Thank God that's over. You don't have to be an Amtrak conductor to want to punch the next guy who says, "There are three tickets out of Iowa." In the end, Ted Cruz won eight delegates and Donald Trump seven. Which doesn't sound so bad for Trump. Except that Marco Rubio also won seven delegates. Had the caucus been held 24 hours later, Rubementum might have pushed Trump to third place.
There's no point pretending it wasn't a setback for the billionaire party-crasher. Who knows why it happened? Perhaps he should have taken his own advice and shot a guy on Fifth Avenue: That's gotta be worth a couple of points in Polk County. For over six months, each supposedly fatal misstep - from McCain to Muslims - only made him stronger. Now the first actual votes of this interminable process have made him weaker. For a candidate running on the platform that he's a winner and the other guys are losers, the aura of invincibility depended on the perception of invincibility. So it's not helpful to let five thousand hayseeds shuck Trump Tower like a corncob. Doing without consultants, doing without ads, doing without Fox News, doing without National Review, doing without debates ...great, great, love it. But doing without voters is a trickier proposition. This week the Trump campaign sent my 15-year-old kid, who lives in New Hampshire, a reminder to make sure he caucuses in Iowa.
Rubio did the usual caucus-night thing. He came third so he hailed himself as the most stunning victor since Wellington at Waterloo and then segued into the stump-speech bollocks about being the son of a bartender and promising a new American century. Ted Cruz followed with a victory speech that lasted most of the new American century. It was the kind of ruthless Canadian triumphalism older Americans haven't seen since the War of 1812, which, like Cruz's speech, went on into the following year. If he wins again next Tuesday, let's hope he cuts to the chase and burns down the White House.
Still it's a fact that both Cruz and Rubio outperformed the polls; Trump underperformed. In New Hampshire he has a bigger poll lead to underperform against ...but a week is a long time in a small state. By comparison with Rubio and Cruz, he gave the most human speech of the night: instead of doing the customary loser shtick of claiming that your surprise 9th place finish showed all those naysayers who said you'd never break the critical two per cent barrier and then shoving in random bits of stump-speech pabulum, Trump was secure enough to appear genuinely deflated, and offer only a line that no professional speechwriter would allow to pass his lips: He said he might buy a farm in Iowa. The question now is whether in Iowa Trump has bought the farm, or whether he can be - here it comes, ta-da! - the comeback kid next Tuesday in Concord. He has a 20-point lead in New Hampshire, but, if the post-Iowa perception is that Cruz is now the "conservative" choice and Rubio the "moderate" one, 20 points can bleed awfully fast.
It was a bad night for John Kasich. He's currently second-placed in New Hampshire, on which he's put all his chips - as his fellow moderates Jeb! and Christie have likewise done. The assumption by three of the four-man mod squad was that the Granite State would determine who'd get to be the "mainstream" standard-bearer. But Rubio decided to jump the gun and settle the moderate question a state early - and who dares wins, as the SAS say. The Cuban heel got almost four times as many votes as Bush, Kasich and Christie combined. Indeed, even the Carson campaign in its death throes outpolled Bush, Kasich and Christie combined, plus Fiorina and then some. Jeb may still have some piles of donor cash he hasn't yet thrown off the top of Mount Washington, but most of these other guys will be gone by next Wednesday.
In broader outsider/insider terms, it was a grim tally for the GOP "establishment". Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie got a combined 30 per cent of the vote. Cruz, Trump and Carson got 61 per cent. And the rest - Paul, Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum - incline in varying degrees more to the outsider side of the track.
~On the Democrat side, I was rooting for Bernie, and have been for seven months, back when Hillary was at 63 per cent in Iowa and Bernie at 14:
He would be the oldest man ever elected president and 83 years old at the end of two terms - which we won't have to worry about because the entire country will have slid off the cliff long before then. But he's enthusing the base, and any base wants to be enthused.
Hillary, by contrast, is in trouble not because she's a sleazy, corrupt, cronyist, money-laundering, Saud-kissing liar. Democrats have a strong stomach and boundless tolerance for all of that and wouldn't care were it not for the fact that she's a dud and a bore. A "Hillary rally" is a contradiction in terms: the thin, vetted crowd leave more demoralized and depressed than when they went in. To vote for Bernie is to be part of a romance, as it was with Obama. To vote for Hillary is to validate the Clintons' indestructible sense of their own indispensability - and nothing else. Hillary is a wooden charmless stiff who supposedly has enough money to be carefully managed across the finish line. But that requires Democratic electors to agree to be managed, too, and the Sanders surge is a strong sign that, while they're relaxed about voting for an unprincipled arrogant phony marinated in ever more malodorous and toxic corruption, they draw the line at such a tedious and charisma-free specimen thereof.
All of that was fully in evidence at last night's rally. The only personable Clinton stood behind Hillary looking like an emaciated wraith of the Slick Willie of yore. Decades of interns appear to have literally sucked all the life out of him, leaving only (one presumes from friend Epstein's Lolita Express flight records) his distinguishing characteristics with any flicker of vitality. Judging from her brief but disastrous intervention in New Hampshire the other week, young Chelsea appears to have inherited her mother's warmth and personal touch. That left Hillary barking across the midnight hour like a malign Speak-Your-Weight Machine with a jammed quarter.
As I wrote way back in early July:
So Bernie is a real danger to her. He will be nimbler, more fun and more human in the debates. And he enthuses the young in a way Hillary doesn't. He could win Iowa, and I know he could win New Hampshire, too... If Mrs Clinton's two down by South Carolina, Berniephobes will be begging any alternative (starting with Crazy Joe) to jump in the race.
Bernie was close, but, as Bill would say, no cigar. Hillary won by 24 delegates to 21 - and six of her delegates she got on a coin toss. Seriously. Nevertheless, given the demographic difficulties he faces in South Carolina and beyond, Sanders needed to inflict actual defeat on Hillary. He needed headlines saying: "BERNIE WINS!" And he didn't get that. She certainly felt the Bern, but it wasn't a third-degree Bern.
Insurgent-wise, the Bern took the high road and the Donald took the low road. And, unlike Trump, Sanders outperformed the polls. If he does that in New Hampshire, he'll utterly humiliate Hillary. And who knows what happens then?
The retort that Trump is not a "real" Republican or a "real" conservative would of course be a devastating criticism had "real" Republicans and "real" conservatives" in Washington managed actually to "conserve" anything during their time in office. Fiscal prudence? Constrained welfare? Private health care? Religious liberty? There's no point to a purity test for a party that folds more reliably than the White House valet. As I've said, for the Republican establishment the issue is Trump; for a large part of the base the issue is the Republican establishment.
So I have generally regarded Trump's presence in this race as a good thing. And I believe (for reasons I'll expand on later this week) that he would do better against Hillary than most other GOP candidates.
However, if I may rise on a point of personal privilege (as the parliamentarians say): As readers might have discerned, I wasn't happy about his approving Tweet appearing to take sides against me in the Michael E Mann "global warming" case (scroll down). I was even less happy by the blizzard of mail that followed from Trump supporters saying, well, we understand you're bugged about the particulars of your obscure law suit, but in the macro picture this guy is gonna save the country so quit yer bellyachin'. Actually, when this suit comes to trial, it will not only be a major landmark in terms of court-enforced climate-change compliance, but also the most consequential free-speech case in America in 50 years. So it's not about me personally: in that useful American expression, I don't need this in my life right now - and like the Conqueror of Iowa, I'm a subject of Her Canadian Majesty and can be well beyond the reach of the US courts in nothing flat. But it has a lot to do with the First Amendment, and things that ought to be of value to every American. And, having rebuked Senators Whitehouse and Markey in my testimony to the US Senate for their totalitarian approach to vigorous debate and the spirit of inquiry, I would be disturbed by any presidential candidate who appeared to be siding with the opponents of free speech.
I have been out of the country, and came back yesterday a few hours before the Iowa caucus. In the week I was gone, Donald Trump was invited to correct the impression his Tweet gave that he supported global-warming fanatics over free speech. I regret that he chose not to do so.
~Tomorrow I'll be back on the radio with Toronto's Number One morning man, John Oakley, live on AM640 at 8.30am Eastern. If you are in the vicinity of the receiving apparatus, I do hope you'll dial us up.