U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, triumphed in the Iowa Caucus Monday, while on the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in a race where votes were still being tallied well after midnight.
Cruz upsets Trump; Rubio third
Cruz defied polls, winning support from 28 percent of Iowa Republicans to beat business mogul Donald Trump by four percentage points, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio exceeded expectations with a close third place finish.
Tea Party favorite Cruz is widely reviled by colleagues in the U.S. Senate for self-promotional stunts like leading the 2013 government shutdown. Trump chafes against establishment orthodoxy as well, trumpeting calls to end free trade and exclude minorities from entering the country. Combined, they accounted for over half of the votes cast in the fractured Republican field, representing an utter rejection of the restrained conservatism championed by every Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
“The grassroots has turned on the establishment,” UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said. “It has a Tea Party wing that emerged right at the end of the Bush years and it is pushing in a different direction than the establishment. The party is really divided on immigration, trade and tax issues. It’s a battle.”
Opposing the populists is a fractured set of politicians, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. According to Burden, to mount a credible campaign against the populists, they will need to consolidate behind one candidate.
“They hope that one establishment candidate will emerge,” Burden said. “But that’s a really passive way to control the process.”
Rubio’s surprisingly strong third place finish may signal the emergence of a single establishment candidate. He greeted his third place finish with what could have been confused with a victory speech.
“For months they told us because we offer too much optimism in a time of anger, we had no chance,” Rubio beamed in his speech.
Although Iowa can set the tone for the primary season, it is not necessarily the path to the candidacy. The past two winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, were unable to win beyond the evangelical-heavy state.
On a different Iowa stage Cruz ignored past Iowa winners’ difficulties. In a speech laced with references to God and barbs directed toward President Barack Obama, the victor of the Iowa caucuses basked in the decline of establishment conservatism.
“Tonight is a victory for the Grassroots,” Cruz said in his victory speech. “The presidency will not be chosen by the Washington establishment but will be chosen by the most powerful force in this great nation. By we the people.”
Clinton narrowly wins
Progressive long shot Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sought to legitimize his shoestring campaign with a strong showing, while heavily favored former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton simply wanted to avoid the embarrassment of another defeat at the hands of a hopeful idealist, like the one she experienced in 2008. The Iowa Democratic Party announced early Tuesday that it was Clinton who narrowly triumphed but Sanders will be able to call the race a virtual tie, as the pair are likely to split the state's delegates.
Clinton entered the race with a staggering lead, but the crotchety Vermont socialist narrowed it in the final days, fueled in large part by college students in places like Story County, home of Iowa State University, where Sanders soundly beat Clinton with 58 percent of the vote. According to UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden, Clinton’s message falls flat with young Democrats.
“She’s viewed, especially by younger voters in the Democratic Party, as representing the past rather than the future and just having a lot of history attached to her that’s not all positive,” Burden said.
Sander’s populist call for fully paid college tuition has also contributed to his surprising rise. Even if his campaign sputters out in states like South Carolina where Clinton is heavily favored, his ideas and energy will live on through Clinton’s campaign.
“He’s definitely pushing the party to take these issues seriously, sort of in the way that Howard Dean did more recently in 2004,” Burden said. “He really energized the party at a time when it was down and drew attention to health care and foreign policy and then John Kerry became the nominee and got to carry that energy and those issues. It is possible it could play out that way, where Sanders runs a good campaign and hands off the energy he’s created to Hillary Clinton.”
If Sanders has his way, Clinton will not be the one to reluctantly carry the progressive mantle: He will do it.
“It is just too late for establishment candidates and establishment economics,” Sanders croaked in a speech following the caucuses.