- - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Iowa caucuses rarely produce the winner in November, but they always produce panic in the camps of the losers. It’s an exaggeration to say the caucuses Monday night decided anything but temporary winners, but winning is always better than losing.

“I can tell you,” Hillary told a rally in New Hampshire on Tuesday, “I’ve won and I’ve lost [in Iowa] and it’s a lot better to win.”

Though winning is always better, whether in poker, baseball, Monopoly and especially elections, some results are more important than others. Ted Cruz went on and on — and on — in a victory speech that sounded something like an inaugural address. Bernie Sanders hit the app button to call up another campaign speech, and he went on and on about Wall Street (he definitely does not care for Wall Street) and global warming, berating skeptics and demanding that everyone join him in worship of the great god Science, even if distorted and abused science.

The night clearly belonged to the Republicans, to Ted Cruz for winning the most votes, and to Marco Rubio for making the breakthrough that has eluded him for months. He had been pushed into the slow lane, unable to pass Ben Carson in pursuit of Mr. Cruz and Donald Trump, the man who was not there Monday night. Despite the Cruz victory, Mr. Rubio may be on his way to becoming the Not-Trump that the Donald’s critics have been waiting for.

Mr. Trump himself may pay for snubbing the Iowa debate. He showed his ignorance of the expectations of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire — they insist on being catered to, and experienced candidates know better than to disappoint them. More than one New Hampshire voter has said that he “won’t vote for a candidate who has not shaken my hand.”

Winning in Iowa, which he might have done just by showing up for the debate, would have earned a second look by the know-it-all media and the millions who have been influenced, like it or not, to scorn Mr. Trump for his vulgarity and rough language. His gracious concession speech on Monday night demonstrates that a New Yorker can be a quick learner. It’s a New York value.

There was good news for the Republicans in the results on the Democratic side. Hillary is still the way to bet for the incorrigible gambler, but such a bettor is entitled now to good odds. The tie with Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old self-described Socialist with a grudge against money, capitalism and the good life, demonstrates just how stale and tattered the Clinton brand has become. Bubba, who knows how to win, looked miserable standing helplessly next to Hillary, who knows how to lose.

The Iowa caucuses are confusing to outsiders, and sometimes to insiders as well. “The caucus system isn’t built to bear the weight placed on it,” says Dennis Goldford, a professor at Drake University in Des Moines, who closely studies the caucus and its strengths and weaknesses. “There aren’t even paper ballots [in the Democratic caucuses] to use for a recount if something doesn’t add up.” The season for “adding up” is here at last, with real ballot and real results. The best is yet to come.

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