You’ve heard all the Iowa analysis you need. It was a triumph for Cruz, a humbling for Trump, a boost for Rubio. We’re all tired of talking about lanes, outsiders and establishment candidates. My read: Marco Rubio may emerge as the choice of those who prefer their candidate not be abnormal, by which I mean outsized or unsettling. This is arguably an underserved market on the GOP side. Mr. Rubio is young. What’s in that noggin beyond hunger? It will be interesting to find out.
Rick Santorum suspended his campaign. He didn’t catch on but was generally held in high regard. When voters think you’re a good guy but not the winner, they see to it that you leave as a good guy who’s not the winner. He seemed to me one of the Republicans most attuned to the shifting political moment—one who knows that certain old assumptions about the base no longer apply and maybe haven’t for some time. He did not emphasize traditional GOP themes of competition, opportunity, individualism. His concerns were more implicitly communal. Raise the minimum wage? Sure, help where you can. Of the candidates he seemed to have most absorbed Pope Francis’s Great Insight: that the modern world is a field hospital after battle. So in many ways is America 2016. John Kasich knows it also. He didn’t discover drug addiction and mental health issues by reading a long takeout in a magazine. He knows it because he lives with the people of Ohio.
Donald Trump was dinged by Iowa, but not by losing—loss happens. He dinged himself, perhaps significantly, with his subsequent reaction. He was robbed, we need a recount, he may sue. Mr. Trump’s supporters are derided as working-class knuckle-draggers and if it amuses you to see them that way you can, but his people respect style. There he let them down.
In politics—in life—you have to know how to lose. The presidency itself involves losing—the bill fails, the talks stall, your numbers plummet. You have to be supple, have some give. “All political careers end in failure”—you never get all you want and in the end you slink away or get thrown out. How to respond? You don’t whine, you don’t complain, you don’t act like a little rhymes-with-witch. You take it full in the face and keep walking. Anyone can win with style. A real champ knows how to lose.
The press is dying to write their “End of Trump” pieces and will if he underperforms in New Hampshire, where he’s long held a double-digit lead.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did not “win” Iowa; she had a near-death experience and emerged intact. In October she was winning by 41 points. Monday she effectively tied Bernie Sanders. She is now trying to limit the size of his expected New Hampshire victory.
She has been game and alert, especially Wednesday night in a town-hall interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But the effect was marred by her answers on Goldman Sachs and the six-figure speech fees they paid her. Why so much? “I don’t know, um, that’s what they offered.” She added that at the time she didn’t know she would be running for president. It was reminiscent of Dan Quayle telling reporters in 1988 that yes he got into the National Guard and didn’t go to Vietnam, but when he made the decision, “I did not know . . . that I would be in this room today, I confess.” If he’d known of the future political necessity, this suggested, he would have gone to the stupid damn war. All the smart people who say Mr. Sanders cannot possibly beat Mrs. Clinton as the battle moves south are no doubt correct—and yet he is more in tune with the motivating spirit of his party right now than she is, so who knows?
A final small thing, though it’s really my headline regarding New Hampshire. On a recent trip I watched candidates in town halls and forums in middle-school gyms, community clubhouses, hotel ballrooms.
I keep thinking of the young woman, black, about 20, I saw departing a Sanders event with a friendly young Asian man the same age. Are you for Bernie? I asked. “Have you seen my T-shirt?” she replied, and opened her jacket: “Carson 2016.” I laughed and asked if she was trolling. She was startled. “No, we just go see all the candidates.”
This of course is a great New Hampshire cliché—they won’t vote for you unless they’ve met you three times. Yet when you see it, something stops you. Every adult in New Hampshire seems to go hear every candidate at least once. They listen and take their measure; they give it the most precious thing they have, time. They take their duty seriously not because they’re jerky and self-important but because they have self-respect. They believe they are the winnowers. Their function is to get the Reasonable Possibles, put down a marker on their favorite, and then throw it to the South.
At the meetings they don’t ask meek, deferential questions. I saw them lecture candidates, mildly upbraid them, inform them. At a Kasich town hall he was put through his paces on the integrity of state water reservoirs. At a Hillary rally she was pressed on protocols governing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. At a Jeb town hall a woman spoke of Iraq and said if the people who launched that war had known history they wouldn’t have gone in. What, she asked him, is the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni? Mr. Bush gave a brief, broadly accurate answer. “You’re partially right,” she said, and then delivered a precise lecture on the history of Islam, ending with the observation that if American policy makers really knew history they wouldn’t be throwing around phrases like “carpet bomb.”
They have complete democratic confidence. They’re not shy. They’re doing due diligence.
I would look at them in the audience: the frail old lady with thin white hair; the big, rough biker-looking guy; the pleasant middle-aged teacher; the silver-haired accountant with two young kids; the beat-up middle-aged woman with rheumy alcoholic eyes who is sweetly gracious, modest, as she moves to give you a seat; the obese, wild-haired man bursting out of his torn, cracked leather jacket; the giggly, chatty middle-aged redhead in the NoLabels.org sweatshirt; the Patti Smith-looking woman, tall, pale and austere; the hunky football player; the skinny hipster girl in architect eyeglasses and torn jeans. Everybody listening so closely to the candidates. Beret guy, too, with a white bandage on his eye and a beard that went down to the third button of his shirt. What a crew we are.
“They’re professional voters,” said a campaign operative at dinner. No, it is more than that. It is more like, “We may be a field hospital, we may be high, we may be damaged by the collapse of the American culture, we may be the prime victims of deindustrialization, but we are: citizens. And we do our job.”
“We will pick a president.”
Choked me up as I witnessed it. No joke. Choked me up.