.