The opening contest of the 2016 Presidential election delivered a remarkable victory to far-right conservative Senator Ted Cruz, some humility to billionaire mogul Donald Trump, and an almost too-close-to-call contest between Democrat insider Hillary Clinton and the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders.
With just days to go before the New Hampshire primary and six months before the party convention season, we are officially in the presidential election swing of things. And after Monday's contest, it is clear that both the Democrats and the Republicans seem to be soul searching for the best candidate to carry their party’s mantle into November.
The Iowa Caucus is less about the delegate counts and more about creating the winning psychology necessary to get a candidate through the tough primary calendar. Walking away from the Caucus, folks should now examine the trajectory of a couple of noteworthy candidates: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders.
For Republicans, there seems to be two ideologies fighting as the passionate point of the party. In one corner you have the establishment—those who have run the party from elite K Street offices funded by big business and Wall Street tycoons. In the other corner, you have a mix of evangelicals, angry Whites and the Tea Party faithful who are looking for a party that will fundamentally change Washington D.C. into the conservative, gun loving, tax cutting, and anti-abortion city they’ve always hoped it to be.
On Monday, the establishment’s new golden boy, Marco Rubio, came in third place. His victory speech indicated that he was and is their favorite and possibly the best chance the GOP has of winning back the White House. Rubio's candidacy can best be described as a mirror. He has mastered the ability to give voters exactly what they want to hear without truly saying anything of substance. If you are looking for a conservative, he comes off as a conservative. If you are looking for evangelical, he comes off like an evangelical. And if you are looking for a war hawk, well, he can do that too. Those who like Governor Kasich, Christie, or Bush may consider switching to Rubio after his showing in Iowa because of his youthful vigor and ability to operate like play dough, both of which gives him a great shot at claiming the top spot in the GOP establishment.
But Rubio’s path after Iowa isn’t guaranteed. He has two enormous hurdles that could quickly knock him out and their names are Cruz and Trump. Cruz’s Iowa victory shows that in homogenous states he can be a winner. He defied all the pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators who thought that this Iowa Caucus had Trump written all over it.
And while “the Donald” had a great show in Iowa, a second place finish means he must develop a ground game soon if he wants to maintain his role as the Republican frontrunner. Neither Donald Trump’s larger than life personality, nor his political point-of-view leaves any room for a loss.
As for Cruz, his gun-tooting, gay hating, anti-choice policy and almost too out there to be real Christianity seems to be a winning formula. And his ground game and deep pockets will keep him as a viable candidate both in New Hampshire and the upcoming Southern primary states, where he is likely to have an almost clean sweep. Cruz is a serious contender for the GOP nomination but should cause pause for GOP primary voters. Do they really want a junior, Texas Senator—who has treated the Senate like a bull in a china shop—to be the nominee or possibly the President of the United States?
As for the Democrats, Senator Bernie Sanders had a phenomenal showing in Iowa. The Iowa Caucus sent a message: there are a lot of young people who mistrust Hillary Clinton and passionately support Sanders. Monday night, 84 percent of Democratic voters under the age of 30 voted for the 74-year old Vermont senator, while Clinton won two-thirds of voters who are 65 and older. And although she was declared the winner, it is apparent that Secretary Clinton’s campaign has a lot of work to do to convince Democratic millennials that she should be the nominee.
Sanders’s rhetoric and revolutionary ideas have entranced the youth of our country and taken progressives by storm. But that storm has been hampered by one, major question: can he turn his revolutionary ideas like free-college, Medicare for all, and taxing Wall Street into real policy? Moving forward, Sanders needs to win New Hampshire and build a ground game that will afford him the ability to woo what traditionally has been the Obama coalition—young voters, African-American voters, and Latino voters. If he can convince these voters to #FeelTheBern, then he will be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.
And while Clinton won the Iowa Caucus, her campaign and key supporters are clearly concerned about the cracks that were exposed along the way. She needs to transform her movement from one about decades of experience and pragmatism to one that includes aspiration and fulfillment of the American dream. Democratic voters, generally speaking, want to fall in love, and that just hasn’t happened yet for Sec. Clinton. While it’s likely that she will be the nominee, not energizing the base or empowering the Obama coalition could hamper her chances of winning the general election; a race that will be much more about voter turnout than well placed, wealthy old friends.
To this point, the Iowa Caucus has reset this presidential race and has set the table for a long primary process on both sides of the aisle. For Democrats, they must decide if they want to be idealists about American’s future or if they would rather continue the status quo in Washington with a D.C. tactician that can make modest, but steady, gains for the movement. And for Republicans, they must determine if they want to pick a more moderate representative or if they want to risk it all and operate from the extremes of their party. No know can predict what either side is going to do, but at least, we know that this blockbuster will be fun to watch.
Richard Fowler’s YouTube and radio show can be heard in more than 9.1 million homes. He frequently appears on Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN. He is also a Senior Media Fellow for the New Leaders Council. Follow him on Twitter @Richardafowler