Tonight, the first real battle in the fight for the GOP presidential nomination will be waged in Iowa. Iowans will brave the cold to spend close to an hour participating in the official first-in-the-nation contest. For the first time we will see whether Donald Trump’s campaign is truly “real.”
I’ll be upfront: I am part of the “anti-Trump” camp. I don’t think the man is conservative and I certainly don’t believe he has the temperament or the character we want in a President and Commander-in-Chief. But, there is no doubt that he has turned the 2016 GOP presidential campaign on its head.
Ever since Trump entered the race, pundits have been certain that his “15 minutes of fame” would fade. Conventional wisdom is that voters become more pragmatic as the campaign wears on, eventually settling on a more moderate candidate. Trump’s campaign has been anything but conventional, however, and continues to defy expectations.
As of now, Trump is leading in the Iowa polls. The Iowa caucus, however, is a different beast than a primary. A caucus requires more commitment from the voters and usually has a smaller turnout. In addition, the caucus requires voters to gather in a large room and then sort into groups based upon candidate preference. Representatives from those groups then have the chance to try and persuade members from other groups to support their candidate. After that, everyone votes. At that time, some voters may have decided to switch allegiance, though others have not.
Here, then, are my thoughts on what could happen on caucus night, in the order of most to least likely.
1. Trump wins Iowa in a narrow victory over Ted Cruz. This scenario pretty much tracks the polls. The most recent poll had Trump winning with 28% of the vote to Cruz’ 23%. While an outcome similar to the polls wouldn’t be a “yuge” victory for Trump, it would prove that he really is in this thing. Whether Trump wins big or a small, an Iowa win probably helps him consolidate and increase his current lead in the upcoming New Hampshire primary.
2. Trump narrowly loses to Ted Cruz. I think this has a good chance of happening. For this to occur, two factors need to be present. First, Trump is expecting his supporters to turn out, even though many of them are not consistent caucus goers. If his supporters don’t turn out in the numbers he expects, then he may have less support on caucus night. Second, Cruz will need to be the guy with the second largest group of support in the caucus rooms. Furthermore, those supporters will need to be effective in persuading supporters of other candidates to join Cruz in being the anti-Trump.
3. Trump narrowly loses to Marco Rubio. The factors leading to this scenario would be similar to those as number two above, except it is Marco Rubio’s supporters who are able to attract the anti-Trump support. While this scenario is less likely than number two, I do think it is a realistic scenario. A victory in Iowa would probably help Rubio attract some of the anti-Trump voters in the upcoming New Hampshire primary as well.
4. Trump has a “yuge” win. This only occurs if the factors I mentioned in numbers two and three don’t happen. As I said above, Trump’s campaign has continued to defy expectations throughout the campaign. I suppose it is not entirely unreasonable to think that Trump’s supposed “enthusiastic” support is real and that his supporters will turn out in a big way on caucus night, even if they aren’t consistent caucus voters. If that happens, then I do think Trump will have a big win, possibly with a 10% lead over whoever the runner-up is.
5. Some other candidate wins. Admittedly, I think this scenario is mostly implausible. The most likely candidate to have a surprise win in Iowa is Ben Carson, but he has been bleeding support for two months now, so I don’t see how he suddenly gains any of it back. I don’t see any other candidate with a shot to win, either. So, if some other candidate wins who isn’t named Trump, Cruz or Rubio, it will be a shock for the ages.
Those are my thoughts on Iowa. I’ll close with this. I truly think if Trump is going to lose the nomination, it has to start in Iowa. A defeat in Iowa will prove that Trump is not invincible and it may make it hard for him to project the same level of confidence to his supporters that he has thus far been successful in doing. But if Trump wins Iowa tonight, I think the chances of stopping him will be low. Some GOP voters who may not be totally opposed to him may start to think about supporting him. If that happens, then the “Trumpocalpyse” will truly be upon us.