Des Moines, Iowa—I had a premonition of Donald Trump’s Iowa caucus loss Monday sitting in a half-empty Waterloo auditorium that morning. He was low-energy, his crowd was low-energy, and I didn’t understand the choice of Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep”—“We could have had it a-a-allllllll”—as his walk-up music, on Caucus Day.
But the truth is, I should have seen it, or at least suspected it, on Saturday morning when Senator Ted Cruz packed an Ames hotel ballroom with parents and kids and showed off his high-profile Iowa-based evangelical support. In Iowa endorsements matter, and organization matters, and in the end it seems Trump had little of either, and Cruz had it all.
The event was fascinating. Cruz was endorsed by four conservative heavyweights, who couldn’t decide quite how apocalyptic to be: Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell, Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats, conservative anti-immigrant Congressman Steve King, and radio hysteric Glenn Beck, whose media empire “The Blaze” was in the process of going up in flames but who still showed up to praise his friend Cruz. Vander Plaats noted that he’d never before been on the same side as Steve King in a caucus, and suggested that was a good omen, and it turned out to be one. Glenn Beck told the crowd: “There’s gonna come a time of catastrophic consequences in the next four to eight years, if we make it,” and he assured them Cruz will be ready: “In his DNA, he knows the constitution.”
By contrast, two days later Donald Trump was in Waterloo, alone, no big-star introductions, just name-dropping B-list supporters like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The tired-seeming Trump failed to fire up the crowd; at the next stop, in Cedar Rapids, he was upstaged by another B-lister, Sarah Palin, and suddenly his campaign seemed like the mediocre reality-TV hoax many expected when it began. Can he recover in New Hampshire, and beyond? It’s going to get interesting.
The other new development Monday night was the emergence of Marco Rubio as “the” establishment candidate. He made the night’s first victory speech, which seemed presumptuous unless you realized he’d won a big victory with donors. Rubio was the story in the caucus I attended, where his supporters, plus those of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, all told me the party had to stop Trump and Cruz. “Cruz is playing up to the evangelicals,” retired Drake University librarian James Leonardo told me. “You don’t want to be ruled by the Koran, why do you want to be ruled by the Bible?” A Rand Paul supporter behind us said, “I absolutely don’t trust Trump—he’s working for Hillary,” and said Rubio was her second choice.
This moderate Des Moines precinct of roughly 130 voters gave 40 votes to Rubio, 29 to Jeb Bush, 20 to Paul, and only 18 to Cruz and 11 to Trump, plus a handful to Chris Christie and John Kasich. That wasn’t the norm here in conservative Christian Iowa, but it’s likely a harbinger of the way the establishment side of the race shakes out. Christie and Kasich are doing better than that in New Hampshire, but Rubio’s strong showing here makes their road harder.