Barring any kind of a major development in the next few days or consistently terribly inaccurate polling, Donald Trump will come out on top in Iowa after its caucuses finish on Monday.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse January 26, 2016
Eric Thayer/The New York Times
AMMAN — Unless something crazy happens, Donald Trump will win in Iowa on Monday night, the first official contest of the Republican race to be the party’s nominee for the presidency. There are several major quantitative and qualitative factors behind me making this prediction (and, frankly, any election prediction): 1.) recent developments, 2.) long-term developments, and 3.) polling data; all three point solidly towards a Trump triumph.
1.) Recent developments
Recent developments alone are, combined, pretty damning for Cruz and solid for Trump.
a.) As I wrote before, Trump solidly swatted away Cruz’s attempt to dislodge him from the lead spot both in Iowa and nationally, with some help from Sen. Rubio and from Cruz himself, the latter of whom did not have a single effective response when attacked or questioned.
b.) The thing about Iowa and New Hampshire is that, being the first two states in both parties’ nomination contest calendars, candidates spend more time there than in any other states during the nomination process. Since Iowa only has about 3.1 million people New Hampshire only about 1.3 million people, and no other states of comparable size get that much personal attention from candidates, this mean that Iowans are seeing more of both Trump and Cruz per capita than people in any other state other than New Hampshire, and will therefore have a much more up-close-and-personal view of the candidates than voters in almost any other state. And they will realize that Trump is just more likable in comparison to Cruz. Even I feel like I’d rather grab a beer or watch a game with Trump instead of Cruz. And Iowans tends to care more about this kind of stuff since personal interaction with candidates actually factors into their thinking in such a way that most voters and most states can only dream about. In drawing more and more to Trump as the days to the caucuses become fewer and fewer, Iowans are mirroring something which many Republicans realized long ago: that Cruz is intensely and widely disliked, even by many of his Republican colleagues. In fact, outside of the Republican base, pretty much everyone hates Ted Cruz: I am talking about the people, including Republicans, who actually know Cruz well personally and work with Cruz professionally, from his college roommate all the way to his Senate and congressional colleagues, including the only recently former Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Even Iowa’s own Republican governor just recently came out against Cruz, a highly uncommon move for a governor in the middle of his state’s contest. What passes for the Republican intelligentsia (which seems to have hit a real nadir in influence this election cycle) has taken something of an ideological stance against Trump and seems to favor Cruz. However, more significantly, mainstream and/or Washington Establishment Republicans, though not necessarily happy with Trump, seem to prefer him over Cruz, and seeing Cruz within striking distance of winning Iowa, seem to now be surprisingly (and sometimes energetically, in the case of 1996 Republican presidential nominee and former Senator Bob Dole) coming out swinging against Cruz and expressing a preference for Trump over Cruz, just in time to have an impact on the Iowa race.
c.) Another quality that Iowans getting relative major in-person time with candidates tend to care about is the nebulous “authenticity” vibe; while Trump is seen as exceptionally authentic because he has almost no filterbetween what pops in his head and what comes out of his mouth (or his Twitter feed, for that matter), Cruz appears to be an actual human filter: incredibly inauthentic and ridiculously hyperbolic; almost every move of his seems to be incredibly calculated, from his speech to Middle Eastern Christians and his filibuster speeches to his debate performances and immigration statements, Cruz may actually be one of the most cynically calculating and disingenuous politicians to ever be so prominent nationally. Even an answer to a non-political question about what music he listens to was turned by Cruz into an opportunity for him to pander and divide in the most calculated of ways. Iowans will have been seeing this forced, rehearsed aspect of Cruz for weeks now, and I doubt it will help him in relation to The Donald; in fact, I suspect that the longer they are exposed to him, the less they will like him, just like his colleagues in Congress.
d.) Palin’s endorsement (and Falwell Jr.’s): for some reason, Palin is still big with Evangelicals and there are lots of Republican Evangelicals in Iowa. In fact, the Iowa Republican constituency is tailor-made to be influenced by a Palin endorsement far more than populations in many other states, and it comes just at the right time for Trump, even allowing for the newest episode of Palin family drama. Not long after Palin’s endorsement, Trump also just today won a key endorsement from Evangelical heavyweight Jerry Fallwell’s son, which will only help him even more with Evangelicals, Cruz’s key target constituency.
e.) Finally, there are no serious scandals plaguing Trump right now, while Cruz has both loangate and birthergate 2.0 (a large chunk of Republicans now doubt Cruz’s constitutional eligibility to run for president), neither of which can yet be dismissed and neither of which Cruz has responded to effectively, especially for self-styled no-nonsense Iowans; he certainly has not done anything to mitigate their impact in time for the February 1st.
2.) Longer-term trends are also in Trump’s favor
Even before Trump announced his candidacy, there was a clear and deep anti-establishment mood among the Republican rank-and-file. In addition, there was a clear and deep anti-immigrant mood among the same. While Cruz, contrary to his narrative, long waffled and calculated what position would benefit him the most politically and shamelessly but skillfully flip-flopped, Trump barged in and harnessed both moods more commandingly than any other candidate; he harnessed them to ride to the front of the pack and has not looked back since, even when it seemed he might be overtaken, and thus far, he’s maintained his lead consistently. Trump has also absolutely dominated media coverage since he entered the race, and very much to his benefit, in a way no candidate has even come close to matching. On top of all this, as I wrote before, having such a large number of Republican candidates also favored Trump, mainly because Trump is such a unique candidate while the others are largely having trouble differentiating themselves and/or simply cannot attract wide support. But perhaps more than anything else, Republican elites from media bosses to Tea Party politicians have been fueling a number of trends—anti-intellectualism, disdain for experience and professional politicians, Islamophobia, an embrace of wild conspiracy theories, an increase in extreme rhetoric and extreme positions and even extreme congressional redistricting, and others—that laid the groundwork for the rise of a Trump when before such a thing would have been unthinkable, even just a few years ago; indeed, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster did share a name for a reason. Much like with the creation of the Tea Party itself, those fomenting these trends thought they could control the effects of their actions, but they utterly failed to grasp the situation and seem to be suffering a figurative fate similar to the French Revolution’s Jacobins, with Trump becoming the Napoleon who will undo them.
Almost exactly one month after Trump announced his candidacy in mid-June, polling averages began having Trump in the #1 spot since mid-July, and with the exception of November 5th and November 6th, when Dr. Ben Carson ever-so-briefly held the lead in the Real Clear Politics polling average, Trump has held onto that #1 spot since mid-July.
As the FiveThirtyEight podcast for this week noted, yes, the final weak has been volatile and unpredictable in the past for Iowa, with surprise wins for candidates who were behind, but, at the same time, clear trendlines were already visible that favored those who won; in the case of the Iowa Republican caucuses, all polling trends have Trump rising and Cruz dropping, not just in Iowa, but nationally, too. In fact, Trump just in the last few days had his highest support in any of CNN’s polls: 41% (and only one other poll since he entered the race had him that high, one from mid-December), which was more than double Cruz’s support, which was only at 19%. A television discussion of the CNN poll also showed that Trump had both the most enthusiastic and the most loyal supporters, and by far. Additionally, the lowest lead margin for Trump in all national polls for all of January is a whopping 13 percentage points. In over sixty polls since Trump took the lead in polling averages, Trump has only trailed in four polls, to Dr. Carson, between late September and early November, and has been #1 in every single national poll since then. Furthermore Trump is now dominating Cruz with Evangelicals, a group on which Cruz is very much strategically betting his campaign.
He is dominating and has dominated in in early key contests, too. In Iowa, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held the lead there when Trump entered the race, but Trump overtook him in early August; then, Dr. Carson overtook him there in late October, only for trump to retake the lead from him in early November; Trump kept the lead until Cruz rose above him in mid-December, but lost that lead just two weeks ago.
This unfolding narrative fits in with what I wrote in early August: namely, that Trump’s competitors were more likely to be competing for support with each other for similar voters than with Trump, who would tend to draw different types of voters, and that the middle-of-the-pack was polling so lowly that very few candidates would drop out anytime soon since it would not take much for them to rise to striking-distance and they would continue to divide the non-Trump vote in such a way that no one would be able to rise to really compete with Trump in a sustained way. So far, when he has been competing for similar voters (e.g. with Carson and Cruz), he seems to be fending them off after these candidates enjoyed a peak period that was followed by their declines that correlated with Trump surges. This was the case nationally, and appears to be the case with Iowa, too.
Yes, all the stars are more-or-less aligning in Trump’s favor, and just in time for him to win the first contest for his party’s presidential nomination, in Iowa on Monday, February 1st. Expect with a high degree of confidence for Trump to win by a slim to medium margin. And, with the weird nature of caucuses, which are not a blind voting system but actually a series of conversations between supporters, some of Cruz’s supporters may bolt to Trump if they are feeling like flocking to a winner, meaning Trump has a decent chance to even exceed the margin by which polls will be predicting him to win.
Of course, there is one final late development that must be discussed: after (and, it seems, because) Fox News released a shockingly inappropriate tongue-in-cheek statement mocking and targeting Trump, Trump, who had already flirted with boycotting the debate because his pseudo-media-nemesis Megyn Kelly (who had, to be fair, very aggressively questioned him more intensely than other candidates in the first debate, touching off a feud) was going to be a moderator, went from flirting to making it very clear that he was “most likely” not going to participate in Thursday’s debate (almost immediately after he said this his campaign let it be known that he was officially not participating). To be fair to Trump, he was not unreasonable, with Kelly being selected as a moderator combined with the Fox News statement, in suspecting that the debate setting might be less than fair for him. But at this point, with Trump having more or less dominated in six previous debates, with the debates already having shown voters hours and hours of each candidate, with him being up in all the early states (including Iowa), and with the prospect that the other candidates would rip each other apart (especially #2 Cruz and #3 Rubio being the likely targets) while he could remain aloof and apart from such a spectacle, and with him having very little to gain as the man clearly in first place, it is hardly an illogical move on his part; besides, the narrative of Trump vs. the Media and The Political Establishment has worked very well for him before and will continue to work well for him going forward. That he will apparently be trying to raise money to help wounded veterans instead of attending the debate is not a bad touch, either.
Even if Trump does attend the debate, it far less likely that this debate will affect Trump’s position than it will see those trailing him shift their collective support among them slightly-to-moderately in attacking each other. Others will likely go after Cruz fiercely to chip away from his weakening support to augment their own, especially Rubio, while those who have a chance to overtake Cruz will likely be careful about picking a fight with Trump, who has shown himself to be an excellent brawler to the degree that those attacking him are more likely to have such attacks backfire on them and hurt them than they are likely to hurt Trump. If he does not participate, ironically, though, it may embolden his opponents’ attacks against him during the debate. How these attacks and a Trumpless debate would play out remains to be seen.
Whether he is in the debate or not, expect a Trump victory on Monday night, as even before this debate it seems that Trump has already proven, if the polls are being solidly conducted, that that he has by far the support of the most Republicans nationally for months and currently increasingly has the support of the most Republicans in Iowa, while his closest competitor was already losing support on multiple fronts for multiple reasons. The reasons Trump has his support increasing now, and the reasons that Cruz has his support dropping now, will virtually certainly not be reversed by Trump’s non-participation is that is indeed how Thursday’s debate proceeds. For these trends to reverse, Cruz would have to shine spectacularly as the clear winner and then some, and his many other opponents are not about the let that happen.
For all these reasons, the political gods seem to favor Trump, and Trump should emerge as the clear winner Monday night, barring any shocking last-minute developments or some unforgivable collective oversights by many leading polling firms.
What would a Trump victory in Iowa mean for the race in general? That will be explained another day…
Mary Altaffer/AP Photo
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