02 February 2016
It was a near thing with the Republicans in Iowa, though not as close as the Democratic caucus, but Senator Cruz is the "winner" with little more than a quarter of the vote, while Donald Trump is the "loser" for winning one less delegate than Cruz. In the long view, if there was a winner among the Republicans last night it was Senator Rubio, whose strong finish, with as many delegates as Trump, makes the GOP contest a three-man race for the immediate future. The question for the most immediate future, however, is whether Iowa marks the beginning of the end for Trump, whether a spell was broken there. In conventional political terms you needn't think so. After all, Rick Santorum won Iowa in 2012, and Mike Huckabee tied Mitt Romney there four years earlier. Iowa is no guarantee of ultimate victory or defeat. Yet Trump supposedly hasn't been a conventional politician, and hasn't had a conventional politician's appeal. Over the past year an aura of inexorable inevitability, if not invincibility, had formed around him. As of today he seems less inevitable, and it's fair to ask how much of his mojo that costs him. Trump is sort of like Ronda Rousey, the mixed martial artist who became a pop-culture phenom for destroying her opponents with Tyson-like abruptness, until she met her Buster Douglas in Holly Holm last November. Rousey could become an Ali-like legend if she reclaims the title from Holm later this year, but something about her has been permanently lost with that one loss. Rather than "invincibility," I'd rather describe it as a belief that Rousey could do anything. People could openly speculate on her chances in a fight against Floyd Mayweather, the reputed best pound-for-pound boxer of this generation. Some believed that her special skills gave her a fighting chance, at least, against the boxer -- but to my knowledge, no one thinks that about Holm, her conqueror, despite how devastating a fighter she proved to be. When Rousey went down, a sense of possibility, realistic or not, died on the floor of the Octagon. That sense of possibility was to a great extent a product of UFC hype, just as the sense of possibility many identify with Trump is a product of Trump's own hype. Trump may get up, but if his fans felt he wasn't supposed to go down, Iowa may well be the beginning of the end or the breaking of the spell. And in spite of his boorish behavior and his insubstantial salesmanship he has brought a sense of possibility to the 2016 campaign season that probably won't survive a collapse of his candidacy, especially if that leaves us with Cruz, the relentless ideologue, as the Republican front-runner, and that Bob Dole in drag, Hillary Clinton, as his Democratic counterpart.I've never expected Trump to win the nomination, much less the White House, but those who've felt more optimistic, or more fearful on that score actually have little reason to feel differently now. Yet something has irretrievably changed now. Now that Trump has lost a vote, it'll be harder to see him as anything other than just another politician.