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.
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?
Everything is quite a bit clearer now.
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.
The Pitch: Team Rubio seems to be arguing, "Maybe if we pretend a third-place finish is the same thing as a victory, everyone will play along."
The Buzz: Pundits and the officials throughout the Republican establishment are asking the same question in unison: "Isn't he dreamy?"
The Truth: As recently as November, the Rubio campaign thought it could win Iowa. As recently as the weekend, the chatter out of Iowa was that second place was a real possibility. And yet, he finished third, finishing strong after adopting Trump-like rhetoric, but third nevertheless. Yet another round of Marco Rubio Media Hype will sustain the Florida senator, but looking ahead, it's still unclear when, if, and where he'll actually win a contest.
The Pitch: Carson actually outperformed his polling average!
The Buzz: The fact that Carson actually outperformed his polling average doesn't change the fact that his candidacy is effectively over.
The Truth: It seems like ancient history, but in October, there was credible evidence that Carson was, for a brief while, the leading candidate in Iowa. His subsequent collapse was emblematic of a campaign that will not recover.
Elsewhere, Jeb Bush's 3% tally was slightly worse than expected; Mike Huckabee's poor showing is forcing him out of the race; and Rick Santorum, the winner of the 2012 caucuses, finished 11th with 1% of the vote, finishing behind John Kasich, who wasn't actually trying to compete in Iowa.