Which presidential candidates won, and which candidates lost, in the Iowa caucuses? In many ways, the evidence is far from convincing -- while in others, there is clear handwriting on the political wall. One crucial factor is: who over-performed and who under-performed? In other words, how well a particular candidate did depends primarily on what was expected from that candidate. This type of judgment is not unique to politics; everything from sports teams to corporate securities are often judged by comparable standards.
To start with the Democrats, it is unfortunate that Hillary Clinton now claims a non-existent victory. She and her campaign under-performed in Iowa, and by continuing to claim a victory, she diminishes and disappoints. While it may be hard for the Clinton folks to admit that Hillary merely tied Bernie Sanders, who over-performed significantly, it is still the unvarnished truth. The Clinton campaign desperately needs to analyze the reasons for that truth, and at once.
As for the Republicans, their Iowa Caucuses truly turned out to be The Theater of the Absurd. Here was The Donald "cruzin for a bruising" and then claiming that second place was actually better than first place, thanks to his convoluted reasoning. Trump's surprisingly-gracious caucus-night tribute to Cruz did not take long to be reversed into his usual narcissistic self-aggrandizement the next day, with his whining that Cruz had not "fought fair" -- while Trump overplayed the "Canadian" card unmercifully. Still, the Cruz camp's circulating false rumors that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race was unconscionable.
Then there was the totally-weird caucus-night speech of Marco Rubio, which would only have made sense if Rubio had actually won the event, rather than achieving a decent third place finish. Yes, Rubio may have somewhat exceeded expectations, but he seemed to be claiming victory, which was going way too far.
Then there was Chris Christie, who instead of being embarrassed by his own miserable performance, preferred to focus on the even-worse performance of Jeb Bush, for whom he coined the phrase "bubble boy" by claiming that Bush was out of touch with America. This, from a politician whose popularity even in his home state of New Jersey has shrunk to an all-time low.
Meanwhile, the lower tier of candidates continues to diminish, and more will drop out after New Hampshire. How many campaigns does it take for, say, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to finally realize that they have been rejected? And Rand Paul, given his former profession, wisely realized that he should keep his eyes on his own senate race in Indiana.
What can we make of all this? The contrast between America's two major parties is like day-and-night. The Democratic presidential candidates are running their campaigns with substance and grace, dealing with real major issues and highlighting the differences between their positions substantively and respectfully. The Republican presidential candidates prefer to focus on trivia and irrelevancies while continuing to tear at each other in hopes of destroying their opponents. The Democrats are conducting an issue-oriented campaign while the Republicans are holding a gladiatorial contest. One can only hope that these contrasts will become even clearer as the primary process moves along -- and that the nation will base it choice on the real differences among the parties and candidates, and not on all their own hype.
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