There were dozens of headlines from major publications universally declaring that the higher the turnout was in Iowa, the bigger Donald Trump’s victory was going to be. They thought that the only thing that could possibly stop his inevitable win was something freakish like the weather or the outside chance that his supporters weren’t really as radicalized as most believe.
The pundits were wrong. The turnout was the highest ever. The results were the exact opposite of what was being predicted. If a couple more things had gone in Marco Rubio’s direction, Trump may have fallen to third place. This, of course, follows several consecutive polls showing Trump with a commanding lead over winner Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Once it became clear that Cruz was going to defy the odds and win the state, the pundits quickly turned to espousing the benefits of a strong organization. They started downplaying Cruz’s victory by saying that he was expected to win (he wasn’t), that he had put all of his eggs in the Iowa basket (he didn’t), and that Rubio’s third-place finish was more impressive than Cruz’s win (it wasn’t).
They weren’t just trying to attack Cruz, though that’s the biggest reason. They were also trying to save face. How could they have been so wrong? Is Trump’s organization that terrible that it would suffer a massive 8-point swing to Cruz at the last minute? Was his absence at the last GOP debate so damaging to him like it was to Ronald Reagan in 1980? Did Cruz and Rubio play dirty to validate the dozens of conspiracy theories about how Trump was cheated?
The answer to all of these questions is, “No.” Organization is definitely important, but Trump has downplayed the manpower that he’s put into the state. Rather than size of organization, one can look at the strategy of the organizations to see Trump’s weakness there, but that doesn’t reconcile with the concept that he would be bringing out passionate first-time caucus attendees. Poor organization strategy can only account for percentage point or two.
Listening to Fox News blame his defeat on his decisions to skip their debate was infuriating. This isn’t 1980 when Reagan was less visible than Rick Santorum is today. They had three networks and no 24-hour news stations. They didn’t have the internet. The loss in Iowa was because Reagan didn’t get in front of Iowans when they were wanting to see him. Today, voters don’t have to watch a live debate in order to learn about candidates. If anything, Trump’s absence helped him in the polls.
The last supposition, that there was a conspiracy by Microsoft to change Trump votes to Rubio votes or that Ted Cruz had cast a voodoo spell on Trump’s voters, are not even worth discussing.
Donald Trump lost because his support simply isn’t as great as the polls indicate. It’s easy to answer a phone call and say you’re voting for the name your recognize. It’s another thing altogether to get out and vote. We’ll know for sure when he under-performs in New Hampshire as well.