DES MOINES — Well, that’s settled. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will not be the 2016 Republican nominee for president.
At least not if recent history is any guide. It has been 16 years since Republican caucus-goers here have accurately picked the eventual GOP nominee for president. In other words, not once in this entire century has Iowa picked the winner for Republicans.
Ted Cruz joins former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the caucuses in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Neither Mr. Huckabee nor Mr. Santorum were able to convert those Iowa victories into any kind of groundswell of support outside the frozen cornfields of Iowa.
Mr. Cruz carefully followed the same playbook deployed in the caucuses won by his predecessors.
First, he built a massive and highly organized grassroots ground game. It was impressive. Also, Mr. Cruz spend significant money and a huge amount of time and energy courting Iowa voters.
Mr. Cruz was handsomely rewarded with the highest number of caucus votes of any Republican in history. Which means he is really popular — in Iowa.
Similarly, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum bet their entire presidential campaigns on Iowa, and it paid off for them as well. At least, in terms of winning Iowa. In the end, of course, those victories turned out to be meaningless.
Mr. Cruz also followed in the footsteps of previous Iowa winners in that he shamelessly and overtly deployed his religious faith as a guiding — perhaps overriding — reason for electing him. The man was literally quoting scripture during his campaign events. This preaching culminated in the creepy footage of Mr. Cruz directing his supporters to “awaken the body of Christ.” Ick.
Obviously, it is a strategy that works in Iowa. But I am also pretty sure that God is not so hot about somebody awakening the body of Christ for personal political purposes. Sounds, well, a little self-centered and diabolical.
And, unfortunately for Mr. Cruz, it doesn’t usually work so well going forward. Even in a place like South Carolina where they love their Christian politicians, Mr. Trump is beating Mr. Cruz by 15 points, according to the polls.
The problem for Mr. Cruz is that it is undeniable that Mr. Trump has at least broken through to Christian voters. Many of them trust him and believe that he is serious about fighting for them and protecting religious liberty.
Mr. Cruz’s impressive win Monday night, of course, sparked a wildfire of giddy gloating among the Great Punditocracy who find Donald Trump so vulgar and repellent. It is like the only thing that matters to them is winning.
But Donald Trump had the last laugh when he walked out on the stage to deliver his concession speech.
For weeks and months we have been told that Mr. Trump cannot handle losing. His entire campaign is built around winning every time. And if he loses Iowa, we were told again and again and again, Mr. Trump would fall apart. The first chink in his armor would utterly crumple him to the ground.
Only, instead, Mr. Trump came out with his family and delivered a wonderfully gracious and funny and hopeful concession speech and told his supporters how honored he was to come in second place in Iowa.
Alas, the Great Punditocracy keeps alive their perfect streak of being wrong about everything when it comes to Donald J. Trump.
Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @charleshurt.
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