When Republican insiders and donors started warming up to Donald Trump in recent weeks, it was one of the more widely reported political developments in a while. And why not? As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote recently, "That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites ... are acquiescing to the once inconceivable."
This wasn't just the result of polling results; the Republican establishment had come up with a plan. Here's how it would work:
Step 1. Help Trump dispatch Ted Cruz in Iowa.
Step 2. Watch Cruz fade after he loses his must-win state.
Step 3. Move closer to a one-on-one matchup, pitting Trump against an establishment-friendly rival (almost certainly Marco Rubio).
Step 4. Consolidate support behind the establishment-friendly rival, while Trump hits his ceiling.
Step 5. Sit back, pop the champagne, and wait for all the #thepartydecides tweets.
The plan, we now know, didn't work. The Republican establishment made a conscious choice -- Cruz must be stopped, quickly -- and the Texas senator foiled the gambit. Iowa's six-term GOP governor said Cruz was the one candidate who must lose, and a plurality of Hawkeye State Republicans backed him anyway.
"What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race," the center-right columnist wrote overnight with an almost audible exhale. "The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant."
I think this helps capture the attitudes of Republican elites this morning. I also think it's misguided.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As expected, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has thrown his support to Marco Rubio. It's the fifth Senate endorsement Rubio has received -- which brings him into a tie with Jeb Bush for the most endorsements from GOP members in the Chamber.
* Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) argued on an Iowa radio show the other day, "If I get one vote, frankly, in Iowa, I'll consider it a victory." Gilmore won 12 votes. Congratulations, governor.
* The number of House Republicans retiring this year continues to grow: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday that he'll step down at the end of this term.
* Ending the suspense surrounding his plans, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said yesterday that he will run for re-election to the House, skipping the open U.S. Senate race in Maryland.
* On a related note, the latest polling in the Maryland race shows Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen effectively tied in the Democratic primary.
* Given that Senate Dems are in the minority, this is a bit of a surprise: "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $51.6 million in 2015, $10 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee did in the same time period. The total came after a $13.4 million haul in the fourth quarter. In the final month of 2015, the DSCC raised $5.1 million, $2 million more than its Republican counterpart."
Ben Carson, briefly the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses, did not close well. The retired neurosurgeon, in what appears to be his strongest state, finished fourth with just 9%. That's slightly better than his polling average going into last night, but it's little solace for a candidate moving further away from the top tier.
As MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reports, Carson and his team believe they have an excuse.
Dr. Ben Carson and his campaign accused Sen. Ted Cruz's team of sabotaging Carson in the Iowa caucuses Monday night by encouraging Cruz supporters to tell voters at their caucus sites – incorrectly -- that Carson was dropping out of the race.
"It was happening all over," Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told MSNBC. "One of the precincts Candy [Carson, the candidate's wife] walked into, she had to correct the record. She actually walked in, in Ankeny, and gave a speech about no, he's still in the race and that's a lie."
So, what's this all about? A CNN reporter said last night, shortly before the caucuses began, that after Iowa, Carson was headed to Florida "for some R&R," instead of going to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Many in both parties saw this as evidence of Carson winding down his struggling campaign.
Team Cruz, seeing an opportunity, quickly texted supporters in Iowa: "CNN is reporting that Ben Carson will stop campaigning after Iowa. Make sure to tell all of your peers at the caucus...."
Whether or not this was deliberately deceptive is a matter of interpretation.
A few hours before the Iowa caucuses began, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver told readers, "[D]on't be shocked if the polls are way off."
Whether or not the results were "way off" is a subjective question, but as the dust settles, it's safe to say those who relied exclusively on polling data going into last night were surprised by the results. In the final round of surveys, how many showed Donald Trump positioned to win Iowa? Just about all of them -- with some showing him ahead by double digits.
In the end, the biggest loser in the Iowa caucuses might not be the campaigns of several presidential hopefuls, but the public perception of polling organizations that were again off the mark.
heading into Iowa, GOP contender Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were projected to win the respective Iowa caucuses. Instead, Ted Cruz took the GOP race, while Clinton and Bernie Sanders finished in a virtual dead heat for the Democrats. And on Tuesday, the pollsters faced more scrutiny after the Iowa results were in. Here's a typical headline (from Bloomberg): "Iowa's Other Losers: Polls That Showed Trump Ahead Before Caucus"
Even the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, conducted by J. Ann Selzer, whose track record is excellent, wasn't quite right.
In December, it became quite obvious that Mike Huckabee's second presidential campaign was on track to do even worse than his first. Facing weak poll numbers and anemic fundraising, Huckabee saw his top communications aide quit, and soon after, the campaign slashed the salaries of senior staffers.
Huckabee's campaign manager -- who also happens to be his daughter -- conceded, "Obviously, if we go to Iowa and lose -- well, frankly, we probably won't keep going." The former Arkansas governor added soon after that he'd settle for a top-three finish, which would encourage him to move forward.
That goal didn't quite work out for the candidate who won Iowa eight years ago. Huckabee finished in ninth place with just 2% support, roughly tied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who wasn't actually trying to compete in Iowa. Within a few hours of the caucuses starting, Huckabee called it quits.
Former Arkansas governor and 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee announced on Twitter he will suspend his presidential campaign after finishing near the bottom of the pack on Monday.
Huckabee initially polled in the middle of a crowded Republican field in the Hawkeye State. But he was quickly overshadowed by political outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Towards the end of his 2016 run he had been relegated to the undercard GOP debates.
With the Arkansan out, the Republican field, which once included an unprecedented 17 candidates, now stands at 11.
And while there's no reason to kick a guy when he's down, if Huckabee is leaving the stage with his head held high, he probably hasn't been paying close enough attention to his candidacy.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley clearly hoped for a better night in Iowa. After finishing with 0.5% of the vote, the Democratic governor, facing insurmountable odds, decided to call it a day.
O'Malley's candidacy, despite initial high hopes and strong a resume, failed to launch from the start and never picked up steam as he stayed mired in the single digits in polls for most of the past year. O'Malley was a politician's politician in a year when the electorate craved anti-establishment insurgents like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
O'Malley spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate and prided himself on being accessible to voters and the press. His campaign also believes he helped push front-runner Hillary Clinton ad Sanders on certain issues.
In a more traditional cycle, it's easy to imagine a campaign in which O'Malley fared much better. Back in May, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki explained that the Maryland Democrat "checks off a lot of boxes" for the party's voters, having delivered on many top progressive priorities -- "the enactment of a state-level Dream Act, strict gun control, gay marriage, and the abolition of the death penalty" -- in ways Clinton and Sanders have not.
But as we discussed at the time, there were hurdles, too. O'Malley's popularity in his home state waned; when violence erupted in the streets of Baltimore, it undermined O'Malley's claims of success in turning the city around; and as recently as 2014, the governor's hand-picked successor lost in one of the nation's most reliably "blue" states.
For Democrats, the results of the Iowa caucuses are usually quite clear. The closest-ever contest was in 1988, when two Midwesterners battled it out -- Missouri's Dick Gephardt beat Illinois' Paul Simon by four points -- but Iowa Dems have otherwise known fairly early on caucus night who prevailed.
The Democratic battle in Iowa was so close that both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- the 74-year-old socialist with no major endorsements -- and Hillary Clinton left the state without a clear-cut victory. [...]
Aboard a charter jet bound for New Hampshire, Clinton Press Secretary Brian Fallon told reporters that "we believe strongly that we won.... It's not clear post-Iowa what Senator Sanders' path to victory is," Fallon added.
That appears to be true. At 3:35 a.m. ET, the Clinton campaign's Iowa state director issued a statement declaring victory. "After thorough reporting -- and analysis -- of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates. Statistically, there is no outstanding information that could change the results and no way that Senator Sanders can overcome Secretary Clinton's advantage."
About a half-hour later, NBC News reached a similar conclusion and declared Clinton the "apparent" winner. As things stand, the former Secretary of State has 49.9% of the vote to Sanders' 49.6%.
Given the margin, it doesn't come as too big of a surprise that the Vermont independent has not conceded the contest, and it's not yet clear whether the Sanders campaign will formally challenge the results.
But for the sake of conversation, and without any tangible evidence that points to a likely change of outcome, let's go ahead and consider the looming What It All Means question.
Going into the Iowa caucuses, there were some questions that no one was able to answer with any confidence. Would Donald Trump's voters show up when it counts? Was Ted Cruz's on-the-ground field operation as good as advertised? Was Marco Rubio closing strong and earning some of his media hype? Would someone please wake Ben Carson?
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the hotly contested Iowa Republican caucus on Monday night, fending off a tough challenge from Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
With 99% of precincts in, Cruz led with 28% of the vote versus 24% for Trump, 23% for Rubio, and 9% for fourth-place Dr. Ben Carson.
There's no shortage of chatter this morning about the results, but let's try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
The Pitch: Team Cruz is only too pleased to remind the political world this morning, "We told you our ground game was good."
The Buzz: To have any credible chance at the Republican nomination, Cruz needed to win Iowa. He did.
The Truth: As of a couple of days ago, the political world was convinced that the Texas Republican was a candidate in decline, especially following an unflattering debate performance in Iowa last week. The question wasn't whether he was falling, but how much. And yet, as the dust settles, Cruz defied the polls and gets a meaningful boost headed into the next round.
The Pitch: "Oh yeah?" asks Team Trump. "We're still ahead everywhere else."
The Buzz: Trump wanted to be seen as the guy in the GOP field who knew how to win. A second-place finish isn't just a setback; it also does embarrassing damage to the candidate's brand.
The Truth: Team Trump expected to win Iowa, and every recent poll showed him ahead, making last night a real setback. Given the makeup of the state's Republican voters, Iowa was never a good battleground for him, but he'll need to prove -- preferably next week in New Hampshire -- that his backers are capable of showing up when it counts. In the meantime, Trump can take some solace in the fact that, win or lose, his message and vision is now dominating GOP politics.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell explains the basis on which the Clinton campaign believes they were victorious in Iowa as the official result still hangs in the balance, with the Bernie Sanders campaign accusing the Iowa Democratic Party of not adequately staffing all of the precincts. watch
NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd explain the peculiarities of the final stretch of the Democratic results in the Iowa caucus, with vote counters showing the race too close to call, but Hillary Clinton claiming victory and Bernie Sanders accepting a "virtual tie." watch
Jacob Soboroff, MSNBC correspondent, offers a tour of a Democratic caucus site in Iowa City, Iowa as caucus-goers are in the process of sorting themselves into groups to indicate the candidates they support. watch
Senator Claire McCaskill talks with Rachel Maddow about "the Republican attack machine," why she thinks Republicans want Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, and why Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience is important to her support of Clinton in this primary. watch
* Syria: "A triple bombing killed at least 50 people in a predominantly Shiite suburb south of the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday even as a U.N. mediator held his first meeting with members of the main opposition group that seeks progress on humanitarian issues before it will join formal talks on ending the five-year civil war."
* Nigeria: "Members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram burned children alive as part of an assault in Nigeria that killed 86 people, a survivor of the attack alleged. The incident happened Saturday night in the village of Dalori in northeastern Nigeria."
* WHO rings the alarm: "The spread of Zika virus across the Americas is a public health emergency of international concern and deserves urgent attention, the World Health Organization said Monday."
* Sweden: "Scores of masked men dressed in black, some carrying wooden weapons, descended on the center of Stockholm, gathering near the entrance to the city's main subway station. They had come, the authorities said, to beat and terrorize young migrants, large numbers of whom have been arriving in Sweden since late last year. A flier had served as a sort of call to arms. Because of that, the police were waiting for them."
* Afghanistan: "The United States has carried out at least a dozen operations -- including commando raids and airstrikes -- in the past three weeks against militants in Afghanistan aligned with the Islamic State, expanding the Obama administration's military campaign against the terrorist group beyond Iraq and Syria."
* Stories like these are worth watching: "A U.S. warship conducted a patrol Saturday around an island in the South China Sea claimed by China and two of its neighbors, another in a series of operations challenging Beijing's recent efforts to enforce maritime and territorial claims in the region."
* Capital punishment: "California lifted a moratorium on executions in November and is now set to execute Kevin Cooper -- even though several federal judges say he may be innocent."