When it comes to the Iowa caucuses, Admiral Akbar has some sound advice for Donald Trump: “It’s a trap.”
Mr. Trump is not going to win here. Repeat, Mr. Trump is not going to win here. “Hold on a second,” you might say, “Trump is leading the national polls by his biggest margins ever.” Except if you’re gauging how the key early states might shake out based on national media polls, well, you probably still think if you like your current health care plan you can keep it, too.
Just look at the last two cycles.
At this point in the 2008 primary cycle, Rudy Giuliani had a double-digit lead in the Real Clear Politics national polling average just as Mr. Trump does now. But he didn’t win a single state.
At this point in the 2012 primary cycle, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were virtually tied with Mitt Romney atop the Real Clear average. Mr. Cain would be out of the race altogether just weeks later, while Mr. Gingrich finished a distant fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
See, it doesn’t really matter what a broad sample of the electorate who may or may not live in a state that is strategically important thinks. It only matters what the people actually doing the voting after seeing the candidates up close and personal thinks. And the math simply doesn’t work for Mr. Trump.
For example, let’s assume 15,000 new voters show up in Iowa, which would be a record-smashing turnout of 140,000 people (the previous record is 125,000). And keep in mind the past two months have seen no surge of GOP voter registrations in Iowa whatsoever. But let’s assume that Mr. Trump’s outstanding ground game in Iowa helps generate many new people showing up on caucus night to take advantage of same-day-registration anyway. Then, let’s assume Mr. Trump gets 80 percent of those new voters. Which would be an astronomical percentage, but I’ll grant it just to prove my point.
That leaves Mr. Trump with 12,000 voters, and it’s going to take at least 30,000 to win here.
That means Mr. Trump is still going to need the bulk of his winning coalition to come from the traditional Iowa caucus voter. And who is the traditional Iowa caucus voter? Typically, most of them come from the evangelical churches, where Mr. Trump has no organizational pull at all, or the more moderate business class Republican. Otherwise known as the type of Republican that probably prefers Hillary Clinton to Mr. Trump.
The math simply doesn’t work. And with Ted Cruz coalescing the conservative vote in the state, there is no one viable to challenge him to the point it splits enough of his votes away to help Mr. Trump.
Today Mr. Trump is at 25.4 percent in the real Clear Politics Iowa caucus polling average. Back on September 3rd he was at 25.8 percent. Translation: Mr. Trump has a high floor and a low ceiling. His support is locked in here in Iowa, and it’s not moving up.
That 25-26 percent is enough for a solid second place finish, but do you know what happens when you lead all these national polls for months but then don’t win the first official voting contest? As the great prophet Ricky Bobby once said, “Second place is the first loser.” Like, you’re the Hindenburg, dude.
So let me describe the Iowa caucuses in terms Mr. Trump will understand – cut your losses.
Losing Iowa wouldn’t be a death blow, but it would stagger Mr. Trump for sure.
Realize that gambling you’re going to bring 15-20,000 new people to the polls for a 2-3 hour caucus process in the dead of winter in Iowa is fools’ gold. You’ve already maxed out in Iowa, which is why you’ve had virtually the same polling numbers here for more than three months. Dump your Iowa stock now, like you have under-performing investments your whole career.
Drop out of Iowa now and then trash the place as you leave town. Rip the state as a bunch of hayseeds that never gets it right unlike New Hampshire. Which isn’t true, by the way – a contested New Hampshire primary winner hasn’t won the presidency since 1988 – but most of the political class believes it anyway. Play to the media’s (including “conservative” media) hatred of Iowa and East Coast bias. Tell Iowa to take a flying leap and then go all-in over in New Hampshire now. If you win there you’ll still run strong in South Carolina and be a threat to win the nomination.
But if Mr. Trump loses Iowa he’s in real trouble in New Hampshire. And if he loses them both he might as well rename his campaign Trump Airlines.