The Iowa Caucus results are in. Victors have been declared. And numbers and entrance poll data is being analyzed. And the consultant classes in DC are already telling us the old ways worked, and are propagating myths once again. But what actual lessons did we learn in its aftermath? Here are seven of my takeaways:
1. Let’s not overplay the results in Iowa. Yes, it was record turnout for the Republicans and a robust turnout by Democrats, but the total is less than 400,000 voters. To add perspective, in the general election just in Iowa ten months from now we can expect 1.6 million people to vote. The caucuses are a signal of some things, but not many things. And every candidate still has to show if they have a broad diverse base of voters – we have only heard from one tiny segment of America.
2. Trump finished second in Iowa, and Hillary squeaked out a bare slim victory, but the frustration and anger in this country at the status quo and the establishment of both parties is real and lasting. If either party thinks this was just a moment in time, and they can go back to the way of doing things they are sadly mistaken. The majority of Americans feel no real attachment to the two incumbent political parties, and desperately want change. The earthquake has already happened, and it is essential that we don’t underestimate the foundational damage that has occurred to politics as usual.
3. Right now there are five dominant candidates in this Presidential race, and none of them look anything like the traditional “presidential” types. First, there are no governors in this five and none of these would be what you would typically pick out of central casting for a Presidential race. Each has very unique attributes we don’t normally associate with a candidate for the White House. We have two Cuban American first term U.S. Senators (one of whom is a native Canadian), a woman who was a former First Lady, a brash billionaire, developer and a reality TV star with no political experience, and a 74 year old Jewish Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont. America has definitely changed.
4. The road ahead for Cruz, Trump, and Rubio is complicated and problematic for each of them. Each has a path to victory, and each has serious obstacles ahead. Cruz has to show going forward that he can win in higher turnout primaries where evangelicals don’t dominate the voter pool. Trump has to show he can get up off the canvas, learn from his mistakes, and win quickly in New Hampshire and then keep it going in South Carolina. Rubio has to figure out a place he will start winning – a series of 2nds and 3rds won’t cut it for long.
5. If Trump really wants to win the nomination, the Iowa results show that he needs some campaign pros who understand messaging, targeting, and can provide discipline. To that end, Trump needs to quit relying on public polls for direction, and hire some folks who know what they are doing. He probably needs to win New Hampshire before any seasoned veterans will go to work for him. He also needs to demonstrate some humility and that he’s able to seek advice from others. For starters, he did show some humility in the aftermath of the Iowa loss, but we will find out if that was a real change or just an instance.
6. Organization matters to a point, but don’t overplay it. Passion and momentum are still two of the most important ingredients in politics. Hillary had the best organization of anyone running, had all the paid staff one could hire, and she ended up in a tie with a candidate built on volunteers. Yes, Ted Cruz won Iowa, and his organization was the best, so props to him. But, keep in mind, two candidates (Trump and Rubio) finished right behind him who spent hardly any time in the state, and who had limited organizations. And Trump and Rubio beat the total vote performance of all previous GOP caucus winners.
7. Advertising has very limited effects. Cruz (and others) went very negative on Rubio in the last ten days, but Rubio still caught momentum to finish with a surge. Jeb Bush spent more money on advertising by far in Iowa than anyone else and finished in the single digits. Hillary has outspent Bernie by a large amount and couldn’t put him away in the first caucus. Trump relentlessly attacked Cruz, and Cruz still pulled out a victory. Pay less attention to ad buys, and more to authenticity, inspiration, and message delivery in key moments like debates. And mistakes or mishaps matter way more than media buys.
It is going to be a fascinating ride in the months ahead. The voters as of last night now have their hands on the steering wheel and there is no telling where they might direct things in this race for the White House.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.