Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Steve Benen is right -- Donald Trump did very well on Monday, and we seem to be pretending he didn't.
... 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?

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?
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!

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.


Feud Turgidson said...

This isn't to dispute your over all point, but I'm pretty sure WHY the Trump campaign went the way they did. Where I disagree with you is on whether this 'stream-lined' approach was open to much SAFE refinement.

It was designed by Trump campaign chair Corey Lewandowski with input & ongoing assistance thereafter from Steve King's election machine. Lewandowski, as I expect you know, is from Lowell - as white nationalist an urban setting as there is in Mass. state. Cory's established specialty is cold-eyed economies of scale calculation combined with race-baiting and fear-mongering, these days particularly aimed at Muslims but in past campaigns targetting minorities and immigrants.

Lewandowski styles himself a "liberatarian independent", and has become kind of an informal Koch brothers' 'fellow' with important contacts in and relationships with not just Charles Koch in particular but the Koch brothers fellow oligarchs organized around the Cato Institute. That's why I look thru green eyeshades at stories about how the Koch bros and their circle are supposedly panicking over Trump; I see that as deliberate media fodder to direct attention away from 'tells' like Lewandoski coming on board & to distance the Koch brothers from identification with the forces Lewandoski specializes in exploiting.

King's endorsement is consistent with those white nationalist themes Lewandowski specializes in exploiting: notable in the same vein are Palin, porn star Tia Tequila, Anne Coulter, former MLB relief pitcher John Rocker, Hulk Hogan and Jerry Falwell, Jr. But also I don't think even one among those endorsers is there for purely ideological reasons - rather, I think they all follow a general career business plan of cultivating white nationalist cred. I have no doubt Lewandoski has touched base with all of them because it's within his 'white nationalized' plan.

Any serious effort to develop the level of community outreach in Iowa that might have theoretically promised to improve Trump's ground game & caucusing was also highly vulnerable to being exposed by local & citizen media for what it was: mobilization of white nationalist sentiment.

In going forward from state to state, not only is that Iowa caucuses risk behind Trump, but the states that Lewandoski is focusing on all have well-established organic white nationalist organizations, and the mostly MSM media traveling with his campaign are not going to find it easy to find incentive or time to exploit what they'll see.

CH said...

Nor should it be overlooked, Steve, that the guy who beat Trump in Iowa is every bit as loony and repellent as DT is - in some ways, more so. Whenever one encounters some MSM story about Rubio being the big, supposedly "reassuring" news out of Iowa, it's well to keep in mind that Cruz & Trump between them snagged well over 50% of the GOP vote. The Repub base earned no credit for sanity thereby.

Swellsman said...

Yes,this exactly. I had been predicting to all of my friends and family that Trump was going to completely crater in Iowa; despite the media attention and the polls, every story I read said that his GOTV was absolutely abysmal. I thought I was being the lone voice of contrarian but common sense reason.

Monday's returns proved me entirely wrong about that. The people who like Trump, REALLY, REALLY like him. They proved more than willing to make the effort to caucus despite the fact Trump's campaign made almost no effort to urge them to do so.

The media, of course, is interested in pushing an exciting "down is now up, up is now down" narrative, but Trump did do extremely well. For a lot of reasons, I still continue not to think he will be the eventual nominee, but let's not kid ourselves: he has a committed following, and everything out there indicates that this following is going to keep showing up to vote.