Donald Trump, the man who built a front-runner status in the Republican primary on the basis of his nativist campaign and Islamophobic rhetoric, is now also a loser in the Iowa caucus. Sad!
Trump, who built a consistent lead in Iowa among poll respondents and boasted regularly of those poll results on the trail, was running in second place with 24 percent of the vote behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who CNN and the AP declared the caucus winner on Monday night with 28 percent of the vote and 99 percent of the caucus sites reporting. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with 23 percent of the vote and just about 2,000 votes fewer than Trump, has a chance to possibly even overtake the former Apprentice star and sayer of horrible things for second place.
The result would appear to be a damning indictment of Trump’s last-minute decision to skip last week’s Republican debate because of a feud with Fox News, or an indication that his polling strength doesn’t actually hold up when people start to vote and caucus. Either way, it’s a good sign for the intellect of the American people. As I noted in Slate's live blog earlier on Monday:
Trump held between a 4 and 8-point lead over Cruz in the last five major polls taken at least in part before the debates. His lead over Cruz, though, shrunk to 1 point in the only two surveys taken entirely after the debate, as included by RealClearPolitics in its running polling average.
Update, Feb. 1, 2016, 11:00 p.m. ET: Trump gave a rather conciliatory and un-Trump like speech, applauding Cruz for his victory and graciously thanking the people of Iowa. He mainly saved his fire for the Democratic party and their possibilities for a nominee.
“We will go onto get the Republican nomination, and we will go on to easily beat Hillary, or Bernie, or whoever the hell they throw up there,” Trump said, before joking (?) “I think I may come back and buy a farm.”
Trump declared himself to be the second-place finnisher, and it looks like it may stay that way, though some of the vote was still outstanding when he made that statement and his margin over Rubio was still very small.
Rubio, meanwhile, gave a triumphal speech celebrating his third-place finish. He used the strength of that performance to grab a prime piece of network real estate and give a "concession" speech that sounded like a victory speech:
For months they told us we had no chance. For months they told us because we offer too much optimism in a time of anger, we had no chance. For months they told us because we didn't have the right endorsements or the right political connections, we had no chance. They told me that we have no chance because my hair wasn't gray enough and my boots were too high. They told me I needed to wait my turn, that I needed to wait in line. But tonight, tonight here in Iowa, the people of this great state have sent a very clear message. After seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back.
Again, this is from a man who is likely going to finish (a very strong) third. To be fair, because of the expectations game heading into this contest, Rubio's third-place can actually easily be spun as a victory heading into a New Hamphsire primary where he now appears to have a good chance of pulling ahead of his establishment lane challengers New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. According to a Boston Herald/PFU poll released on Monday, Trump still led in New Hampshire with a whopping 38 percent of the vote and Cruz was in second with 13 percent. In that poll, Rubio was tied for third with Bush with 10 percent, but it wouldn't be surprising for Rubio to see a burst of publicity coming out of his strong Iowa showing, which could in turn lead to a rise in the polls at a critical moment. Voting occurs in New Hampshire a week from Tuesday.
Update, Feb. 2, 2016, 12:30 a.m. ET: Cruz offered a victory speech tonight that managed to emphasize his triumph over both Trump and Rubio, nodding to one as the media favorite and the other as the establishment favorite:
Tonight, is a victory for the grass roots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation. Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken. Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee and the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media. Will not be chosen by the Washington establishment. Will not be chosen by the lobbyists. But will be chosen by the most incredible, powerful force where all sovereignty resides in our nation, by we, the people, the American people.
Cruz also pointed out the record turnout, noting that his vote total will be the most-ever for a winner of the Republican caucus in Iowa. That speech, though, was pre-empted on MSNBC and CNN by Hillary Clinton's and that victory might feel a bit less pure depending on how much momentum Rubio ultimately picks up out of his strong showing—and at whose expense.