On Monday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) performed the singular feat of simultaneously proving that a Republican can win Iowa without backing the ethanol boondoggle, and toppled The God Who Does Not Bleed, Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) finished stronger than expected, beating poll estimates by six percentage points; Trump finished more than four percent below expectations, while Cruz finished nearly four percent above expectations.
Naturally, the media rushed to declare Rubio tonight’s big winner.
That’s nonsense. Cruz, the most consistent conservative in the race, was the big winner. Bronze isn’t gold. And as Trump has tweeted:
“No one remembers who came in second.” – Walter Hagen
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2013
Cruz had to win Iowa in order to remain competitive in future states. He dealt Trump a blow that will test Trump’s mettle, and withstood The Donald’s biggest campaign haymakers in order to do it. He beat back a media assault on him that ranged from his birthplace to his Goldman Sachs connections. “Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee…will not be chosen by the media, by the establishment, or by the lobbyists,” Cruz said.
We can only hope that’s true going forward.
What’s more, Cruz utilized a serious ground game and data plan to pound out a victory over a candidate with significantly more media exposure. Some may say that makes Trump look strong – he didn’t utilize the same resources. But that actually just demonstrates that boots on the ground always defeat an air-only campaign. As Cruz put it in his victory speech, “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots.” And Cruz worked those grassroots.
Cruz isn’t done yet, either. Unlike Mike Huckabee in 2008 or Rick Santorum in 2012, he has the resources to run a long, grueling campaign before he even begins. His campaign has $19 million on hand, more than any other candidate. He’s running second in South Carolina already to Trump, who will take a polling hit there. He’s currently tied for second in New Hampshire, and unhampered by the four-way crab pot that is the establishment lane. Should Trump hit the skids, Cruz will be right there to pick up the pieces – as he should be, given that he’s the man who put Trump on the mat.
Rubio, meanwhile, withstood approximately $20 million in Jeb! ad spends in Iowa designed to push down his polling numbers. That demonstrates that his candidacy is not merely viable, but durable – he can take a punch. Tonight was a solid night for Rubio. But he won’t really be tested until New Hampshire, where there are other major establishment candidates expending plenty of resources. Right now, he’s running even with Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He’ll have to emerge from that scrum in a major way – and he’ll have to hope that Trump plummets in the meanwhile. The early primaries don’t favor Rubio. He’s biding his time, hoping to last until Florida and Super Tuesday; it could certainly happen. But his path is rougher than many members of the media assume.
As for Trump, he’s not finished yet. How could he be? He entered the caucuses today with a 4.7 percent lead in the RealClearPolitics poll average – but in New Hampshire, he’d have to drop more than 20 percentage points to even meet the rest of the field. Even Vermont Governor Howard Dean didn’t drop that much in New Hampshire after the infamous Dean Scream of 2004. Trump is still the frontrunner in New Hampshire – so the question becomes whether either Rubio or Cruz can build on their momentum from tonight.
The fight didn’t end tonight. It began. There are three viable candidates for the Republican nomination. But the frontrunner, at least for now, is no longer Donald Trump. It’s the best-organized, best-funded, most conservative member of the field: Cruz.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.