Donald Trump remains headed for a big win in New Hampshire, polls show — and unless something in that state changes dramatically before February 9, predictions in the media that the Trump campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is effectively over after the second place finish to Texas Senator Ted Cruz in Monday’s Iowa Republican caucuses appear grossly exaggerated.
“I’ve long believed that the Loser Stamp would be Trump’s kiss of death,” wrote U.S. News and World Report columnist Emily Arrowood.
“Political pundits, voters and a begrudging Republican establishment all branded Trump a winner before he’d ever won a single election. Now that he’s officially a loser, do we have to let him keep his crown?”
“Donald Trump must be very disappointed to discover that three quarters of Iowa Republicans are weak, low energy and have no interest in making America great again,” snarked historian Timothy Stanley, writing for CNN. “Many a high-profile, nationally popular campaign has been destroyed on those rocks. Trump’s ship isn’t sunk, but it’ll be taking on water.”
“No one remembers who came in second.” – Walter Hagen
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2013
Trump himself appeared to gloss over his defeat in his concession speech, as seen in the video below.
Prior to Monday’s Iowa caucus, Trump — who has made the term “loser” his favorite epithet, deployed against his enemies real and imagined — appeared to set the bar at all-or-nothing for his Iowa results.
“Unless I win, I would consider this a big, fat, beautiful — and, by the way, a very expensive —waste of time,” Trump told supporters on Sunday, the day before they went to the Iowa caucuses. “If I don’t win, maybe bad things will happen.”
But he sang a different tune in the concession speech, portraying his second-place finish as an against-all-odds triumph over his doubters, while taking the high road in congratulating Cruz.
Even if he has briefly earned the “loser” label, however, it appears to be one that won’t stick to him for long. Heading into the New Hampshire primary, the election-predicting site FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 73 percent chance of winning, based on the site’s “polls only” statistical model, compared to a mere seven percent for Cruz.
A weighted averaging of major polls by the Real Clear Politics site puts Trump ahead of Cruz in new Hampshire by a whopping 22.2 percentage points, with one poll — conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell — puts Trump up by 26 points.
In other words, even if Cruz’s momentum coming out of Iowa cuts the Donald Trump lead in half, Trump still wins by about 11 points, a crushing margin in any election.
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Prospects for Trump in the next Republican primary, South Carolina, look nearly as good. FiveThirtyEight sees Trump with a 70 percent chance of victory, while the Real Clear Politics poll average has Trump ahead by 16.3 points. And the perceived momentum from a resounding win in New Hampshire may push that lead even higher.
While Iowa winner Cruz and his supporters are celebrating his upset win there, recent history does not bode well for Republican Iowa caucus victors.
Since 1972, there have been five Republican Iowa caucuses in contested campaigns — that is, campaigns without an incumbent Republican president running for reelection. Of those five, the Iowa caucus winner has gone on to claim the nomination only one time, in 1996, when Kansas Senator Bob Dole won both Iowa and the nomination — though Dole lost the general election to incumbent Democrat Bill Clinton.
Most recently, Rick Santorum won the 2012 Iowa Republican caucus, while Mike Huckabee won in 2008. Both candidates finished a distant second to eventual nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain, respectively.
However, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver suggested a possible reason for Trump’s Iowa defeat that could, after all, reveal a fundamental problem in his campaign going forward.
“The dude just ain’t all that popular. Even among Republicans,” Silver wrote, pointing out that even in the final Des Moines Register poll conducted prior to Monday’s Iowa caucus the state’s republicans gave Donald Trump a “favorable” rating of just 50 percent, with 47 percent saying they had an “unfavorable” view of Trump. Cruz posted favorables of 65 percent.
“It’s almost unprecedented for a candidate to win a caucus or a primary when he has break-even favorables within his own party.”
Even if Donald Trump scores a big win in New Hampshire, and another in South Carolina, he may face trouble down the primary road — and certainly in the general election — unless he can somehow persuade more voters to simply like him more.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]