The strangest event that occurred in Iowa on Tuesday, as caucus-goers delivered their primary verdict, was that Donald Trump became gracious in defeat. A day earlier, no one would have expected these words from Trump: “We finished second…I’m just honoured.”
Iowa didn’t give an endorsement to Brand Trump, but there’s a even graver warning in its results – the evangelicals, critical for any Republican candidate to capture the White House, haven’t yet bought his Christian credentials.
And just as Mitt Romney discovered in 2012, without that Bible-thumping ballast, campaigns can sink in November.
As he has done on virtually every issue, Trump pandered aggressively to that segment, but it had slender impact as his 4% loss to Ted Cruz signifies.
That Texas Senator, meanwhile, may have reasserted his prominence with that crowd, a return to his roots as a Tea Party standard-bearer, despite all the noise over his Cuban-Canadian background. What Trump’s extreme utterances have done is to project Cruz as a relative moderate in comparison.
The bigger winner may actually be Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Flagging by over double digits to the poll leaders on Monday, attracting nearly a quarter of the caucus votes is his return to relevance.
A caucus is a uniquely American electoral phenomenon that’s a feature of the primary cycle in the presidential race. Unlike regular elections, where voters queue to cast their ballots, during a caucus, voters actually congregate at a precinct, the equivalent of a polling booth, and express their support for a particular candidate.
The Democratic process does away with the secret ballot, as voters collect together according to their support for a candidate and even attempt to convert supporters of other candidates to their cause. On the Republican side, supporters make a pitch for their candidate at the precinct, but votes ultimately remain secret.
In real numbers, the Republican caucus has given eight, seven and six delegates to the top three, negligible when it comes to the eventual nomination process at the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland.
The biggest loser, obviously is Jeb Bush (or Jeb! as his campaign has framed him). Once a weighty contender, his slim chances may have vanished in Iowa. Whittling of the field will lead to greater clarity to where primary voters will coalesce.
Trump may still have the upper hand in the states that follow, like New Hampshire and South Carolina. But his problems are multiplying.
If Teflon Don has managed to overcome the ruckus over his rhetoric, his historic dislikability ratings, the lack of support from the Republican’s fundamentalist base may just shake his campaign’s foundations.
And unlike say last week, the pair of Cuban-origin candidates, Cruz and Rubio, could be getting close enough for Trump’s discomfort.
The views expressed by the author are personal.