On Twitter and Facebook, people are debating what the results of the Iowa caucus mean. My take? The results were entirely unsurprising and mostly mean nothing.
On the Democratic side, Hillary and Bernie had been statistically tied in the polls since early January, and the end result of the Iowa caucuses was a statistical tie. Bernie will go on to win New Hampshire, and then we’ll see if he can win over voters who up until now haven’t been paying much attention.
On the GOP side, I think the results are basically unsurprising. Trump had been leading Cruz in the polls slightly, but not by enough to make it possible to call the caucuses. Rubio enjoyed a late polling surge, enough to let poll-watchers guess he’d do even better in the caucuses, but probably not by enough to take the caucuses. And indeed, Cruz was first, Trump second, and Rubio third.
I do think the GOP results matter a little more than the Democratic results, because they mean Cruz is still in this. If Cruz had lost, I think many of his supporters would have taken it as a sign that it was time to defect to Trump, but Cruz’ Iowa win stops that.
However, I don’t think it matters that Rubio’s third-place finish was a less-distant third than he seemed headed for two weeks ago. Rubio’s appeal to the hardcore xenophobes in the GOP (i.e. a majority of primary voters) is still fatally impaired by his past support for comprehensive immigration reform. The GOP primary is now a two-man race between Trump and Cruz–no matter how hard people who still believe “the party decides” want to avoid seeing it.