Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucus Monday, which given Iowans’ lousy record picking presidential nominees may be no win at all.
Cruz beat a field of 11 Republican candidates, taking 27.6 percent of Monday’s caucus vote. Donald Trump, the front-runner according to pre-caucus polls, received 24.3 percent of the vote and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won 23.1 percent — a strong third-place finish.
As I wrote Monday, history says Trump won’t be the Republican nominee, much less president — a historical judgment Iowa may have confirmed. (It’s way too early to say for sure and, yes, it is only Iowa.) And in the world of presidential caucuses and primaries, where media expectations and narratives about overperformances and underperformances can mean as much as actually winning or losing, Rubio may be Monday’s real winner, perhaps emerging as the leading choice of the so-called Republican establishment.
Meanwhile, more than 17,000 Iowans think Ben Carson should be president. Enough said.
Again, results in Iowa usually don’t mean much in the end. “Picking presidential losers since 1972” could be the state’s motto. Only three times has the winner of a contested Republican Iowa caucus gone on to win the party’s nomination (Gerald Ford in 1976, Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000), and only Bush moved into the White House. The record on the Democratic side of the Iowa caucuses isn’t any better — the exception Cruz hopes to follow is that of Barack Obama’s in 2008. The winners of the past two Republican Iowa caucuses were Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 and, unless I missed it last night, neither President Huckabee nor President Santorum called Cruz to congratulate him on his victory.
Cruz received a smaller percentage of the vote than Huckabee did in 2008 — the former Arkansas governor got 34.4 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates — but a greater percentage than Santorum in 2012, who barely squeezed by eventual nominee Mitt Romney four years ago.
Unlike Huckabee and Santorum, Cruz’s campaign is well-organized and well-financed. His campaign has $19 million on hand, more than any other Republican candidate. New Hampshire — that other demographically unrepresentative small state given an outsize role in presidential contests — holds its primary next Tuesday. It isn’t considered prime Cruz territory. But then comes South Carolina on Feb. 20, followed by Texas and 11 other mostly Southern states on March 1. Afterward, we’ll have a better idea whether Iowa again, by putting Cruz on top, has pointed us nowhere.