Since it is obviously impossible for you to understand what happened in Iowa on Monday night by simply looking at the numbers, you must find an analysis to make sense of it all. So I'm here to offer you not one but two hot takes for each party's race, to help you make sense of it all. Let's jump right in:
Democratic story #1: Everybody wins. Hillary Clinton was the clear winner. After seeing her lead over Bernie Sanders dwindle to nothing in Iowa — Sanders even overtook her in some polls — Clinton mobilized her formidable ground operation and held off the challenge, doing what she was unable to do eight years ago. Had she lost, it would have been devastating, but by avoiding that fate, she won.
In addition, Bernie Sanders was the clear winner. A year ago he trailed Clinton by 50 points in Iowa, but he generated extraordinary enthusiasm with his message of political revolution. He fought the supposedly inevitable Democratic nominee to a draw. Sanders will gain just about the same number of delegates from Iowa as Clinton will, and now it's on to New Hampshire, where he holds a substantial lead.
Democratic story #2: Everybody loses. Hillary Clinton was the clear loser. She was supposed to be the inevitable nominee, yet a 74-year-old Jewish socialist with a heavy Brooklyn accent just came within a hair's breadth of beating her. She's terribly damaged by this result, and things will get worse when she loses New Hampshire.
However, Bernie Sanders was the clear loser. He got close, but couldn't turn out enough of those young voters, just as smart analysts knew he wouldn't. He needed a big win in Iowa to generate momentum, but he fell short. Once the candidates get past New Hampshire, his weakness with the non-white voters who are the core of the Democratic Party will doom him.
Republican story #1: Everybody wins. Ted Cruz was the big winner. He had the best ground operation, his message of standing up to the Washington establishment resonated, and voters in Iowa delivered him a victory.
On the other hand, Donald Trump won. Sure, Cruz got a few more votes, but this was Trump's toughest state, the one where voting was the most difficult and he had the steepest hill to climb. He was never supposed to have a chance here, and he positioned himself perfectly for New Hampshire, where he leads in the polls by 20 points. Now just watch him rip Cruz and Rubio to shreds.
But Marco Rubio won too. As he said in his victory speech, "This is the moment they said would never happen!" Okay, so nobody actually said it was impossible for the guy running third in the polls to come in third in the vote, but still. The other candidates are dropping like flies, and Rubio has shown that he's the electable candidate.
Republican story #2: Everybody loses. Ted Cruz may have come in first, but this is the high point of his campaign. Just like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee before him, he'll find it impossible to translate an Iowa win into enough momentum to carry him to the nomination.
Donald Trump is also the obvious loser. All along he's been leading in the polls and talking about what a winner he was. Remember when he said, "We will have so much winning when I get elected that you will get bored with winning"? Well guess who's a loser today. And now that everyone has seen him losing, his bubble will burst.
Marco Rubio is also the loser. If he had come in second, that might have meant something, but he came in third, and all the spin in the world can't turn that into a win. And Donald Trump is now going to turn his guns on Rubio, which he hasn't done until now. Think we'll be hearing about his alleged support for "amnesty" in the coming days? Oh yes we will.
What's the point of all this? Maybe, just maybe, all the "narratives" coming out of the news media are perfectly worthwhile if you're looking to entertain yourself with discussion of the campaign, or if you're looking to speculate harmlessly about what might happen in upcoming primaries. But in the end, just like the Iowa caucus itself, they mean almost nothing. We get worked up over Iowa because it's first, and it's true that it has the power to winnow the race down, as candidates who already knew they were done finally have a justification to pull out, as Martin O'Malley and Mike Huckabee did Monday night, and other Republican candidates may do soon.
So if you're annoyed by all the hot takes and overly dramatic interpretations, worry not: In a few days, Iowa will be all but forgotten, and a new narrative will emerge, one that will probably be no more insightful.