In the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, one thing is certain: trying to predict electoral outcomes is exceedingly difficult, even with an abundance of public polling. That being said, I always believed and publicly stated that I thought Donald Trump would lose Iowa, and that Ted Cruz would win it. This was based less on polling, and more on years of experience working with the grassroots of the Republican Party in more than 40 states. I have closely observed the GOP electorate, and have spent countless hours in conversations with them, mostly listening, which political professionals should do more of.
It is clear that Ted Cruz is the candidate that best understands and appreciates the zeitgeist of today's Republican Party. I still believe that he will be our eventual nominee, after a hard fought battle for delegates. But what about the next state on the presidential primary calendar, New Hampshire? What should we expect to happen in the Granite state on Tuesday?
My sense is that New Hampshire will be a close battle, and a number of candidates will compete for the top three spots. The gap between first place and fifth place will be much smaller than in Iowa. It does appear that candidates like John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush have a fighting chance to be on top of the pack in New Hampshire. Depending on what happens over the next few days, and whether there is a big swing in any direction, I would bet on a close race that does not really lead to a huge victory for any one candidate. Expect more of a muddle, with everyone quickly turning their attention toward South Carolina.
Yes, it is still possible for Trump to win, although I doubt that will be the outcome. He is damaged, and the wind is no longer blowing quite so hard in his direction. He will do well enough to continue the campaign, but don't expect a big victory for Trump. As for Cruz, he should get a nice bounce from Iowa, but remember that the good folks in New Hampshire are very independent, and tend to pick someone besides to winner of the Iowa caucuses.
If Cruz wins New Hampshire, that would be a huge victory, and would make him the favorite in South Carolina. If Cruz wins both New Hampshire and South Carolina, those victories would solidify him as the front-runner for the nomination. But even a second or third place trophy for Cruz in New Hampshire would be a big win, and would keep him in the conversation in the days to follow. In that scenario, he would not be facing naysayers and doubters who would raise questions about his viability as a candidate. It seems apparent than many in the media and the "DC cartel" are hopeful for such an outcome, precisely because they want Cruz to lose this race.
Now on to Iowa's third place finisher, Marco Rubio. He is riding high, and is confident as he goes into New Hampshire. He is facing attacks from Bush, Christie, and Kasich, as they try to slow his rise nationally. These three candidates know that they must place at least in the top three in New Hampshire to be seen as credible candidates going forward. And they know that Rubio is sucking up all the oxygen out of the room. I have seen no evidence yet that Bush's super PAC "Right to Rise" has done any damage to Rubio, so why should we think that it will do so on the eve of New Hampshire?
And Christie's line of attack against Rubio is that he hasn't achieved anything as a U.S. Senator, and that he consistently stays on message. I doubt that this feeble attempt to bring Rubio down will work. The voters are looking for someone who is principled, is fighting for them, and has the ability to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. They are not necessarily looking for a presidential candidate who has successfully shepherded a major piece of legislation through Congress. Typically, "getting things done in DC" means growing the size of government and reducing liberty.
So, in the end, I think that Rubio may be the candidate to beat in New Hampshire. He will appeal to conservatives, independents, and enough moderates to beat the other candidates. He will be seen as a very strong general election candidate, and as someone who is young, fresh, and conservative. As stated above, I do not think this will be a big victory for anyone, but rather a close race that merely reminds us that there are dozens of states to go, and months of campaigning to endure, before we eventually nominate our candidate. So watch closely, enjoy the show, and trust the voters that they will continue to make this race a fascinating one, as critical as it is to the future of our country.
Potential outcomes in New Hampshire
1. Marco Rubio
2. Donald Trump
3. Ted Cruz
4. John Kasich
5. Chris Christie
6. Jeb Bush
7. Ben Carson
8. Carly Fiorina
1. Donald Trump
2. Marco Rubio
3. Ted Cruz
4. Jeb Bush
5. John Kasich
6. Chris Christie
7. Carly Fiorina
8. Ben Carson
Brendan Steinhauser is a national political strategist focused on campaigns, media, and public policy.