Opinion

Donald Trump's Iowa face plant was utterly predictable

In fact, I did predict it!

The Iowa caucuses are over and I have one thing to say: Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. I called it.

Okay, technically what I called was Ted Cruz first, Marco Rubio second, and Donald Trump third. And in reality, Trump came in second and Rubio came in third. But it was really close. In fact, while Rubio is slightly behind in votes, he is matched for second with Trump in delegate counts, which is what actually matters.

More importantly, the trends that I thought would play out did play out.

As I suspected, Trump voters didn't turn out to the extent that the polls suggested they would. The disaffected voters who tell pollsters they love Trump are howling with rage, but they're not necessarily all that committed to wanting him to be president, and don't turn out as much as other voters do, which means that polls overestimate Trump's support. I've been saying this for months. But increasingly, the pundit and analyst class has leaned into the idea that Trump had a lock on Iowa, and the nomination itself.

It remains to be seen whether my further prediction, that a loss for Trump in Iowa would puncture his balloon, will pan out. But losing in Iowa certainly doesn't help him. So much of his public persona is bound up with the idea that he wins everything, and that he is the frontrunner, the top guy, that everyone is eating his dust. Losing hurts.

The other big trend that I was counting on in Iowa is the idea that Rubio is actually quite strong among conservative Republicans. The Florida senator might not be many conservatives' first choice, but he still has very high favorability. He is a Tea Party guy with a 100 percent voting record from the American Conservative Union, and conservatives know he is one of them. Many might disagree with his earlier stance in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, but plenty of us are willing to forgive him for it. Many conservatives care about electability as much as purity. Is it any wonder Rubio beat the Iowa expectations?

Rubio's bet was always to straddle the so-called "establishment lane" and "base lane." The risk was that by trying to appeal to both he would appeal to neither. For awhile, that seemed to be the case. But today, it looks like the bet is actually starting to pay off.

It remains to be seen how Rubio will do in New Hampshire. I'm predicting a win, even though Trump is still high in the polls, and in some surveys, Rubio is neck-and-neck with the likes of Chris Christie and John Kasich and even Jeb Bush. But now Rubio has shown that he can translate his advantages on paper into actual performance at the polls. He has shown that he's the most credible alternative to Cruz and Trump, which is probably what most New Hampshire voters are looking for. He has a ton of momentum coming out of Iowa.

So, we'll see. And don't worry, if I get it wrong in New Hampshire, I'll eat my hat. But for now: neener, neener! I was right about Iowa!

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